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Appeals Rejected in Disco Bomb Convictions

June 24, 2004

LEIPZIG, Germany (AP) _ A federal court Thursday upheld the prison sentences of four people convicted in the deadly 1986 bombing of a West Berlin disco, rejecting appeals from both prosecutors and the defendants.

The blast at the La Belle disco, which a Berlin court ruled in 2001 was planned by Libya’s secret service, killed two U.S. soldiers and a Turkish woman and injured 229. The defendants received sentences ranging from 12 to 14 years in prison.

Prosecutors maintained the jail time was too short and sought a retrial, while the defendants said the sentences were too harsh. But the Federal Court of Justice dismissed all arguments, saying the Berlin court ruling was ``free of legal errors.″

``This lengthy process is now over, and I hope it will bring a certain degree of satisfaction to all sides that it is legally concluded,″ presiding Judge Monika Harms said as she read the verdict.

Richard George, a 44-year-old former U.S. soldier who was the barkeeper on the night of the bombing, was disappointed the defendants would not get life sentences.

But, he said, ``there’s nothing I can do about it and I have to accept it _ I’m just glad this part is over.″

Based on intercepted communications from the Libyan Embassy before the bombing, President Reagan cited ``irrefutable″ evidence that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was behind the La Belle attack. Ten days after the April 5, 1986, blast, Washington launched retaliatory airstrikes on two Libyan cities.

In the 2001 verdict, the Berlin court ruled the attack was planned by Libya’s secret service with the help of the Libyan Embassy in then-communist East Berlin.

Verena Chanaa, a German who planted the bomb, was found guilty of murder by the Berlin court and is serving a 14-year prison term.

Yassir Chraidi, a Palestinian; Musbah Abdulghasem Eter, a Libyan; and Ali Chanaa, a Lebanese-born German who is Verena Chanaa’s ex-husband, were all convicted of multiple counts of attempted murder and accessory to murder. Chraidi was sentenced to 14 years; Eter and Ali Chanaa to 12 years each.

A fifth defendant, Andrea Haeusler, was acquitted for lack of evidence that she knew her sister, Verena Chanaa, was carrying a bomb when she accompanied her to the disco.

Prosecutors said Verena Chanaa should have received longer in prison and the other three also should have been convicted of murder for their roles and sentenced to life in prison.

The case floundered for years but eventually took shape when East German secret service files became available after the reunification of Germany. The files led prosecutors to Eter, who in 1996 was persuaded to cooperate with prosecutors.

In its ruling, the federal court noted that judges at the original trial, which lasted four years, had to contend with murky and sometimes contradictory evidence.

Talks with Libya are still ongoing regarding compensation for the victims.

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