On this day in 1996, a tanker truck loaded with 25,000 pounds of explosives rips through the U.S. Air Force military housing complex Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, killing 19 U.S. airmen and wounding nearly 500 others.
The terrorist attack that blew off much of the eight-story Building 131, leaving a crater 50 feet wide and 16 feet deep, was the deadliest attack against U.S. forces since the 1983 bombing of a Marine barracks in Beirut that left 241 dead.
The bombers, later identified as members of the pro-Iran Islamic militant group Hezbollah, parked the truck near the towers that were home to 2,000 American military personnel who were assigned to the King Abdul Aziz Air Base to patrol southern Iraqi no-fly zones. They escaped before setting off the explosion.
Investigators found the attack had been planned for more than three years by members of the Saudi Hezbollah, with backing from Iran, as a way to force U.S. troops out of Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf. Hezbollah and Iran were found guilty by a U.S. federal court in 2006, and Iran was ordered to pay $254.5 million to survivors. That money has not been collected.
In 2001, 13 Saudis and one Lebanese man were indicted in the attack by the U.S., with Attorney General John Ashcroft stating “... the Iranian government inspired, supported and supervised members of Saudi Hezbollah.” Charges included conspiracy to kill Americans and U.S. employees, to use weapons of mass destruction and to destroy U.S. property, plus murder and bombing.
Iran denied involvement in the attack, and Saudi Arabia said they would not extradite those charged who were in their custody. None of the indicted have been brought to court.
Nearly 20 years later, Ahmad Ibrahim al-Mughassil, a key Hezbollah operative implicated in the attack, was captured and arrested in Beirut in 2015 and moved to Saudi Arabia for interrogation. In 2018, Iran was ordered to pay victims $104.7 million by a U.S. federal judge.