On 8 March 1985, a car bomb exploded between 9 and 45 metres from the house of Islamic cleric Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah in Beirut, Lebanon, in a failed assassination attempt allegedly organized by the American CIA and British intelligence. The bombing killed more than 80 people and injured 200, almost all civilians.
The bomb explosion, estimated to have been equivalent to 200 kg (440 lbs) of dynamite, occurred in the western Beirut suburb of Bir al-Abed, outside an apartment building. It killed worshippers, mostly women and girls, leaving Friday prayer services at an adjacent mosque, and destroyed two 7-story apartment buildings and a cinema.
While several of Fadlallah's bodyguards were killed in the attack, the cleric escaped injury as he was attending Friday prayers at a nearby mosque.
Locals fired guns in the air, following the blast, trying to clear the roads to allow ambulances to pass. A banner was strung across the blast site by locals, reading "Made in USA."
In 1976, Gerald Ford became the first U.S. President to forbid political assassination, in the wake of the Church Commission, issuing Executive Order 11905. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan strengthened the policy with Executive Order 12333, which decreed that "No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination." This Executive Order remains in effect today.
The Beirut car bombing occurred "within the continuously evolving framework of an American 'preemption' counterterror program". Following the 1983 United States embassy bombing and the 1984 U.S. embassy annex bombing, the U.S. military considered a range of retaliatory options, but it was unclear that these would have any deterrent value. On November 14, 1983, U.S.President Ronald Reagan authorized a retaliatory strike, but Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger did not authorize U.S. aircraft to take off for reasons that have not been disclosed. CIA director William Casey, along with CIA General Counsel Stanley Sporkin, favored the use of preemptive counter-terrorism practices in Lebanon; others, including Deputy Director of Central Intelligence John N. McMahon, did not approve of the strategy, concerned that it would violate Executive Order 12333.
Reporter Bob Woodward wrote that CIA director William Casey, on his deathbed, had admitted personal culpability in the attack, which he suggests was carried out with funding from Saudi Arabia. Fadlallah would later suggest the amount $3,000,000 as the price that had been offered by the Saudis for Casey to arrange the bombing. Woodward suggests that Fadlallah accepted $2 million from the Saudis to stop attacks from Hezbollah. Asked about the allegations, President Reagan responded, "Never would I sign anything that would authorize an assassination... I never have, and I never will, and I didn't."
The U.S. National Security Advisor, Robert McFarlane, stated that those responsible for the bomb may have had American training, but asserted that they were "rogue operative[s]," and the CIA in no way sanctioned or supported the attack. Woodward's own account of his conversation with Casey suggests that Casey's action was "off the books".