[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 November, 2001, 16:01 GMT
Flashback: The Berlin disco bombing
By Nathalie Malinarich
BBC News Online

It was after midnight on Saturday, 5 April, 1986 when a bomb exploded in West Berlin's La Belle disco, killing two US servicemen and a Turkish woman.

It took the US government 10 days to retaliate for the attack by bombing Libya - it took 15 years and the fall of the Berlin Wall to convict the attackers.

Firefighters in the La Belle after the explosion
The La Belle was popular with American soldiers
The La Belle disco in the city's Schoenberg district was a favourite with American soldiers stationed in Cold War Germany.

Many were there on the night that a two-kilogram bomb packed with plastic explosives and shrapnel exploded close to the dance-floor and ripped through the club at 0140.

Sergeant Kenneth Ford, 21, and 29-year-old Nermin Hannay died at the scene. Sergeant James Goins, 25, would die later in hospital.

Another 229 people were wounded, including 79 Americans. Some were badly maimed by shrapnel, many suffered burst eardrums.

Ronald Reagan was US president at the time, and he blamed Libya for the explosion.

Trail goes cold

Intercepted messages between Tripoli and agents in Europe made it clear that Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi was the brains behind the attack, the US said.

5 April 1986: A bomb explodes in the La Belle disco
15 April 1986: US planes bomb Libya
1990: After German reunification, prosecutors find files linking the Libyan embassy to the attack
1996: Lebanon extradites Shraydi to Germany, the Chanaas are arrested and Eter admits his role in the bombing
Nov 1997: The trial begins
Nov 2001: Four jailed for bombing
Ten days later US Air Force fighters were targeting the Libyan capital Tripoli and the city of Benghazi.

The operation was widely seen as an attempt to kill Colonel Gaddafi. He survived, but his adopted baby daughter was killed in the bombing along with at least 15 civilians.

It was not the first time that Libya and the US had clashed in recent years - even before the La Belle bombing tensions between the two countries were at an all-time high.

Prosecutors would later argue that Libya had ordered the attack on the Berlin disco to avenge the sinking of two patrol boats by the US in the Gulf of Sirte in March 1986.

Stasi files

In spite of reports blaming Libya for the attack on the nightclub, the trail went cold until the 1990 reunification of Germany and the subsequent opening up of the East's secret service archives.

Musbah Eter
Musbah Eter: Listed as a Libyan agent by the Stasi
The Stasi files led prosecutors to the Libyan Musbah Eter, who had worked at the embassy in communist East Berlin.

Eter was persuaded to give evidence, but he remained a defendant because he only gave limited co-operation, according to the prosecution.

The Stasi files listed him as an agent, and prosecutors said he was the Libyan spy agency's main contact at the embassy.

Eter and four other suspects were arrested in 1996 in Lebanon, Italy, Greece and Berlin, and put on trial a year later.

Libyan responsibility

After a four-year trial, often described as murky, Musbah Eter was finally sentenced to 12 years in prison for aiding and abetting attempted murder.

Two other Libyan embassy workers also received convictions for attempted murder: Palestinian Yasser Shraydi, accused of being the ringleader, and the Lebanese-born German, Ali Chanaa, who doubled as a Stasi agent.

Chanaa's German wife, Verena, was the only defendant found guilty of murder, after the prosecution showed she had planted the bomb. She was sentenced to 14 years' imprisonment.

Prosecutors said the three men had assembled the bomb in the Chanaas' flat. The explosive was said to have been brought into West Berlin in a Libyan diplomatic bag.

Verena Chanaa and her sister, Andrea Haeusler, carried it into the La Belle in a travel bag and left five minutes before it exploded.

Ms Haeusler was acquitted because it could not be proved that she knew a bomb was in the bag.

Against the other four, the evidence cited included intercepted radio transmissions from Tripoli to the embassy in East Berlin, surveillance records on Eter and Shraydi and reports on the Libyan embassy's activities compiled by Chanaa.

There were also receipts for money allegedly paid to the Chanaas for the attack on La Belle, secretly photocopied by the Stasi.

But the prosecution was unable to prove that Colonel Gaddafi was behind the attack - a failure which the court blamed on the "limited willingness" of the German and US governments to share intelligence.

Berlin bomb trial opens
18 Nov 97  |  In Depth
Analysis: Gaddafi keeps West guessing
02 Feb 01  |  Middle East
Libya seeks new beginning
11 Dec 99  |  Middle East
History of attacks on US personnel
08 Aug 98  |  Americas

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific