Middle East: Libya in the dock as Berlin disco bombing case opens

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Libya's days as a terrorist superpower are being revisited in a Berlin court. Eleven years ago three people died, including two US soldiers, and 200 were injured by a bomb attack on West Berlin's La Belle discotheque, a haunt for servicemen.

Ten days later President Ronald Reagan ordered reprisals on Tripoli and Benghazi. One of the US bombs fell on Muammar Gaddafi's tent, killing his adopted daughter; dozens of others died. The trial to determine who was behind the Belle bombing opened yesterday and adjourned: prosecutors said they hope it will be concluded in this millennium.

In the dock are three former employees of the Libyan embassy in East Berlin and their two alleged German accessories. One defendant is also a witness: Musbah Abulghasem Eter, described as head of the Libyan secret service in the embassy, is said to have made a confession and is expected to testify against his alleged accomplices. Ali Chanaa, a German citizen of Lebanese origin, and Yassir Chraidi, a Palestinian, are accused of organising the attack. Two German sisters, Andrea Haussler, and Mr Chanaa's ex-wife, Verena, are accused of planting the bomb.

Much evidence has been culled from files of the Stasi, the former East German secret service, which knew such an attack was being planned. US spies operating in Berlin also knew and even leaned on the East German authorities to forestall it. The suspicion is that one of the three male defendants was a double agent also working for the Americans.