Evidence suggests that the La Belle Discotheque bombing that killed two U.S. servicemen in West Berlin 37 years ago was a black-flag operation set up by the CIA and provided a pretext for the first U.S. attempt to assassinate Muammar Qaddafi
On April 5, 1986, three people were killed and 229 injured when La Belle Discotheque, a popular haunt for U.S. servicemen in the Friedenau district of West Berlin, was bombed.
Ten days later, citing “irrefutable evidence” and “proof” that Libya was behind the bombing, President Ronald Reagan ordered U.S. planes to attack the Libyan cities of Tripoli and Benghazi. Around 100 civilians were killed, including Qaddafi’s infant daughter.
The Reagan administration hated Qaddafi because, when he came to power in 1969, he had kicked out the U.S. military and nationalized Libya’s oil, using the proceeds to finance Libya’s development and to support Arab nationalist regimes and later the drive for Pan-African unity.
Prior to the discotheque bombing, Qaddafi had called for Arab assaults on American interests worldwide after a U.S.-Libyan naval clash in the Mediterranean, in which 35 seamen on a Libyan patrol boat in the western Gulf of Sidra were killed in international waters claimed by the Libyan government. In another incident five years earlier, two Libyan aircraft fired upon and were then shot down by American F-14 Tomcats off the Libyan coast.
The U.S. at the time had encircled Libya militarily, supported dissident military officers and would go on to back Chad during the Libya-Chad War.
Qaddafi survived the U.S. assassination attempt because of the malfunction of the laser-guided bombing system and because several of the attacking planes were forced to flak after Libyan air defenses picking up their movement fired anti-aircraft missiles.
However, 25 years later, the U.S. came back to finish the job, and Qaddafi was lynched—to the delight of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who said: “We came, we saw, he died.”
“No Hard Evidence”
Contradicting President Reagan’s statements, the chief of the anti-terrorism police in Berlin concluded after investigating the discotheque bombing that the police had “no hard evidence let alone proof” that Libya had been involved.
When the Berlin Wall came down, prosecutors uncovered Stasi documents that implicated a Lebanese Stasi agent (Ali Chanaa) and his German wife (Verena Chanaa), a Palestinian militant and driver at the Libyan embassy in East Berlin (Yasser Shraydi), and a Libyan agent (Musbah Eter) who worked at the East Berlin embassy.
In 2001, a German judge concluded that Verena Chanaa was the one who planted the bomb and lit it with her own hands; she was given a 14-year prison sentence.
Though an intercepted radio transmission from Tripoli to the Libyan embassy in East Berlin in 1986 called for “an attack with as many victims as possible,” the prosecution at the trial was unable to prove that Colonel Qaddafi was behind the bombing—a failure the court blamed on the “limited willingness” of the German and U.S. governments to share intelligence information.
A German investigation uncovered that Eter, the Libyan agent, ran a CIA-front operation in Malta and had long worked for the CIA. He may have been acting as a provocateur who orchestrated a black-flag attack designed to provide a pretext for the U.S. bombing of Libya.
At the time of the LaBelle Discotheque bombing, Eter worked for the Libyan embassy in East Berlin but made regular visits to the U.S. embassy, as was detailed in records kept by the East German secret police. Interrogation transcripts reveal that Eter was the one to bring the operating instructions for the bomb to the flat of his co-defendents at the 2001 trial, Ali and Verena Chanaa.
Phony Intelligence and CIA/Mossad Moles
After the bombing, the National Security Agency (NSA) claimed to have intercepted coded exchanges between Tripoli and the East Berlin Libyan People’s Bureau that said: “We have something that will make you happy.” A second cable, hours after the bombing read: “An event occurred. You will be pleased with the result.”
Under orders from the NSC, the raw coded intercepts were sent straight to the White House, bypassing normal NSA analysis channels, drawing criticism from at least one NSA officer. A West German intelligence official, who later saw the cables, said he was very critical and skeptical of U.S. intelligence blaming the Libyans.
Stasi documents passed on to West German officials based on three separate informants, indicated the attack was planned by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command [PFLP-GC], which had met in Tripoli a month before.
One of the PFLP-GC members who was allegedly part of the plot was nicknamed “Nuri” (Youddeff Chiraldi). The case against the PFLP-GC fell apart during the 1993 trial of another alleged ringleader, Imad Mahmoud, a member of the PFLP-GC who purportedly received grenades and pistols from Libyan diplomats in East Berlin.
Numerous witnesses did not appear at the trial because it was thought they were being protected as assets of Western intelligence services or the Israeli Mossad, according to the World Socialist website.
The Soviet KGB, in a document cited by a German documentary film, gave the opinion that American counterintelligence planned to use “Mahmoud” to concoct a case for the involvement of Libyan terrorists in the attack.
An informant attached to Nuri’s group, Mahmoud Abu Jabbar (code named “Faysal”) was, according to KGB files, a CIA “asset.” A KGB report indicated that “Faysal” had met with his CIA contact two days prior to the attack, and told them the price of the bombing would be $30,000 and not $80,000 as previously agreed.
Stasi defector Colonel Joachim “Frank” Weigand concluded that Nuri was an agent for the West German police. While Nuri was wanted for the murder of a Libyan CIA informer, he managed to repeatedly cross Checkpoint Charlie (the East-West Berlin border crossing), one of the most tightly guarded border crossings in the world.
