A South Lebanese radio station owned by an American Christian organization was demolished and six people were killed during a terrorist raid early Thursday, Israeli military and independent sources said.
All the deaths apparently occurred when explosives carried by the four terrorists were detonated during a gun battle with guards who apparently surprised the four men as they were setting charges to blow up the installation. A guard and the four would-be bombers were killed, as was a technician working inside the station, the sources said.
The station, known as the "Voice of Hope," is owned by High Adventures, a Van Nuys-based Christian missionary organization headed by George Otis, a former Learjet Corp. executive.
Early Morning Blast
Until the blast, shortly after 1 a.m. Thursday, the station broadcast from two former French customs buildings located near the Druze village of Khiam in Israel's self-proclaimed "security zone" in southern Lebanon, about two miles north of the Lebanon-Israel border.
The station went back on the air late Thursday morning from the facilities of the Christian Broadcast Network in Marjayoun.
Lebanon's National Resistance Front claimed responsibility for the blast and said it was carried out in retaliation for the persecution of the Lebanese people by the South Lebanon Army, an Israeli-backed militia which patrols the security zone.
The Voice of Hope compound was donated to Otis by the late Maj. Saad Haddad, leader of a predecessor militia to the South Lebanon Army, which was also funded and equipped by Israel.
Israel radio first described the attackers as suicide bombers who slipped past a guard post wearing explosives-laden vests and belts and detonated the devices inside the station. However, military and independent Christian sources said later that the saboteurs apparently slipped through a chain-link fence around the compound and were in the process of planting their charges when one of two guards spotted them.
The guards were reported to be members of the South Lebanon Army.
Israeli military sources said the bodies of three saboteurs were found after the explosion. The fourth was apparently still wearing his bomb-laden gear when it detonated, virtually disintegrating his body. The sources estimated that the four attackers carried a total of more than 200 pounds of high explosives.
Referring to the "puppet Voice of Hope," the National Resistance Front said in a statement from Beirut that the four terrorists were members of the Lebanese Communist Party. Israeli military sources said they were presumably Shia Muslims, and that the army had previously warned the station that security at the site was inadequate.
The station has come under fire before, both from Palestinian and Shia Muslim guerrillas who view the South Lebanon Army as a proxy force for Israel. Israel drove most Palestinians out of the region during the June, 1982, invasion of Lebanon.
Most Israeli troops finally withdrew to the international border last spring, but the Shia Muslim-dominated National Resistance Front has vowed to fight on until all Israeli personnel are pulled out and the South Lebanon Army is disbanded.
Curfew Imposed on Villages
Israeli and South Lebanon Army troops sealed the area around the station early Thursday and clamped a curfew on nearby villages during house-to-house searches.
Voice of Hope began broadcasting in September, 1979, offering a mixture of Country and Western music, Old Testament passages and pro-SLA newscasts in Arabic and English.
In an interview in his Northridge, Calif., office, Otis, head of the Christian missionary organization which owns the station, said the raid might reflect the pique of the terrorist community at the United States in the wake of its interception of an Egyptian plane carrying four Palestinian terrorists.
"The terrorists are smarting," said Otis.
"Because of the work we do it's a little like stabbing Mother Teresa," he added.
Otis said Thursday he will fly to the Mideast this evening to start plans to rebuild his station.
Times staff writer Patricia Ward Biederman contributed to this story from Los Angeles.