Attack on foreign embassies since 1948.
Mr Andrei Karlov, the Russian ambassador to Turkey was assassinated recently in Ankara, while he was delivering a speech at an art gallery, which was hosting an event named ‘Russia through the eyes of Turk’. This incident has raised a question mark on the security of diplomats and other foreign officials posted in Turkey, especially those representing US, Russian, British, and other governments who are either involved in the Syrian crisis or in the past have deployed forces in the Middle-east to fight Al-Queda and their associates. US Embassy has been locked down and some unconfirmed reports stated that few shots were fired near the embassy the same day when the assassination took place. This fear by the US authorities is partly driven by the fact that it has often been a victim of such incidents in the past.
Embassies and ambassadors have always been very lucrative target for terrorist organizations and anti-government forces as they are –
- Relatively easier targets in comparison to head of the state, cabinet secretaries or ministers, and officials, whose visit are very short-termed, well prepared for and provided with high security coverage.
- Valuable targets in comparison to domestic officials and staffs as it provides international media coverage and put pressure on the domestic government.
- Valuable targets to deter business investments from being made in the host country, and economic support from being delivered to the same.
Our history is full of such ghastly acts and I have made a list of few important ones which shaped international politics right since 1948.
US Ambassadors and Embassies
a. Attack on Embassy Compound in Ankara,Turkey -1958
Bombs exploded at the US Embassy compound and a private American bookstore, American Publications Bureau. This incident coincided with Secretary of State John Foster Dulles’ arrival in the city for meetings of the Baghdad Pact. The warehouse walls of the embassy were damaged and both US government and the Turkish government held foreign agents to be responsible for this. Many journalists in the west claimed the USSR grew fearful of the pact as, it was formulated to keep pro-soviet sentiments from spreading in the South-Eastern Asia, and encircle the Soviet region.
b. Attack on Embassy in Benghazi, Libya -1967
American and British embassies were attacked and burned by rioters after false rumours spread in the city that the United States had bombed Cairo. This incident occurred at the start of the Six-Day War. The rioters were mostly Egyptian citizens employed in the construction of a pan-Arab Olympic stadium in Benghazi.
They encircled the complex one morning in the month of June and started pelting stones. The small contingent of Libyan soldiers entrusted with the duty to protect the embassy complex was overwhelmed and the mob stormed into the embassy after battering down the steel doors. A British armoured car was set ablaze by the mob with an officer and four soldiers inside, when they tried to rescue ten American embassy officials who had locked themselves up in the communication vault (which is usually considered a safe location due to its heavy gates). They were finally rescued by the British forces the same day in the evening. The US government and British government decided to evacuate their citizens from Libya.
A detailed account of what happened at the US embassy has been given by Mr. John Kormann, who was posted with US Foreign Service in Libya at that time.
c. Siege of Embassy in Tehran, Iran -1979
First Siege- February 14, 1979; the same day that the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Adolph Dubs, was kidnapped and fatally shot by Muslim extremists in Kabul – fedayeen militants stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took a Marine named Kenneth Kraus hostage. Ambassador William Sullivan surrendered the embassy to save lives, and with the assistance of Iranian Foreign Minister Ebrahim Yazdi, returned the embassy to U.S. hands within three hours. Kraus was injured in the attack, kidnapped by the militants, tortured, tried, and convicted of murder. He was to be executed, but President Carter and Sullivan secured his release within six days. This incident became known as the Valentine’s Day Open House. A firsthand account of the incident can be read from the memoir of William J Daugherty.
A US hostage being paraded in front of camera by his Iranian captors at the beginning of the crisis.
Image Courtesy- BBC News ‘Iranian Hostage Crisis: Victims to be compensated 36 years later.
Ebrahim Asgharzadeh, an influential student leader and founder of Muslim Student Followers of the Imam’s Line planned the second seize. The students observed the procedures of the Marine Security Guards from nearby rooftops overlooking the embassy. They also drew on their experiences from the recent revolution, during which the U.S. Embassy grounds were briefly occupied. They enlisted the support of police officers in charge of guarding the embassy and of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards. At first some supports blocked the gates and started anti-American demonstration and tried to assess the mariners’ response. Encouraged by the fact that they were unlikely to fire at the crowd, they called in for more demonstrators, and subsequently went on to barge into the embassy complex. They took the embassy officials and the marine guards as hostage; bound and blindfolded, they were paraded in front of camera. Few embassy officials who had managed to escape or were not present at the time of seize, were apprehended from various nooks and corners of Tehran, and declared hostage. Six embassy officials were able to escape the wrath of this incident; they took refuge in Canadian embassy. In a joint covert operation known as the Canadian caper, the Canadian government and the CIA managed to smuggle them out of Iran on January 28, 1980, using Canadian passports and a cover story that identified them as a film crew. This operation was fictionalized in the 2012 film Argo.
Supporters of the takeover stated that their motivation was fear of another American-backed coup against their popular revolution. They claimed that in 1953, the American Embassy had acted as a “den of spies” from which the coup (code named Operation Ajax) was organized which overthrew democratically elected prime minister of Iran, Mohammad Mosaddegh, and helped the Shah (or King), Reza Shah Pahlavi establish an authoritarian state. Documents were later found in the embassy suggesting that some staff members had been working with American intelligence agencies.
