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Four jailed for Berlin bombing

La belle damage (file pic)
The La Belle disco was a popular haunt for U.S. servicemen  

BERLIN, Germany -- A court has jailed four defendants for the bombing 15 years ago of a West Berlin discotheque that killed two U.S. soldiers and a Turkish woman.

A Libyan diplomat and two Palestinians were convicted of aiding in murder, while one of the Palestinians' former German wife was convicted of murder. They were given sentences of 12 to 14 years in prison.

The bombing was blamed by the U.S. on Libya and retaliatory airstrikes were launched against the country.

The court said all four defendants plotted the attack, but it found only Verena Channa, a 42-year-old German, guilty of murder. She was sentenced to 14 years in prison.

Yassir Chraidi, a 42-year-old Palestinian accused of being the main organiser of the attack, was convicted of multiple counts of attempted murder, as were Musbah Abdulghasem Eter, a 44-year-old Libyan, and a Lebanese-born German, Ali Chanaa, 42. Chraidi was sentenced to 14 years; Eter and Ali Chanaa to 12 years each.

CNN's Bettina Luscher: The Libyan connection still not clear
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Prosecutors had sought life sentences for all four.

A fifth defendant, Verana Chanaa's sister, Andrea Haeusler, 36, was acquitted because of a lack of evidence.

The April 5, 1986, explosion at the La Belle disco killed Sgt. Kenneth T. Ford, 21, and Nermin Hannay, a 29-year-old Turkish woman, immediately. Another U.S. soldier, 25-year-old Sgt. James E. Goins, died later of his injuries, and 229 people were wounded.

The disco had been a favourite with U.S. soldiers, and prosecutors say, the disco bombing was aimed at an American target full of "unsuspecting, innocent people."

The U.S. president at the time, Ronald Reagan, blamed Libya for being behind the explosion after telex messages had been intercepted from the Libya's East Berlin embassy.

Chraidi: Handcuffed on arrival in Germany after extradition from Lebanon in 1996  

Reagan cited "irrefutable" evidence that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was the brains behind the bombing and launched airstrikes that month on two cities in Libya, one of which killed Gadhafi's daughter as she slept.

But after years of investigations and often murky testimony, the four-year trial became a lesson in the difficulty of trying to prove terrorist connections -- especially more than a decade after the events.

CNN's Berlin Bureau Chief Bettina Luscher said the court ruled that Libya had "significant co-responsibility" for the bombing.

But the presiding judge Peter Marhofer said he could not clear up whether Gadhafi or Libyan intelligence had actually ordered the attack, though there were "indications" they had.

He said the matter could not be cleared up -- though it might have been if German and U.S. intelligence been more forthcoming with testimony.

Chief prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, who has worked on the La Belle case from the beginning, argued that proving his charge of Libyan "state terrorism" in court would strengthen the signal intended by the U.S.' war on terrorism -- that its sponsors would not go unpunished.

Eter: Jailed for 12 years
Eter: Jailed for 12 years  

"We criminal investigators, too, are conducting the battle against terrorism so often cited in recent days," Mehlis told the Berlin court in his closing arguments.

That battle, he said, is "also aimed against the closest ally of terrorism -- forgetting and denial."

Luscher said victims of the blast were looking for proof of Libyan involvement as grounds for claiming compensation.

Prosecutors were aided in bringing their case to court after the unification of Germany, in 1990, when files collected by the former East German spy agency, the Stasi, were made available.

The Stasi had kept tabs on the Libyan embassy in East Berlin.

The material included surveillance records on Eter and Chraidi as they allegedly prepared the bombing, reports on the Libyan embassy's activities by Ali Chanaa, who travelled between East and West Berlin and doubled as a Stasi informant, and receipts for money allegedly paid to the Chanaas that the Stasi secretly photocopied at the Libyan embassy.

Based on Stasi records, prosecutors charge the East Germans knew of preparations for the bombing but did nothing to stop it.

Among the evidence cited is an intercepted radio transmission from the Libyan capital of Tripoli to the Libyan embassy in then-East Berlin calling for an attack "with as many victims as possible."

The five suspects were arrested in 1996 in Lebanon, Italy, Greece and Berlin.


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