Lockerbie truth obscured by trade interests

The story of UN sanctions being lifted on Libya is a sordid 11-year tale of blackmail and cynical expediency.

The UN Security Council voted 13-0 to lift sanctions on Libya
The UN Security Council voted 13-0 to lift sanctions on Libya

It is a story of political and business interests being put before the truth.


The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution on Friday formally ending sanctions against the north African country.


It came after Tripoli took the blame for the 1998 Lockerbie bombing which killed 270 people, and agreed to pay $2.7 billion compensation to the victims’ families.


But many of the relatives have dismissed Libya’s admission as a “disgraceful business deal” that obscures the real reasons for the deaths.


They say the truth of what happened on that fateful night still proves elusive.


Air terrorism


The 1988 bombing of an American airliner over the Scottish town of Lockerbie is one of the biggest cases of air terrorism in history.  


On 21 December 1988, New York-bound Pan Am Flight 103 exploded 31,000 feet over the town.


Eleven residents were killed on the ground as debris, body parts and fire rained down from the sky.


All 259 people on board were killed too, including 189 Americans.


The United States blamed two Libyan airport officials for the bombing and persuaded the UN to impose sanctions on Libya in 1992 when calls for their extradition went unheeded.


Dutch court


But in 1998 the Libyans, Abd al-Baset Ali Muhammed al-Megrahi and Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, were delivered to the custody of a special “neutral” court in the Netherlands.


The decision came after 10 years of international pressure and despite the fact there was no basis for the UN to intervene in a legal dispute between countries with no extradition treaty.


Libya had repeatedly offered terms by which the men could be surrendered for trial, including in an international court in a neutral country.


Colonel Qadhafi has been cosying up to the West for years

Colonel Qadhafi has been cosying
up to the West for years

Its main concern was the men would not get a fair trial, and that there should be some international involvement to ensure justice.


But the US and Britain refused to accept any possible compromise and stiffened their sanctions in 1994.


Guilty of murder


More than 11 years after the crash, verdicts were handed down on 31 January 2001, against the two Libyans.


Al-Megrahi was found guilty of 270 counts of murder, while Fhimah was acquitted.


Megrahi’s conviction depended on an identification by a Maltese shopkeeper who said he sold the Libyan items of clothing that were found scattered near the bomb site.


His legal team is still trying to have the verdict quashed and a file is expected to be submitted to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission.  


But despite 11 years of sanctions, which were estimated to have cost Libya more than $18 billion, the country was hardly on its knees when it accepted responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing.


Libya-West relations


Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi’s had been keen, however, to come to a deal with the West for several years.


First of all, he announced his determination to fight “terrorism”, and was one of the first Arab rulers to denounce al-Qaida.


And more recently, he and his son have appeared on American television programmes in a bid to improve Libya-US relations.


Saif ul-Islam Qadhafi even said “we want to go American and consume as much Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola [as possible]!”


“I haven’t seen what I would consider credible evidence… that any admission by the Libyans would be truthful, rather than simply the result of them being put under enormous pressure”

Matt Berkley
Lockerbie relative

But despite all these moves Qadhafi has failed to persuade Washington to end US sanctions or to remove Libya from its list of countries sponsoring “terrorism”.




Instead, many say his capitulation will encourage others to claim exorbitant reparations for acts of “terrorism” – either real or imagined – committed by Tripoli.


Meanwhile, many Libyans, including members of opposition Islamic groups, are angry about the way their country has been “robbed”.


And the same sense of being cheated is being experienced by Lockerbie victims’ families.


The brother of one victim has even vowed to reject millions in compensation because he does not believe Libya has been proved guilty of the attack.




Matt Berkley said there is a strong suspicion among British relatives the deal was brokered to allow Libya to open its markets to Western companies.


‘I haven’t seen what I would consider credible evidence that Libya did it or that any admission by the Libyans would be truthful, rather than simply the result of them being put under enormous pressure by the international community,” he said. 


Fifteeen years have passed since Pan Am Flight 103 went up in flames over an obscure Scottish town.


But despite years of accusations, sanctions, courts cases, recriminations and admissions the truth of what really happenend that December night does not seem any nearer.  

Source: Al Jazeera

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