After preliminary negotiations with the intern Iranian government failed and Ayatollah Khomeini gained rigorous support of the Iranian people; finally, in February 1980, Iran issued a list of demands for the hostages’ release. They included the Shah’s return to Iran, a demand for an apology for American involvement in Iran, including the coup in 1953, and a promise to steer clear of Iranian affairs. President Carter refused to accept these demands and approved a military operation codenamed Eagle Claw which ended up in utter failure. Another such attempt was planed but never executed. The attempted evacuation made the Iranian public and the government more antagonised and the revolutionary guards distributed the hostages amongst various strong holds within the city, thus making any further military rescue operation inefficient. This left negotiations as the only option left with the US government. While this diplomatic chaos was going on, few hostages, women and a cancer patient were released by the hostage-takers, which they propagated as ‘release on sympathetic ground’. But still, the fate of fifty-two hostages remained undefined.
Upon the death of the shah in July (which neutralized one demand) and the Iraqi invasion of Iran in September (necessitating weapons acquisition), Iran became more amenable to reopening negotiations for the hostages’ release. In the late stages of the presidential race with Ronald Reagan, Carter, given those new parameters, might have been able to bargain with the Iranians, which might have clinched the election for him. The 11th-hour heroics were dubbed an “October Surprise“* by the Reagan camp — something they did not want to see happen.
Allegations surfaced that William Casey, director of the Reagan campaign, and some CIA operatives, secretly met with Iranian officials in Europe to arrange for the hostages’ release, but not until after the election. If true, some observers aver, dealing with a hostile foreign government to achieve a domestic administration’s defeat would have been grounds for charges of treason. Reagan won the election, partly because of the failure of the Carter administration to bring the hostages home. Within minutes of Reagan’s inauguration, the hostages were released.
This incident is regarded by most historians as the most critical diplomatic crisis faced by any nation ever.
Robert C Ode was one of the fifty-two staffs who was held hostage for 444 days. He was allowed to keep a diary for sometime in which he wrote about the conditions faced by the hostages.
d. Bombing of the Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania -1998
Simultaneous bombing of the two embassies (both located in African nations), caused the maximum life loss that ever occurred to any nation due to an attack on embassy since the end of Second World War. A total of 224 people died in these attacks.
Image courtesy- The Government Rag.
The tactics involved by the bombers in both the cases were almost same; bomb detonator and explosives were loaded in mini-trucks (similar to the TATA 407) and barged into the embassy complex.
In Niarobi, terrorists drove the truck quickly toward the embassy and warned the local security guard Benson Okuku Bwaku and his colleague, to open the gate immediately and fired on them when he refused to comply. Being unarmed and due to lack of reinforcement, they ran away. One of them threw a stun grenade inside the embassy complex, before exiting the vehicle and running off. As Bwaku continued to radio Marine Post One for backup, the truck detonated.
The explosion damaged the embassy building and collapsed the neighbouring Ufundi Building where most victims were killed, mainly students and staff of a secretarial college housed here. The heat from the blast was channelled between the buildings towards Haile Selassie Avenue where a packed commuter bus was burned. Windows were shattered in a radius of nearly 1 kilometre. A total of twelve embassy officials and 201 locals died. More than thousand others were injured. A large number of eye injuries occurred because people in buildings nearby who had heard the first explosion of the hand grenade and the shooting went to their office windows to have a look when the main blast occurred and shattered the windows.
The embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Image Courtesy- Mail Online, Remembering the fallen: Barak Obama and G.W. Bush honour victims of 1998 embassy bombings in Tanzania.
In Dar es Salaam, only one terrorist was employed for ramming the truck into the embassy wall. Here the number of casualties was less than Niarobi because of a sparsely populated neighbourhood surrounding the embassy. Here none of the embassy officials were killed but, eleven locals died and eighty-five were injured.
Though there are varied opinions amongst historians as to what actually acted as the source of motivation for the attack, but the most accepted explanation is based on the fact that Al-Queda founder- Osama Bin Laden believed that the support of Arabian countries for US forces as a result of the Iraq-Kuwait war, would ensure their stay in Arabian Peninsula. This was a direct violation of sanctity of the holy land which houses Mecca and Medina, to him. This prompted Al-Queda to work with local Islamic radicals and execute these bombings.
This incident has played a very crucial role in shaping up the history, as :-
- This brought Al-Queda and Laden to every law enforcement authorities’ radar apart from bestowing immense media spotlight,
- This showcased how effectively radical elements had penetrated relatively non-radical nations, and
- Drew US into confrontation with Al-Queda in Afghanistan.
As a response to these bombings, President Clinton sanctioned Operation Infinite Search which was conducted by US Navy, was the first ever attempt to eliminate Laden before 9/11 attack.
e. Attack on Embassy in Benghazi, Libya -2012
The diplomatic complex located at Benghazi was attacked by an Islamic militia named Ansar al-Saria with support from Al-Queda. At night of Eleventh September, the terrorists made it through the gate of the complex (which had been intentionally provided with low security cover) after blowing it down. After a brief attempt to resist the infiltration, a Diplomatic Security Services (DSS) agent secured the ambassador and an IT expert inside the main building’s safe haven. The terrorists put the building on fire and both the officials allegedly died due to asphyxiation.
Four Americans died in the attack: Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, Information Officer Sean Smith, and two CIA operatives, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, both former Navy SEALs. Stevens was the first United States ambassador killed in an attack since Adolph Dubs was killed in Kabul, Afghanistan in 1979.
Though many believe that an anti-muslin movie named Innocence of Muslims released that year instigated the attackers, but US State Department argued that it was pre-planned military-styled attack and was executed under the guidance of Al-Queda.
This incident, in spite of having relatively low life losses did in fact prove to be a catastrophic failure for Obama administration as the investigations initiated to inquire into what went wrong back there showed that the complex was not provided with adequate security cover in spite of repeated requests and the state department had failed to analyse the rapidly worsening situations across Libya and Benghazi, in particular.