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Oklahoma Bombing Stirs Memories Of Terror In Lebanon

April 20, 1995

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ The car bombing of the U.S. federal office building in Oklahoma City has stirred memories of terror the Lebanese are struggling to forget.

Thousands of Beirut residents watched Wednesday’s disaster live on special hookups to U.S. television networks broadcasting from Oklahoma City. Many expressed shock that terror had stricken the heartland of a nation they considered beyond the reach of terrorists.

It was almost an anniversary replay of the car bombing that devastated the U.S. Embassy in Beirut on April 18, 1983, killing 62 people, including 17 Americans.

``The two bombings look scarily identical. I can’t believe this doesn’t have a Middle East connection,″ said Samir Firezli, a businessman who returned home last year after fleeing the violence of Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war.

``The shredded facade of the Oklahoma building was almost a reprint of the devastated U.S. Embassy in Beirut,″ said Firezli, who lived in Paris and New York during his decade abroad.

The 1983 Beirut attack was staged by a suicide bomber who drove his explosives-packed van to the front door of the seven-story embassy in broad daylight. It was the beginning of a chain of bombings and kidnappings carried out by Iranian-backed Shiite Muslim extremists.

The Oklahoma City bombing, which killed at least 36 people and injured nearly 500, was frighteningly familiar in Lebanon, where car bombs killed thousands of people during the 15-year war.

``This criminal act is deplored by all Lebanese who bitterly suffered from many, many similar attacks,″ Prime Minister Rafik Hariri said in a statement released to the news media.

``We also condemn the criminal hands stained with the blood of innocent children irrespective of the culprits’ identity, motives or goals,″ Hariri said.

Saateh Noureddine, foreign editor of Beirut’s As-Safir newspaper, said he was startled the United States had become such an easy target for terrorists.

``We’ve long been under the impression that America was beyond terrorist reach. But this has now changed. The U.S. administration is confronted with the need to invent better counter-terrorist methods,″ Noureddine said.

Gilbert Halaby, 24, a graduate of Western Kentucky University, who returned to Lebanon last summer, said: ``It is time to take action against those who kill without mercy so that they are set as examples to those who still think that crime pays.″

The 1983 Beirut embassy bombing was claimed by Islamic Jihad, a shadowy group widely believed to have had links with the Iranian-backed Hezbollah.

Islamic Jihad also took responsibility for the simultaneous suicide truck bombings of the U.S. Marine base and the French paratroopers headquarters in Beirut. The twin attacks on Oct. 23, 1983, killed 241 U.S. servicemen and 58 Frenchmen serving in a multinational peacekeeping force.

In 1985, 75 people were killed when a car bomb exploded outside the home of Sheik Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, a prominent Lebanese Shiite clergyman who denies widespread reports that he was Hezbollah’s mentor.

On Thursday, Fadlallah condemned the Oklahoma City bombing.

``We categorically reject these kinds of acts, irrespective of who carried them out and where. We do not consider such acts to be acts of jihad (holy war). Jihad is not meant to kill children and innocent people,″ Fadlallah told an Associated Press reporter.

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