U.S. Sees Libyan ‘Master Plan’ in Berlin Bombing : 30 Installations Reportedly Are Targets Overseas
The terrorist attack on a West Berlin discotheque filled with American servicemen is part of “a master plan” by Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi to strike out indiscriminately at Americans without regard to how many innocent people are involved, a Reagan Administration official said Saturday.
The official, who asked not to be identified, admitted that the Administration has no specific evidence linking Kadafi to the discotheque bombing early Saturday or the explosion of a bomb aboard a Trans World Airlines flight over Greece on Wednesday. However, he said that the consensus among top officials is that “there is a pattern, that there is a master plan which is being instigated in many cases . . . by Kadafi.”
In support of the charge that Kadafi is the likely instigator of such terrorist incidents, the official said that the Administration has evidence that Libyan agents have targeted well over 30 American installations overseas, primarily U.S. embassies, plus an unspecified number of American diplomats. Some of these plots have been thwarted and none have been carried out, he said.
“We’re seeing the footprints of the Kadafi terrorist plan all over the Middle East and Europe,” the official said, noting that the French government has just expelled two members of the Libyan People’s Bureau, as Kadafi calls his embassies, on grounds that they were in contact with people plotting terrorist acts against Americans.
The official said that foreign policy officials and anti-terrorism experts gathered in Washington on Saturday to assess the West Berlin incident and to review the continuing investigation into the TWA explosion. Asked if they were contemplating possible retaliation against Libya, the official who briefed reporters said he wanted to keep that aspect of their discussions “purposefully vague.”
“It doesn’t pay for me to answer any speculative questions about what we may do,” he said. “I want to leave it deliberately vague.”
In Washington, Robert B. Oakley, director of the State Department’s Office for Counterterrorism and Emergency Planning, said that a mid-level interagency meeting was held to discuss the bombing of the discotheque but that Cabinet officers were not involved.
“When you have something like this, it’s sort of like ‘Casablanca'--you round up the usual suspects,” Oakley said, referring to those officials who attended the meeting. His poetic allusion was to the often-quoted line of a dialogue in the 1940s film “Casablanca,” starring Humphrey Bogart.
Oakley said there is currently no evidence to indicate any direct link between the bombing in West Berlin and last week’s explosion aboard the TWA plane, which killed four Americans. He declined to say what countermeasures are being considered, but he acknowledged that the U.S. government is on the alert for further incidents.
“There seems to be an awful lot of terrorist activity, and when you have a lot of terrorist activity out there, you’ve got to make the assessment there is likely to be more,” he said.
Oakley reiterated Administration policy that any U.S. military retaliation will be limited to the perpetrators of a terrorist attack and not involve civilians. But he added, “Surely, you can see our patience is wearing thin.”
Word of the attack on the club, La Belle, was flashed to President Reagan’s ranch and headquarters here “almost minutes” after it occurred late Friday, White House spokesman Larry Speakes said.
President Reagan, who returns to Washington today after a 10-day vacation at his ranch, conveyed his condolences to the families of the victims and said he is “deeply concerned” about the increasing number of terrorist incidents aimed at Americans abroad.
In a statement relayed by Speakes, Reagan renewed a call to European allies to join the United States in a concerted effort against terrorism.
“He believes it’s a worldwide problem and every nation has a stake in it,” Speakes said.
The official who briefed reporters said that the Administration will be using “quiet diplomacy” to urge the Europeans to take action to isolate Kadafi, politically and economically. Other sources said that the actions being urged on the Europeans include the expulsion of Libyan diplomats and agents.
The official said that the Administration feels “vindicated” by this latest incident in its policy of taking stiff measures against Kadafi after being “scoffed at both publicly and by the inaction of other governments.”
Europeans refused to join the United States earlier this year in applying economic sanctions against Libya for its role in allegedly harboring the Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal. He is accused of masterminding attacks at Rome and Vienna airports last December, in which 20 people died.
Effect on Tourism
The official said that the TWA and West Berlin bombings taken together provide “clear evidence” that terrorism directed at Americans is taking its toll in Europe, both in human terms and in its negative impact on tourist travel.
“We want to emphasize they’re in it as much as we are,” the official said, hinting that the ouster of Libyan diplomats from European capitals might be a first step in any crackdown.
When a reporter asked one Administration official if it would be accurate to say that the White House is “preparing a case for retaliation,” the official replied that assessment would be “a little bit too strong.”
But in a recent policy speech to B’nai B’rith, Secretary of State George P. Shultz carried U.S. anti-terrorism policy somewhat further when he said that the American public should be prepared for some civilian deaths if the United States decided to strike at terrorist training camps in the Mideast.
The Administration has been reluctant to mount such an attack because the camps are generally situated in urban areas.
Times staff writer Sara Fritz, in Washington, contributed to this story.