West Berlin police have launched a sweep of this city's Middle Eastern communities in search of suspects in the bombing early yesterday of a local discotheque, according to U.S. and West German officials close to the case. So far, no arrests have been made and "no terrorist groups" have been cleared of suspicion, a West Berlin-based U.S. official said.
The bombing death of 21-year-old Army sergeant Kenneth Terrance Ford, of Detroit, and injury of 64 other GIs and dependents stationed in West Berlin have led to a security clampdown and heightened fears in the tightknit American military community here of vulnerability to terrorism. A 28-year-old Turkish woman, Nermin Haney, also died in the blast, for which three groups have asserted responsibility.
As the number of injured rose to 204, the second major bomb attack here in less than a week has also heightened concern among West German officials about the possibility of terrorists penetrating the relatively loose borders of this divided city, a western enclave 110 miles inside East Germany. The first attack, against an Arab club eight days ago, injured seven persons.
Last night found the American soldiers' favorite haunts here nearly empty following the bombing of La Belle, which was usually packed with GIs. The handful of clubs along Hauptstrasse, where La Belle was located, are an easy drive from Andrews and other military barracks here and all drew large crowds of Americans.
"But now," one U.S. soldier said in an interview, "looks like we'll be staying home for a while."
"The biggest effect of the bombing," Army spokesman Gary Odewaldt added, "is to make people aware that it could happen to us."
Because Ford and a large number of the injured GIs were black, security concerns seemed to be strongest among black soldiers stationed here.
Army officials immediately stepped up security checks, cordoning off U.S. military areas from the public and adding police patrols. Gen. Thomas N. Griffen, commander of the 6,000-strong American force here, advised servicemen in a broadcast last night on the U.S. armed forces network in Berlin to avoid public gathering places.
In the past, anti-American terrorists have concentrated their attacks on U.S. bases in West German cities such as Frankfurt, rather than West Berlin, but after the military clash last month between the United States and Libya in the Gulf of Sidra, West Berlin was given priority among U.S. military centers abroad on alert for terrorist attacks.
"Now," said a U.S. official here, "that security has been moved up a notch."
Both U.S. Ambassador to West Germany Richard Burt and West Berlin Mayor Eberhardt Diepgen pledged yesterday that the bombing would not affect the U.S.-West Berlin relationship.
"We will not allow Americans to be bombed out of our country," West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher said in a statement to reporters yesterday.
The discotheque explosion came three days after a bomb blast aboard a TWA airliner as it was descending toward Athens. That bomb, which investigators said was likely made of plastic, blew a hole in the Boeing 727 cabin wall killing four Americans who were sucked out of plane.
The administration has stopped short of blaming Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi directly for the TWA bombing or the Berlin blast, but U.S. officials have said that the incidents fit a pattern of Qaddafi-sponsored terrorism against Americans in Europe and the Middle East.
The Reagan administration has responded to the most recent attacks by asking European governments to expel Libyan diplomats and agents. It was not known how the Europeans would react, but officials have pointed to the decision by France this past weekend to expel two members of the Libyan embassy in Paris for plotting terrorist acts against Americans.
The discotheque bombing has also renewed fears about the security of West Berlin, where borders are less tightly policed than those in West Germany.
In the West German city of Frankfurt, for instance, fear of airline bombings and hijackings has resulted in armored trucks meeting some incoming planes, and other heavy security measures.
Berlin was put under the control of the four main Allied military forces at the end of World War II and later divided into two sectors -- the eastern under the control of the Soviet military and the western under French, British and U.S. control. Because the western allies officially consider Berlin one city, they maintain only light controls on those crossing from the east.
West Berlin authorities and U.S. officials long have harbored fears that Libyan or other diplomats based in East Berlin could smuggle explosives or other items across the border in their cars, invoking the mantle of diplomatic immunity. In addition, tourists from the Middle East and other Third World countries can easily slip across the border after flying into East Berlin, according to officials here.
In this period of increased terrorist activities worldwide, West Berlin has become more susceptible to attack, they said.
The majority of U.S. Army and Air Force personnel based here are housed in three barracks; others are dispersed throughout the city.
West German police and U.S. authorities investigating the case have interviewed more than 100 witnesses and other sources in connection with the bombing, according to a police spokesman, including "a large number of Arabs."
If foreign government involvement in the bombing is proven, Genscher said in a statement released in Bonn today, the West German government will take appropriate measures. Three terrorist groups, including the little-known Anti-American Arab Liberation Front, asserted responsibility for the bombing in separate telephone calls yesterday.