• Institute for the Study of Violent Groups

  • Leading Research & Analytics on

    Violent Extremism & Transnational Crime


Attacks on U.S. Embassies and Consulates 2006 – 2013

Research and Visualization


A Bahraini armoured personnel vehicle supports U.S. Embassy Security in Manama, Bahrain [1]


Bottom Line Up Front

The United States has approximately 250 embassies, consulates, and diplomatic missions around the world. [2] U.S. Embassies and consulates (diplomatic facilities) worldwide present local American targets that are vulnerable to attack by terrorist organizations and extremists around the world. Throughout the past 33 years, there have been several notable attacks against diplomatic facilities. These attacks include: the hostage situation in Tehran, Iran in 1979; the 1998 bombings of U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania carried out by al Qaeda; and more recently the attack that occurred in Libya, which resulted in numerous casualties, including the death of the American Ambassador to Libya. This report analyzes 96 attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities that took place between January 1, 2006 and August 8, 2013. During the time period examined, the number of attacks on diplomatic facilities has remained consistent, while the number of casualties resulting from such attacks has increased. This may be the result of more complex, well coordinated attacks. Terrorist attacks against U.S. diplomatic facilities will continue to pose a serious into the foreseeable future.

Recent Threat to U.S. Diplomatic Facilities

On Friday, August 2, 2013, the U.S. Department of State announced that 17 diplomatic facilities throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia would be closed on Sunday, August 4, 2013, due to a security threat posed by an al Qaeda plot against diplomatic facilities. [3]

On Sunday, August 4, 2013, the U.S. Department of State released a statement that 19 diplomatic facilities would remain closed from August 5, 2013 through August 10, 2013, “out of an abundance of caution.” [4] The decision to close diplomatic facilities throughout the Arab world was spawned by unspecified intelligence that detailed plot that has been described as “one of the most serious plots against American and Western interests since the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.” [5] White House and U.S. State Department officials claim that the threat emanates from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which is based in Yemen. [6]

On August 6, 2013 it was reported that “Yemeni intelligence services had discovered that dozens of al Qaeda members arrived in Sana’a over the past few days in preparation for the implementation of a large plot.” [6]

Yemeni soldier on patrol in Sana’a [4]

Diplomatic facilities in Abu Dhabi, Amman, Cairo, Riyadh, Dhahran, Jeddah, Doha, Dubai, Kuwait, Manama, Muscat, Sanaa, Tripoli, Antananarivo, Bujumbura, Djibouti, Khartoum, Kigali, and Port Louis were closed from Sunday, August 4 through Saturday, August 10. Diplomatic facilities in Dhaka, Algiers, Nouakchott, Kabul, Herat, Mazar el Sharif, Baghdad, Basrah, and Erbil were closed initially on August 4, but resumed normal operations on August 5. [4] The threat also resulted in the closing of several European embassies throughout the region. [7]

Diplomatic Facility Security Measures

As a result of the 1983 Marine barracks suicide truck bombing in Beirut, Lebanon, Admiral Bobby Ray Inman wrote a report calling for changes in embassy design and location. The

“Inman Standards” call for, among other things, the following changes: [8][9]
¨ Embassies should be setback 100ft. from all streets or uncontrolled locations
¨ Nine-foot-high walls should be constructed around all embassies
¨ A maximum window-to-wall ratio of 15 percent

The U.S. currently maintains embassies in nations throughout the Middle East including Iraq (with embassies in Baghdad, Basrah, Erbil and Kirkuk) and Afghanistan (with an embassy in Kabul), where troops have been engaged in combat efforts throughout the last decade. Embassies located in such areas are surrounded by tall blast walls and are constructed using reinforced concrete. In addition, several buildings in the U.S. embassy complex in Kabul, Afghanistan, are surrounded by sandbag barriers. [10]

Attacks on Diplomatic Facilities – Analysis

Since January 1, 2006, 96 attacks have occurred throughout the world, impacting diplomatic facilities on five continents. The 96 attacks are composed of 48 armed assaults, 19 instances of destruction of property, 17 bombings, and 12 arsons. These attacks resulted in 261 total casualties. The country with the highest number of attacks is Iraq (17), where more than twice as many attacks have occurred than in any other country. Afghanistan (7) had the second most attacks. This is a result of conflicts involving U.S. forces in the region during the time examined. The three countries that experienced the highest level of violence against diplomatic facilities that are not in conflict regions are Pakistan (7), Yemen (7), and Turkey (6).

