By Sven Becker and Holger Stark
Klaus von Bröckel remembers the moment in March 1987 that changed his life as vividly as if it had been only a few weeks ago. The marine biologist was sitting with a few colleagues on the terrace of the Café Historil in Djibouti, the capital of the small East African country of the same name. They were in high spirits. The men were scheduled to set sail on the German research ship Meteor the next day.
But then there was a loud explosion. A moment later, Bröckel was lying in the dusty street, his ears numb and his fingers tingling. He stood up and looked down at his body. His T-shirt was on fire and his tennis shoes had been ripped off. Blood was spurting from a hole in his lower arm.
A Tunisian named Hamouda Hassan Adouani, a member of the Palestinian terrorist group PSF, had deposited a briefcase with 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of explosives next to a table, ordered an orange juice and left the café before the bomb exploded.
‘I’m Broken from Top to Bottom’
Today Bröckel, 63, works for the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences in the northern German city of Kiel. He still does research on the high seas, and he is about to embark on a two-week trip to Hawaii. But nowadays he feels the effects of the attack every time he travels.
He is classified as 60 percent disabled. After the attack, he lost all sensation in the thumb, index finger and middle finger of his right hand. There is shrapnel in his knee, and he wears a hearing aid on both ears. “I’m broken from top to bottom,” says Bröckel.
Twelve people died in the bomb attack at the Café Historil, including four German scientists from Kiel. Bröckel and three of his colleagues were seriously injured but survived. The attack was intended for French soldiers who were stationed in Djibouti and often frequented the café. The killer, who had placed the bomb on behalf of middlemen from Libya, was sentenced to death, but his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 1993. The German victims were never compensated, partly because the German courts were hesitant to hold the Gadhafi regime accountable.
The revolution in Libya has now given Bröckel new hope of finally being compensated for the severe physical and emotional damage he suffered. Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi has been driven out of office, and the regime’s foreign bank accounts have been frozen, including those in Germany. Could the new government in Libya use some of the money to compensate the victims of the Djibouti bombing? “It would be a delayed recognition,” says Bröckel.
Like the Kiel biologist, the worldwide victims of a regime that exported death and terror for decades are now speaking up. Gadhafi left a long, bloody trail behind him. The history of the Libyan intelligence service includes involvements in various guerilla operations by Palestinian underground groups, which were supported and sometimes controlled by agents in Tripoli. Libyan agents used bombs, shot people and were involved in conspiracies. In the 1980s, in particular, explosives were a firm fixture of Libyan foreign policy. In many cases, innocent bystanders like Bröckel became the victims of these attacks.
The Libyans left traces behind in Djibouti. According to a July 1987 telegram from the German foreign intelligence agency, the BND, “partner services claim with certainty” that Gadhafi had issued the order in “revenge for the French position in the Libya-Chad conflict,” a reference to an ongoing conflict between the neighboring countries at the time. In a cable sent to the German Foreign Ministry in 1988, officials at the German Embassy in Yemen wrote that local investigators assumed that “the attack was clearly ordered by Libya.” The Palestinian terrorist group was “known to be exclusively on the Libyan payroll,” the cable continued.
After lengthy negotiations, Gadhafi paid several billion dollars in reparations for the most spectacular cases of Libyan state-sponsored terrorism, like the 1986 bombing of the La Belle nightclub in West Berlin. Of that money, about $35 million (€26 million) was paid to German citizens. In other cases, however, the victims went home empty-handed. They are the forgotten victims of the Libyan revolutionary leader who now hope to obtain satisfaction after all — and receive compensation from Libyan state assets.
Since the adoption of two United Nations Security Council resolutions, some €7 billion worth of Libyan assets have been frozen in Germany alone, including €2 billion with the German central bank, the Bundesbank. About $60 billion in Libyan assets have been frozen worldwide. “We have to make sure that these funds are quickly released now,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, a member of the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP), said in August after anti-Gadhafi forces had seized control of the capital Tripoli.
The German Foreign Ministry supports the Djibouti victims’ cause. The diplomats have offered to “expedite things and establish contact with the transitional government,” say officials in Berlin. Following the Foreign Ministry’s suggestion, Bröckel’s attorney has asked the new Libyan ambassador to Germany, Ali al-Khotany, to examine the “compensation request favorably,” noting that clearing up these old cases was also important to demonstrate the “rule of law” in the wake of Gadhafi’s ouster.
Should the attempt remain unsuccessful, Westerwelle’s officials would consider direct talks with the new Libyan government. Within the context of the principle of diplomatic protection, envoys from the German Foreign Ministry could act in the role of mediators, as they did in the La Belle case. Following Westerwelle’s abstention in the UN Security Council’s vote to approve military protection for Libyan civilians, the mission feels like an attempt by Germany to regain foreign policy clout. In doing so, the ministry is also quietly revising its former position on the Djibouti attack.
Under former Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who was in office from 1998 to 2005, German diplomats had rejected an official request for compensation payments. Because — in contrast to the attack on the La Belle nightclub — no court had established the “responsibility of the backers,” there was, unfortunately, no “basis” for claims against Libya, a January 2005 letter reads.
No More Anger
However, investigators never attempted to prosecute Libya. The courts in Djibouti had refrained from doing so, “for lack of evidence and for political reasons,” the German Foreign Ministry concluded in 1987. And Germany’s then-attorney general, Kurt Rebmann, had never claimed jurisdiction over the case, arguing that there was no evidence that a terrorist organization active in Germany was clearly behind the attack. A case before the public prosecutor’s office in Bonn has been dragging along, and a German arrest warrant against the perpetrator, Adouani, has been in place for the last 22 years.
Bröckel read on the Internet that the Tunisian was pardoned 11 years ago. Adouani wrote a letter to the German in 1999, when he was still in prison. He wrote that he prayed to the Almighty that Bröckel was keeping up his “good spirits” and that his life was filled with “happiness, good fortune and peace.” In 2007, a French judge issued an arrest warrant against Adouani for his alleged involvement in another murder.
The scientist from Kiel no longer feels angry today. Now that he is nearing retirement, the compensation would come in handy, because his disability pension will be deducted from his regular pension — and his medical treatments are expensive.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan