Italian authorities said Monday that they have arrested a former Libyan diplomat in connection with a plot to kill the American, Saudi and Egyptian ambassadors to Italy, and West Berlin police also announced the arrest of a suspect in the discotheque bombing that prompted last week’s U.S. retaliatory attacks on Libya.
In London, police charged a Jordanian, Nezar Hindawi, 31, with attempting last Thursday to blow up an El Al jumbo jet and said they have detained another man for questioning in the case.
West Berlin police said they arrested a stateless Palestinian in connection with the April 5 bombing of La Belle discotheque, in which U.S. Army Sgt. Kenneth T. Ford and a Turkish woman were killed and more than 200 people injured. German intelligence sources told the Associated Press that the Palestinian was captured in part as the result of a tip from London and that they were investigating the possibility that the man is related to one of the El Al suspects.
In Rome, prosecutor Domenico Sico confirmed that a 47-year-old Libyan, identified as Arebi Mohammed Fituri, of Tripoli, has been taken into custody in a plot to kill U.S. Ambassador Maxwell Rabb and the Saudi and Egyptian envoys. The plot was discovered more than a year ago but just now disclosed by the Italians.
Police sources said the arrested man was once an administrative clerk in the Libyan Embassy in Rome. They said that he is suspected, along with another Libyan diplomat, of providing a Walther P-38 pistol more than a year ago with which a third Libyan was to have assassinated the three ambassadors.
“This is a concrete sign of the Italian government’s determination to fight against terrorism,” said Antonio Ghirelli, a spokesman for Prime Minister Bettino Craxi, confirming the arrest. Neither Ghirelli nor the prosecutor’s office would elaborate on the plot.
Ghirelli said the Rome prosecutor’s office has also ordered the arrest of Mussbah Mahmoud Werfalli, 39, identified as a former political officer in the Libyan Embassy there.
He and Fituri are accused of illegal possession of arms, according to Ghirelli. They are believed to have passed the pistol to another Libyan identified as Rageb Hammouda Daghugh, who was arrested in February, 1985, on a charge of illegal weapons possession.
Police sources said that Werfalli, who had diplomatic immunity, was expelled from Italy not long after Daghugh’s arrest and that Fituri, also protected as a diplomat, was “allowed to leave.”
Fituri later returned, without immunity, as an employee of the Libyan Arab Foreign Investment Co. in Rome, but Werfalli is believed to have remained outside the country, the sources said.
They said the would-be trigger man, Daghugh, was released on provisional liberty when the time he could be held without trial under Italian law expired. Police sources said they do not know where he is.
Ghirelli indicated that when Daghugh was first arrested last year, the police did not have strong evidence of a plot, but have since developed more evidence that justified the arrest. When asked why the two diplomats were permitted to leave Italy last year, he explained that diplomats and other embassy employees are “normally not arrested, but expelled.”
A person who answered the telephone at the Libyan Embassy in Rome said he knew nothing about the arrest.
In West Berlin, police said the Palestinian suspect was picked up Sunday and was being questioned about the bombing of the discotheque, which was popular with members of the U.S. armed forces stationed in the divided city. It was jammed with U.S. servicemen when a bomb exploded in the early morning hours.
The police said the suspect was being held on suspicion of involvement in the attack, but refused to give further details. However, they said the Palestinian was arrested after an identity check involving some of the people who had been inside the disco at the time of the blast.
One well-placed security source told the Associated Press of the possible link to the London suspects. He did not specify whether he meant Hindawi or the man newly detained by London police.
“We are investigating whether the two men are related, and there are strong indications that they are brothers,” the source said, adding that the West Berlin arrest “came through the London case.” He would not elaborate.
In Bonn, a spokesman for the West German Interior Ministry, Michael-Andreas Butz, said that the arrest was a “success” for international security cooperation. He did not spell out details.
The spokesman added that investigators are not ruling out a link between Libya and the arrested Palestinian, but he cautioned against “premature announcements of success” in the case. He said more details will be released Wednesday after a report to the West German Cabinet.
Attack Sketches Reported
Police in West Berlin refused to comment on a report in the popular daily newspaper Bild that sketches have been found in the possession of the Palestinian suspect indicating that further terrorists attacks may have been planned. In a press release in advance of publication, the paper said the sketches were of other discotheques, bars and public buildings.
President Reagan, in justifying the air strikes against Tripoli and Benghazi, cited evidence last week to show that the Libyan government was behind the West Berlin disco explosion. The evidence was reportedly in the form of intercepted radio communications between Tripoli and the Libyan Embassy, known as the People’s Bureau, in East Berlin. The traffic was said to have included messages from the days immediately preceding and following the blast.
Last week, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl told Parliament that his government had independent evidence that backed up U.S. assertions that Libya masterminded the attack.
Libya has denied any culpability in the bombing.
Easy Transit Route
U.S. analysts here point out that East Berlin is a natural transit point for any attacks made in West Berlin.
This, they say, is because the Libyans or other favored nations could smuggle in arms or explosives through their diplomatic pouches to their legation in East Berlin. Then, with the proper passports or travel documents, it would be a simple matter to cross through a checkpoint to West Berlin, where political refugees are quickly accepted from any nation.
In London, according to news agencies, police said Hindawi will appear in a magistrates court today charged with conspiring with others to destroy the El Al Boeing 747 bound for Ben-Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv and the attempted murder of its 388 passengers and crew. He was also charged with the attempted murder of his pregnant Irish girlfriend, Anne-Marie Murphy.
She was arrested Thursday with a bag containing 10 pounds of explosives after the weight of the bag arouse the suspicion of an El Al security man just before she was about to board the plane at Heathrow Airport. The bomb, which security experts said had been timed to go off when the plane was airborne, was later defused.
Police said Murphy, 32, had been duped into carrying the bag and she was released after two days of questioning by Scotland Yard detectives. She is still under police guard as a potential key witness.
The charges against Hindawi came after three days of police questioning. He had been detained Friday night at a west London hotel after the owner recognized him from newspaper photographs. He surrendered without resistance.
Police said they arrested an Arab on Saturday, but released him. Then they arrested a third Arab on Monday and seized documents during a raid on a house in London.
They would not say whether there was any link between the U.S. raid on Libya and the plot to blow up the aircraft, but Britain’s domestic news agency, the Press Assn., quoted sources as saying that the bombing attempt had been planned before the raid.
Don Schanche reported from Rome and William Tuohy from Bonn.