Global Policy Forum

Libyan Guilty of Lockerbie Bombing

January 31, 2001

One of the two Libyans accused of the Lockerbie bombing has been jailed for life for murdering all 259 people on the plane and another 11 who died on the ground.

The guilty verdict on Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, a married man with children, was delivered after an historic 84-day trial under Scottish law in the Netherlands. The judges recommended a minimum of 20 years "in view of the horrendous nature of this crime". An appeal against the conviction is being planned.

Megrahi's co-accused, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, was found not guilty and has been told he is free to return home.

Shortly after 1000GMT on Wednesday, they returned to court and handed down unanimous verdicts on the two men, who were charged with causing a bomb to be placed on Pan Am flight 103 on 21 December 1988.

The Boeing 747 blew up at 31,000ft, approximately 38 minutes after taking off from London's Heathrow airport bound for JFK in New York.

Mass murder

Large parts of the aircraft fell on Lockerbie, devastating parts of the Scottish borders town and setting in train the UK's biggest mass murder inquiry. The two Libyans, allegedly members of their country's intelligence service, were eventually brought to trial in May 2000 under a deal with Colonel Gaddafi.

The agreement with Libya saw the case being held on neutral soil in a high-security courtroom built at Camp Zeist, a former US military base near Amsterdam. The cost of the trial has been estimated at £60m.

Throughout, the men protested their innocence and denied having been members of the Libyan intelligence service. Their lawyers argued there was Palestinian involvement in the atrocity. They said extremists carried out the bombing, probably on behalf of Iran in revenge for the shooting down of an Iranian civilian Airbus earlier in 1988 by the American warship USS Vincennes.

This was by the judges. In an 82-page written judgment they said they found no evidence of any other involvement other than that of "Libyan origin". Relatives of those who died insist that the trial was only the beginning in their quest to uncover the truth behind the bombing. In the light of the verdicts, they are renewing their demand for a full public inquiry.

Those bereaved by the disaster say they have received only part of the answers to 12 years of questions about who carried out the act of terrorism and why. US relatives are planning a civil action against the Libyan Government.

Rosemary Wolfe, who lost her step-daughter and is president of the American organisation Justice for Pan Am 103, said there were screams in court when the verdicts were announced. "It's been 12 long years and at least we got one of them but there are a lot of them out there that we did not get," she told reporters. She said the guilty verdict proved that "this goes right to Gaddafi".

Bert Ammerman, whose brother died in the bombing, told CNN: "I hope that Mr Bush will ... announce that Libya will remain as a rogue nation. "Sanctions should never go away. This is state-sponsored terrorism."

Professor Paul Wilkinson, director of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, said the judges clearly believed Colonel Gaddafi had ordered the bombing.

"This is a dictatorship, Gaddafi is clearly responsible for all the key decisions that are taken and quite clearly in this field of terrorism he has a long track record of involvement," he said. But Abuzed Dorda, Libya's United Nations envoy, stated: "Libya as a state had nothing to do with this case."

A foreign ministry spokesman demanded an immediate lifting of sanctions imposed by the United Nations after the tragedy and reparation for the losses they had caused.

In a statement, the White House said: "This verdict is a victory for an international effort and has resulted in an indictment of a member of the Libyan intelligence services. The government of Libya must take responsibility." The White House also said the verdict "does not in itself signify and end to sanctions against Libya".

After consulting with Britain, the US Government would approach Libya in the near future to discuss the remaining steps to be taken under the UN resolutions before the sanctions are removed.

Dr Jim Swire, leader of UK Lockerbie families, was carried out of court after collapsing moments after the verdicts were delivered. He recovered later.

A spokesman for the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said he was glad that justice had been done. He said the government now expected Libya to pay full compensation. Foreign Secretary Robin Cook is due to make a statement to the House of Commons at 1530GMT.

Megrahi, 48, and Fhimah, 44, were alleged to have used their respective covers as head of security for Libyan Arab Airlines and station manager at Luqa airport in Malta to start the disastrous chain of events. They were charged with causing a suitcase containing a Toshiba Bombeat radio cassette recorder packed with high-performance plastic explosive to be loaded onto a flight to Frankfurt.

There, it joined a feeder flight to Heathrow, where it was stowed in one of the jumbo jet's baggage holds, the prosecution said. The device exploded at about 1903GMT as the crew was preparing to serve dinner.

After the judges returned their verdicts, Al Megrahi's lawyer William Taylor QC told the court that his client "maintains his innocence so there is nothing I can say by way of mitigation".

The court adjourned until 1300GMT, when Megrahi was sentenced to life imprisonment. Lord Sutherland told Megrahi that the 20-year period was "substantially less" than the court would have recommended were it not for Megrahi's age and the fact that he would be serving his sentence in a foreign country. He is now consulting his lawyers about an appeal. Under Scots law, the only basis for an appeal is that there has been a miscarriage of justice.

Ultimately this would be heard by five judges sitting at Camp Zeist, where Megrahi will remain in custody pending the hearing taking place. If the conviction is upheld, he will serve his prison sentence in Scotland, probably at Barlinnie jail in Glasgow.

The Lockerbie case created history by being the first time a Scottish court has sat on foreign territory. Unusually, there was no jury. The trial heard evidence from 230 witnesses, resulting in a total of 10,232 pages of court transcripts covering more than three million words.

More Information on Sanctions Against Libya
More Information on Sanctions


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