The Khobar Towers bombing of 1996; Shape of things to come?

Tony Duheaume

Published: Updated:

With Iran’s belligerence in the Middle East growing daily, through its interventions in Iraq and Syria, where it has put in place a land corridor for which to supply its terror proxy Hezbollah, in a bid to make it easier for its Quds Force to penetrate the Gulf states, it has to be remembered that past actions can often reflect on the shape of things to come.

Almost 22 years on, from the 1996 June 25 bombing of the Khobar Towers apartment complex in Saudi Arabia, in which the role of the Iranian-backed Saudi Hezbollah al-Hejaz’s was highlighted in US and Saudi intelligence reports; with the US pulling out of the Iran.

Deal, it could herald an aggressive Iranian regime planning similar attacks in the near future. At this point an old saying by George Santayana needs to be remembered; “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” It was a result of this devastating attack, which was laced through with Iranian involvement, 19 US servicemen and one Saudi were killed, and 372 of various nationalities wounded.

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Through extensive intelligence gathering by the US, it was deemed that the Saudi terror group taking part in the bombing, were young men of the Shiite faith residing in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, most of whom had been targeted by recruiters of the Saudi arm of Hezbollah for radicalization, many of them recruited while on religious pilgrimages to the Sayyeda Zeinab shrine in Damascus.

Young men who were indoctrinated by recruiters to join the ranks of Saudi Hezbollah, and after being transported to training facilities set up by the Iranian Quds Force in Iran, Syria or in Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon, they received military training and intense indoctrination, to prepare them for forthcoming terror attacks.

Syria’s involvement in these terror activities was essential, as another senior member of Hezbollah’s recruiting team, Ali al-Houri, had transported explosives needed for the operation, and had acted as a liaison officer for the Saudi Hezbollah cell with the Iranian embassy in Damascus.

As far as use of the embassy was concerned, it was an essential source of logistics, it could supply vehicles for transport, as well as aiding members of Saudi Hezbollah to travel with ease to and from Lebanon.

Recruiting young men

Members of the Saudi cell, like Ibrahim al-Yacoub, a prominent member of Saudi Hezbollah, who oversaw the recruiting of young Shiite men into the organization, and Hussein al-Mughis, a native of Qatif, Saudi Arabia, had spent time in Qom, Iran, where they had undergone intense religious training.

During al-Yacoub and al-Mughis’s stay in Tehran, they had met with Iranian officials, and it would have been a certainty, they would have at some point, been briefed by members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps.

It was brought to light in a civil action taken out by the United States District Court for the district of Colombia, how members of the Saudi cell taking part in the Khobar Towers operation, had been recruited on behalf of IRGC Brigadier General Ahmed Sharifi, who was said to have been the operational commander overseeing the attack, whilst he played the role of being a diplomat at the Iranian embassy in Damascus.

During his time there, Sharifi’s remit was to supply passports, various paperwork, and all funds necessary to carry out a successful attack on the complex.

Through an extensive investigation by the American FBI, a vast amount of information was uncovered concerning the operation, and it came to light that such was the importance of this attack, it was approved by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, as well as being fully approved and supported by the then Iranian Minister of Intelligence, Ali Fallahian.

At the time of the Khobar bombing, the Hezbollah Al-Hejaz “military wing” was headed by Ahmed Al-Mughaassil – aka “Abu Omran” – whose directive was to plan, supervise and execute terrorist attacks against US interests in the Saudi kingdom.

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Being a citizen of Qatif, al-Mughaassil was able to actively recruit young Saudi men from a pool of gullible locals willing to do his bidding. It was through his recruitment drive, young Saudi Shias had been persuaded to join the ranks of Hezbollah, and had been sent to training camps in Lebanon, Syria and Iran.

In the usual modus operandi of the Quds Force, with the terror cell’s training completed, in early in 1994, a group of four young recruits were sent out across Eastern Saudi Arabia, scouring the area for suitable targets. Their surveillance missions were carried out with great proficiency, members of the cell often keeping watch on the American Embassy in Riyadh, or closely observing local markets where Americans shopped.