“The Yanks Did This Thing Themselves”
When West German authorities located Nuri in Lebanon in 1994, U.S. officials failed to provide the evidence needed to extradite him, despite repeated pleas by German officials.
These officials ultimately concluded that the CIA—which penetrated Qaddafi’s inner-circle working under the cover of military training missions—was responsible for the bombing.
Weigand recalled one phone conversation intercept where a high-ranking West German intelligence officer spoke with the Berlin official responsible for the La Belle official investigation. According to Weigand, the investigator, when pressed for his conclusion, told the West German spook: “Well, when I add it all up, I think the Yanks did this thing themselves.”
“The Most Unscrupulous and Bloody Methods”
The La Belle Discotheque bombing established a pattern of government deception and retaliation for terrorist attacks whose culprits were not firmly established.
The bombing also appears to fit with the pattern of CIA-engineered black-flag operations whose purpose was to demonize government enemies and create public fears about terrorism that justified draconian anti-terrorist policies and bombing of sovereign countries with the goal of regime change.
The World Socialist website concluded in 1998 that the bombing displayed how U.S. intelligence services were “well-versed in the most unscrupulous and bloody methods, not excluding those that result in injury or death to Americans.” This unfortunately remains true today.
See Geoff Simons, Libya and the West: From Independence to Lockerbie (London: I.B. Tauris, 2004). ↑
See Simons, Libya and the West. ↑
Seymour Hersh, “Target Qaddafi,” New York Times Magazine, February 22, 1987; Noam Chomsky, Pirates and Emperors, Old and New: International Terrorism in the Real World, rev ed. (Boston: South End Press, 2002), 92; Nicholas Laham, The American Bombing of Libya: A Study of the Force of Miscalculation in Reagan Foreign Policy (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2008), 138. ↑
Hersh, “Target Qaddafi”; Mattia Toaldo, The Origins of the US War on Terror: Lebanon, Libya and American intervention in the Middle East (New York: Routledge, 2013), 139, 140; Steven Erlanger, “Guilty in Fatal 1986 Berlin Disco Bombing Linked to Libya,” The New York Times, November 14, 2011. The presiding judge, Peter Marhofer, said he could not clear up whether Qaddafi or Libyan intelligence had actually ordered the attack, though there were “indications” they had. ↑
Eter was ultimately convicted for his role in the bombing plot and given a 12-year sentence. ↑
David Hoffman, The Oklahoma City Bombing and the Politics of Terror (Los Angeles: Feral House, 1998), 405. ↑
Hoffman, The Oklahoma City Bombing and the Politics of Terror, 405. ↑
See Annie Jacobsen, Surprise, Kill, Vanish: The Secret History of CIA Paramilitary Armies, Operators and Assassins (Boston: Little, Brown, 2019). ↑
Hoffman, The Oklahoma City Bombing and the Politics of Terror, 405. ↑
CovertAction Magazine is made possible by subscriptions, orders and donations from readers like you.
When you donate to CovertAction Magazine, you are supporting investigative journalism. Your contributions go directly to supporting the development, production, editing, and dissemination of the Magazine.
CovertAction Magazine does not receive corporate or government sponsorship. Yet, we hold a steadfast commitment to providing compensation for writers, editorial and technical support. Your support helps facilitate this compensation as well as increase the caliber of this work.
Please make a donation by clicking on the donate logo above and enter the amount and your credit or debit card information.
CovertAction Institute, Inc. (CAI) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and your gift is tax-deductible for federal income purposes. CAI’s tax-exempt ID number is 87-2461683.
We sincerely thank you for your support.
Disclaimer: The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s). CovertAction Institute, Inc. (CAI), including its Board of Directors (BD), Editorial Board (EB), Advisory Board (AB), staff, volunteers and its projects (including CovertAction Magazine) are not responsible for any inaccurate or incorrect statement in this article. This article also does not necessarily represent the views the BD, the EB, the AB, staff, volunteers, or any members of its projects.
Differing viewpoints: CAM publishes articles with differing viewpoints in an effort to nurture vibrant debate and thoughtful critical analysis. Feel free to comment on the articles in the comment section and/or send your letters to the Editors, which we will publish in the Letters column.
Copyrighted Material: This web site may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. As a not-for-profit charitable organization incorporated in the State of New York, we are making such material available in an effort to advance the understanding of humanity’s problems and hopefully to help find solutions for those problems. We believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. You can read more about ‘fair use’ and US Copyright Law at the Legal Information Institute of Cornell Law School.
Republishing: CovertAction Magazine (CAM) grants permission to cross-post CAM articles on not-for-profit community internet sites as long as the source is acknowledged together with a hyperlink to the original CovertAction Magazine article. Also, kindly let us know at info@CovertActionMagazine.com. For publication of CAM articles in print or other forms including commercial internet sites, contact: info@CovertActionMagazine.com.
By using this site, you agree to these terms above.
About the Author
Jeremy Kuzmarov is Managing Editor of CovertAction Magazine.
He is the author of four books on U.S. foreign policy, including Obama’s Unending Wars (Clarity Press, 2019) and The Russians Are Coming, Again, with John Marciano (Monthly Review Press, 2018).
He can be reached at: email@example.com.