Armed assaults account for 50% of attacks (48), while destruction of property is the second most frequent attack type, occurring 20% of the time (19). The highest number of embassy attacks occurred in 2012 (22), resulting in the highest number of casualties (73). Violent attacks against diplomatic facilities average approximately 2.72 casualties per incident. Bombings are the most effective means of inflicting casualties, resulting in approximately 3.9 casualties per incident.

Groups that have carried out known attacks against U.S. diplomatic facilities are predominately Islamic extremist organizations; however, there are no groups specifically targeting diplomatic facilities. Although the Taliban has only been linked to two attacks against U.S. Embassies, they have been responsible for the highest number of casualties, with 36 since 2006.

Firearms comprise the most common type of armed assault tactic used against diplomatic facilities (20), while improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were the most common bombing tactic used (9). Suicide tactics were employed in approximately 47% of bombings (8).

While the number of attacks against U.S. diplomatic facilities has remained consistent over the last six years, the casualties resulting from such attacks have increased. This trend may be indicative of more complex, coordinated attacks, such as the attack carried out by the Taliban on the American Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan in September 2011 that resulted in 36 casualties; or the 2012 attacks in Egypt, Libya, and Yemen.

Although American Embassies are not often targeted in terrorist attacks, the escalating level of violence and coordination involved in such attacks continues to pose a serious threat for the American government and its diplomats.

Below is an interactive Tableau dashboard illustrating attacks on U.S. embassies and consulates from January 1, 2006 to August 8, 2013. We invite you to utilize interactive features by clicking on data-points throughout the visualization below. When you select a data-point all graphs will automatically update to reflect accurate data pertinent to your selection. For example, if you were to click on “al Qaeda” the remaining fields would update to show data specifically pertaining to that group. Graphs can be reset by clicking in the white space of the graph where you made your selection.


[1] The Australian. (2013, August 06). US extends terror alert shutdown. Retrieved August 07, 2013, from theaustralian.com.au: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/world/us-extends-terror-alert-shutdown/story-e6frg6so-1226691646356

[2] U.S. Department of State. (n.d.). Website of U.S. Embassies, Consulates, and Diplomatic Missions. Retrieved August 06, 2013, from www.usembassy.gov: http://www.usembassy.gov/

[3] Miller, J. (2013, August 02). Sources: Al Qaeda plot tied to embassy closings on Sunday. Retrieved August 07, 2013, from cbsnews.com: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-250_162-57596614/sources-al-qaeda-plot-tied-to-embassy-closings-on-sunday/

[4] Psaki, J. (2013, August 04). Statement on Update of Embassy and Consulate Closure. Retrieved August 07, 2013, from state.gov: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2013/08/212660.htm

[5] Schmitt, E., & Mazzetti, M. (2013, August 05). Qaeda Leader’s Edict to Yemen Affiliate Is Said to Prompt Alert. Retrieved August 07, 2013, from nytimes.com: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/06/world/middleeast/qaeda-chiefs-order-to-yemen-affiliate-said-to-prompt-alert.html?ref=alqaeda&_r=1&

[6] BBC. (2013, August 06). US and UK pull staff out of Yemen amid terror alert. Retrieved August 07, 2013, from bbc.co.uk: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-23585923

[7] Mazzetti, M. (2013, August 04). U.S. Extends Closing of Some Diplomatic Posts. Retrieved August 07, 2013, from nytimes.com: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/05/world/us-extends-closing-of-some-diplomatic-posts.html

[8] Risen, J. (1998, August 08). BOMBINGS IN EAST AFRICA: THE SECURITY ISSUE; Bombed Embassies Did Not Meet Toughened Security Standards. Retrieved August 07, 2013, from nytimes.com: http://www.nytimes.com/1998/08/08/world/bombings-east-africa-security-issue-bombed-embassies-did-not-meet-toughened.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

[9] Nadel, B. A. (2008, March 07). Security at U.S. Embassies: Diplomacy and Design. Retrieved August 07, 2013, from buildings.com: http://www.buildings.com/article-details/articleid/5781/title/security-at-us-embassies-diplomacy-and-design.aspx#top

[10] Quinn, P., & Shah, A. (2011, September 13). U.S. Afghanistan Embassy Attacked: Taliban Claims Responsibility For Assault On Kabul. Retrieved August 2013, 2013, from huffingtonpost.com: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/13/us-afghanistan-embassy-attacked_n_959617.html


Copyright © 2019 The Institute for the Study of Violent Groups.