Having closely shadowed their marks, they kept notes on their movements, and handing these reports to al-Mughassil, whose time was spent mainly in Lebanon, he would pass them onto to the head of Saudi Hezbollah, Abdel Karim Al-Nasser, who in turn passed them on to Iranian officials.

It was during these surveillance missions, the group discovered that the Khobar Towers complex, situated in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, was being used by the United States, as well as other countries, to house a large number of military personnel assigned to the kingdom. The group soon realized the eight-story structure fitted the bill for a spectacular attack, as not only did it house US personnel, it was also at the centre of the country’s oil industry.

With the high-rise apartment building known at the time to house airmen from USAF’s 4404th Wing, who had been involved since 1992 in missions to enforce a “no-fly” zone in Iraq, it made a perfect target for the proposed attack. With the complex being located in Dhahran, a large city on the Gulf, which acts as a major administration area for the Saudi oil industry, the vicinity in which the building was situated was heavily congested, which made it perfect to deploy a truck bomb.

Modus operandi

With the attack staged to drive the US out of Saudi Arabia, terrorists taking part in the assault had smuggled explosives into the country from Lebanon. In early June 1996, using stolen identification, a member of the group purchased a large truck used for sewage treatment, and for two weeks, several members worked on the construction of the bomb at a farm in the vicinity of Qatif.

Packing the tank with around 5,000 pounds of explosives, which included gasoline as an accelerant, they produced an explosive mix equivalent to about 30,000 pounds of TNT, converting the vehicle into a powerful travelling bomb.

On the evening of June 25, 1996, the conspirators taking part in the attack, met at the farmhouse for the very last time, to go over final preparations, and to make certain that all were fully aware of their part in the assault. Then with the truck bomb escorted by two scout cars, they drove towards Khobar, ready to execute the planned bombing.

On arrival at the housing complex, they unsuccessfully tried to enter the compound through the main checkpoint, and after being refused access by US military personnel, they headed for a parking area adjacent to the building. With the lead car entering the car park, the driver flashed its headlights as a signal for his companions to follow, and then parked beside a chain link fence. After entering the parking area, the truck pulled up beside the lead car, and they were now parked about 72 feet from the housing complex.

As the truck came to a halt, the third car which would act as the getaway vehicle pulled up, and with the terrorists vacating the lead car and the truck, they jumped inside the getaway car, and within four minutes of the terror group leaving the parking area, the bomb exploded with devastating effect, leaving a crater that measured 85 feet wide and 35 feet deep.

Due to the cylindrical shape of the tanker, the rear of which was pointed towards the apartment complex, once detonated, the exploding vehicle had acted much like an explosively formed projectile.

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Adding this to the clearance between the truck’s undercarriage and the ground, the surge from the explosion had blasted outward with the lethal force of an airburst, sending the blast wave with devastating force into the north face of the targeted building, the detonation of which was said to have been felt some 20 miles away in the Gulf state of Bahrain.

Such was the power of the shock wave of the explosion, several military vehicles parked to the left of the building, suffered extreme damage from the airburst surging their way. Within the sprawling complex, six high-rise apartment blocks were heavily damaged or destroyed, and such was the power of the blast, not a single pain of glass in these structures was left intact, and buildings up to a mile away suffered broken windows.

It was stated in the 9/11 Commission Report, how Iran had been collaborating with al-Qaeda as far back as late 1991 or early 1992, and that al-Qaeda might well have worked alongside Iran in carrying out the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing, and so in future attacks, Iran might even decide to hook up with ISIS.

Iran’s involvement in terror attacks, had continued up to the signing of the Iran Deal. But with cash needed to build up its military, the regime had hoodwinked the West into signing the deal, and so, with European leaders wanting to keep the Iran Deal alive, it should realise that Iran’s global terror network is still up and running, and they should reflect on terror attacks like that of Khobar Towers as a sign of thing to come.

As with a much more powerful regime already emerging as a result of this deal, should the EU continue to pump further billions into the coffers of this sponsor of terror, with Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization already gearing up to boost its uranium enrichment capacity, any future attack could be much more extreme than Khobar Towers, eventually coming in the form of long-range missiles loaded with nukes.