On This Day

terry anderson, terry anderson hostage, terry anderson lebanon, terry anderson family
Kurt Strump/AP
Terry Anderson poses with his daughter
and sister, Dec. 5, 1991.

On This Day: Last US Hostage in Lebanon Released

December 04, 2010 06:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On Dec. 4, 1991, journalist Terry Anderson gained his freedom after being held captive for more than six years by Iranian-backed militants in Lebanon.

Lebanon Hostage Crisis

Terry Anderson, the chief Middle East correspondent for The Associated Press, was abducted in Beirut on March 16, 1985, as he was leaving a tennis court.

His kidnappers were members of Hezbollah, a Shiite Lebanese militant organization that came into existence during the civil war in Lebanon. The group abducted more than 90 foreigners, including 17 Americans, during the war.

“The hostage seizures were fully consistent with Hizballah's declared goal of expunging both the American diplomatic presence and Americans from Lebanon, and the hostages’ fate was often manipulated in order to serve the interests of Hizballah's sponsor, Iran,” explains the Council on Foreign Relations.

Upon his capture, Anderson was kept in a small cell with other hostages, including William Buckley, the CIA chief in Lebanon. The prisoners were kept in chains or placed inside a coffin-like box. Guards beat them with iron rods or rubber hoses about the head, back, ribs and feet, and staged mock executions.

At least eight hostages died, including Buckley and Marine Lieut. Col. William R. Higgins, died. Many suffered permanent injuries, and some attempted suicide. In December 1987, Anderson banged his head against the prison wall until his face was covered in blood.

In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, as Tehran sought closer economic ties to the United States, the number of abductions decreased and conditions for the remaining hostages improved. Most of the remaining hostages, including Anderson and Terry Waite, an envoy of the Archbishop of Canterbury who had been kidnapped while negotiating the release of the hostages, were released in 1991. The last two hostages, both Germans, were released in June 1992.

On his release, Anderson told reporters, “You just do what you have to do. You wake up every day, summon up the energy from somewhere and you get through the day, day after day after day.”

He was reunited with his fiancée, Madeleine Bassil, and their 6-year-old daughter, Sulome, whom he had never seen.

“We must dedicate ourselves to insuring that hostage-taking is not resumed,” declared President George H.W. Bush. “Indeed, the time has come to eradicate all forms of terrorism.”

Historical Context: The Lebanese Civil War, 1975–1990

The Lebanese Civil War began on the morning of April 13, 1975, with a drive-by shooting that killed four of a congregation at a church in east Beirut. Initially the fighting was between Christian, Muslim, and Palestinian groups, but the conflict grew as Israel and Syria became involved.

The war claimed the lives of between 130,000 and 200,000 people, and crippled the Lebanese economy. Beirut, once the “Paris of the Middle East” and a vibrant tourist destination, was left in ruins.

The 15-year conflict was, according to the BBC, both a civil and a regional war. It left Lebanon “firmly under Syria's thumb, and with a southern strip of territory occupied by Israel as a buffer zone.” Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000. Syria left in 2005 in the wake of the protests that followed the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Reference: Lebanon and Hezbollah


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