Two Libyans charged with attempting to bomb a U.S. officers' club packed with guests celebrating a wedding in Turkey were convicted yesterday in Ankara of possession of explosives and were sentenced to five years in prison.
The Turkish court acquitted the two Libyans, who were apprehended outside the club on April 18 with a bag stuffed with six Soviet-made hand grenades, of more serious conspiracy charges, The Associated Press reported from Ankara. The incident occurred three days after the U.S. air raids on Libya.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Philip Savitz said: "We remain grateful to the Turkish authorities for their rapid and effective action to thwart the attempted terrorist attack on our people, which undoubtedly saved many lives."
On Thursday, the court dropped prosecution of three officials of the Libyan People's Bureau who were charged with participating in the plot. The officials were entitled to diplomatic immunity, the court said.
Two of the officials, who were accused of supplying the hand grenades, left Turkey immediately after the incident. A third man, Ali Mansur Musbah Zayyani, the second-ranked Libyan official in Turkey and the consul in Istanbul, is reportedly still in Istanbul.
A White House spokesman said that all Libyan People's Bureaus, or embassies, linked with terrorist cases should be closed down. He said it was up to Turkey to decide whether to expel the Libyan diplomats.
Ali Ecefli Ramadan, 31, one of the defendants, said during the trial that he only intended to bomb the cars parked in front of the club. He told the court that he planned the attack in retaliation for the U.S. air raid on Libya.
Recep Muhtar Rohoma Tarhuni, 31, pleaded innocent, saying he did not know that the bag contained explosives.
The incident put Turkey, a member of NATO, in a difficult position between the United States and Libya. Turkey has not taken any economic sanctions against Libya. It has $4.5 billion worth of construction contracts in Libya and about 30,000 Turks work there.
A sixth Libyan, Mansur Umran, station chief of Libyan Arab airlines in Istanbul, is also charged with participation in the plot. Umran, who fled the country after the incident, does not have diplomatic immunity. The court decided to treat his case separately.
The Turkish court also sentenced the two Libyans to forced residence under police surveillance for 20 months in separate Aegean provinces of Turkey following their jail terms, The Associated Press reported.