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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 April 2019

Lockerbie families mark milestone anniversary of Libyan attack on airliner

Thirty years after UK’s worst terrorist disaster, survivors are split over who was responsible

Former Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi accepted responsibility for the Lockerbie attack in 2003 and paid compensation to the families of the 270 victims AFP
Former Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi accepted responsibility for the Lockerbie attack in 2003 and paid compensation to the families of the 270 victims AFP

The family of the only man convicted for the bombing of a transatlantic jet over the Scottish town of Lockerbie is campaigning to overturn his guilty verdict on the 30th anniversary of the worst terrorist atrocity in the UK.

All 259 people on US-bound Pan Am Flight 103 were killed, along with 11 people on the ground on December 21, 1988, when a bomb exploded in the aircraft’s hold in a state-sponsored attack blamed on the Libyan regime of Muammar Qaddafi.

Abdul Baset Al Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer, was the only man found guilty of the attack after a trial in the Netherlands. Convicted in 2001, he was released on compassionate grounds after serving eight years of a 27-year sentence having been diagnosed with prostate cancer. He died in 2012.

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Al Megrahi’s family, backed by some victims’ relatives, renewed their case to quash the conviction last year. Al Megrahi abandoned a second appeal to allow him to travel home and receive a hero’s welcome in his native Libya.

Scottish judicial officials said in May that they would look at the case again after accepting Al Megrahi believed that he would be allowed to return to Libya if he dropped his appeal.

He was found to have put luggage on to a flight from Malta that was reloaded on to the Pan Am flight in London. The bomb exploded less than 40 minutes into the flight.

Aamer Anwar, the Glasgow lawyer representing Al Megrahi’s family, said that the appeal would be based on six grounds.

They included doubts over a witness – a Maltese shop keeper who died two years ago – who identified Al Megrahi as the bomber, and scientific evidence related to a fragment of a bomb timer found among the wreckage.

A Scottish commission that investigates miscarriages of justice will determine if a new appeal should be allowed.

Mr Anwar released a photograph on Thursday of himself with Dr Jim Swire, the father of Flora, one of the victims. Dr Swire claimed that Al Megrahi’s conviction was a miscarriage of justice.

“A reversal of the verdict would of course mean that the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom stand exposed as having lived a monumental lie for 30 years by imprisoning a man they knew to be innocent," said Mr Anwar in a statement.

“The only place to determine whether a miscarriage of justice did occur is in the Court of Appeal, where the evidence can be subjected to rigorous scrutiny. We hope that can finally take place next year.”

Scottish prosecutors in 2015 identified two other suspects in the Lockerbie bombing, including Abdullah Al Senussi, a former intelligence chief, who is in jail in Libya after being sentenced to death in 2015.

US and Scottish officials hope to interview Mr Al Senussi and the alleged bomb maker Abu Agila Masud, The Times newspaper reported this week.

It followed close co-operation between the UK and Libyan governments to extradite Hashem Abedi, the brother of suicide bomber Salman who killed 22 people at a Manchester pop concert in May last year.

Qaddafi accepted responsibility for the Lockerbie attack in 2003 and paid compensation to the families. His regime also handed over Al Megrahi and another man, who was later acquitted, for trial.

The campaign to clear Al Megrahi’s name has split families of the victims, who will gather for a series of events on Friday to mark the deaths of their loved ones.

Memorial events will be held on both sides of the Atlantic, including in Lockerbie and at Heathrow airport from where the plane departed, as well as at the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

A US group of families, Victims of Pan Am Flight 103, opposed the moves to free Al Megrahi who they called a “murderous, wicked little man”. Nearly two thirds of the victims killed in the bombing were US citizens.

Kara Weipz, who lost her brother in the attack and is now president of the Victims of Flight 103, said: “With the approach of every anniversary, there is a deep sadness that absorbs you.

“I think about all the memories and time that have passed without my brother. But part of what this whole tragedy has taught me is to be grateful.”

Updated: December 21, 2018 12:45 AM

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