Published October 31, 2008
ROME – The Italian government gave Libya early warning of the 1986 U.S. airstrikes launched in response to a deadly attack on a disco in Germany, Libyan and Italian officials said Thursday.
Libya's Foreign Minister Abdel-Rahman Shalgam was quoted by the ANSA and Apcom news agencies as saying the Italians warned him of the raids launched from a NATO base on Italian soil because they were opposed to the action. Shalgam said the Italians informed him personally since, at the time, he was Libya's ambassador in Rome.
"I don't think I am revealing a secret if I announce that Italy informed us a day before — April 14, 1986 — that there would be an American aggression against Libya," the agencies quoted Shalgam as saying.
Shalgam was quoted as saying that the United States launched a strike from a NATO base on Lampedusa, a tiny Sicilian island close to the African coast, "against the will of the Italian government."
The agencies also quoted veteran politician Giulio Andreotti, who in 1986 was Italy's foreign minister, as saying that the attack was "a mistake" and confirming that the Socialist-led government of Bettino Craxi warned Libya.
It was not immediately clear whether Libya acted on the information.
The two politicians were speaking on the sidelines of a conference in Rome.
Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan ordered airstrikes on Tripoli and Benghazi after the disco attacks that killed three, including two U.S. servicemen. The Libyans say the retaliatory attacks killed 41 people, including Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's adopted daughter, and injured 226 others.
Italy, a NATO member, kept good ties with Tripoli even as the West accused Gadhafi of supporting terrorism and slapped sanctions on the country.
U.S.-Libyan relations hit a low point in the 1980s, with Libyan-linked terrorist attacks, most notoriously the 1988 downing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, and American retaliation. At one point, Reagan called Gadhafi a "mad dog."
Relations began to improve after Gadhafi renounced weapons of mass destruction and terrorism in 2003. Libya also agreed to pay compensation to the families of victims of the Lockerbie bombing, which killed 270 people and those of the disco attack in Berlin.
Shalgam was in Rome to attend a conference at the foreign ministry on a treaty the two countries signed in August which includes $5 billion in compensation for Italy's 30-year colonial rule of Libya, from 1911-1943.
Calls to a magazine edited by Andreotti were not immediately answered Thursday evening. Calls to the Libyan Embassy also were not immediately answered.