On 5 April 1986, three people were killed and around 230 injured when La Belle discothèque was bombed in the Friedenau district of West Berlin. The entertainment venue was commonly frequented by United States soldiers, and two of the dead and 79 of the injured were American servicemen.
A bomb placed under a table near the disc jockey's booth exploded at 01:45 CET, instantly killing Nermin Hannay, a Turkish woman, and US Army sergeant Kenneth T. Ford. A second US Army sergeant, James E. Goins, died from his injuries two months later. Some of the victims were left permanently disabled due to the injuries caused by the explosion.
Libya was accused by the US government of sponsoring the bombing, and US President Ronald Reagan ordered retaliatory strikes on Tripoli and Benghazi in Libya ten days later. The strikes reportedly killed 15–30 people, and were condemned by the United Nations General Assembly. The operation was widely seen as an attempt to kill Colonel Gaddafi.
A 2001 trial in the US found that the bombing had been "planned by the Libyan secret service and the Libyan Embassy."
Libya was blamed for the bombing after Telex messages from Tripoli to the country's embassy in East Berlin congratulating them on a job well done were intercepted. President Ronald Reagan retaliated by ordering airstrikes against the Libyan capital of Tripoli and city of Benghazi (see Operation El Dorado Canyon). At least 30 soldiers and 15 civilians were killed.
In spite of reports blaming Libya for the attack on the nightclub, no individual was officially accused of the bombing until the 1990 reunification of Germany and the subsequent opening up of the Stasi archives. Stasi files led German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis to Musbah Abdulghasem Eter, a Libyan who had worked at the Libyan embassy in East Berlin. Stasi files listed him as an agent, and Mehlis 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. In 2001, Eter and two Palestinians, Yasser Mohammed Chreidi (or Yassar Al-Shuraidi or Yassir Chraidi) and Ali Chanaa were convicted in Berlin's Landgericht of aiding in murder, and Chanaa's former German wife, Verena, was convicted of murder. They were given sentences of 12 to 14 years in prison.
Prosecutor Mehlis proved beyond reasonable doubt that 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 Häusler, carried it into the La Belle in a travel bag and left five minutes before it exploded. Ms Häusler was acquitted because it could not be proven that she knew a bomb was in the bag.
The judge, Peter Marhofer, said it was not clear whether Gaddafi or Libyan intelligence had actually ordered the attack, though there were indications that they had. Two weeks before the bombing, Gaddafi 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.
Chreidi was eventually extradited from Lebanon to Germany in connection with the bombing. He had been working for the Libyan Peoples' Bureau in East Berlin at the time of the bombing. Chreidi was said to have connections with Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal, who used to live in Tripoli and was financed by Libya in the 1980s. Eter was reported to be the Libyan spy agency's point man at the embassy in East Berlin.
On August 17, 2003, newspapers reported that Libya had signaled to the German government that it was ready to negotiate compensation for the bombing with lawyers for non-U.S. victims. A year later, on August 10, 2004, Libya concluded an agreement to pay a total of $35 million compensation.
In October 2008, Libya paid $1.5 billion into a fund to compensate relatives of the following:
- Lockerbie bombing victims with the remaining 20% of the sum agreed in 2003;
- American victims of the 1986 Berlin discotheque bombing;
- American victims of the 1989 UTA Flight 772 bombing; and,
- Libyan victims of the 1986 US bombing of Tripoli and Benghazi.