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Programme highlights Wednesday, 31 January, 2001, 15:36 GMT
Lockerbie bombing verdict
The Gardens commemorate the 270 people who died
Flowers at the Lockerbie Memorial Gardens today
Scottish judges sitting at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands have found one Libyan defendant guilty of the Lockerbie bombing in 1988.

The second man has been acquitted.

Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi
Guilty of murder

The three judges were unanimous that Abdelbasset Ali Mohammed Al Megrahi, the former head of security for Libyan Airlines, was guilty of murder.

The second man, Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah, is now free to return to Libya.

Bomb hidden in suitcase

Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah
Not guilty

Al-Megrahi, the court concluded, placed his bomb in a suitcase, wrapped in clothes he'd purchased from a shop in Malta. The evidence of the shop-keeper, who identified Al-Megrahi, proved to be decisive.

The suitcase was checked through to Frankfurt and then New York.

It exploded on the evening of December 21st, 1988, bringing down Pan Am flight 103. All 259 people on board and 11 people on the ground were killed - making this the worst act of mass murder in British history.

Life imprisonment for Al-Megrahi

Lord Sutherland, the chief judge at Camp Zeist
Al Megrahi was sentenced to life

The presiding judge, Lord Sutherland, sentenced Al-Megrahi to life imprisonment, with a recommendation that he should serve a minimum of 20 years because of the 'horrendous' nature of the crime.

Libyan television reported that Al-Megrahi would be launching an appeal against his conviction.


Downing Street says Tony Blair is glad that justice has been done in the Lockerbie case. Britain now expects Libya to take full responsibility and pay at least the seven hundred million dollars compensation already awarded by the courts.

It's a huge testament to the resilience and strength of the Scottish legal system

Jack Straw

The Home Secretary, Jack Straw, praised the judicial process which led to the conviction.

In Washington, the White House has welcomed the verdict, but also says Libya must take responsibility and that the verdict did not signify an end to sanctions.

The case is not closed; the investigation continues

Bob Mueller

The acting deputy US Attorney General, Bob Mueller, said he hoped others involved in the bombing could still be brought to justice.

Twelve years of investigation

This morning's verdict should - in one sense - bring to a conclusion a story which began on a terrible December evening in 1988, when the Pan Am Boeing 747 plunged into a small town in the Scottish borders.

Dr Jim Swire who lost his daughter Flora on the flight
Jim Swire collapsed in court

After the initial trauma, the security services rapidly deduced that Pan Am flight 103 had been brought down by a terrorist bomb, probably placed on board at Frankfurt Airport.

To begin with, suspicions were directed not towards Libya, but elsewhere in the Middle East.

The Syrian-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command, under its commander Ahmed Jabril, was known to have been active in Germany.

There was an obvious motive, too. The government in Teheran was known to be keen to revenge the accidental shooting down of an Iranian airliner by an American warship, the USS Vincennes, in the summer of 1988.

However, over the next two years, the whole focus of the investigation shifted away from this Iranian-Syrian-Palestinian conspiracy.

In November 1991, indictments were issued against the two Libyan Airlines employees, both alleged to be agents of Colonel Ghadaffi's intelligence service.

Detonator clue

The trail that led to the Libyans began with the discovery of a tiny piece of evidence found amoung the debris of the plane - the remains of a Toshiba cassette recorder used to detonate the bomb.

Investigators established a clear link between the suppliers of the equipment and the Libyans.

Libya initially refused to hand the men over and the country was subjected to stringent sanctions: finally, seven years later, a deal was struck to allow the men to be tried in a Scottish court but on neutral territory, in return for an easing of sanctions.

The two men were handed over in 1998.

During this trial there was much more evidence which related to the first accused [Al Megrahi]

Clare Connolly

Clare Connolly, director of the Lockerbie Trial briefing unit based at the Glasgow University Law centre, told the World at One that the evidence against the second man, Al-Amin Fhimah, was probably too circumstantial for a conviction.

But for many of those involved in the case, today's verdict is not the end of the Lockerbie story.

Who else was involved?

Inevitably, a wave of conspiracy theories have swirled around over the past twelve years. Many involve the CIA - and the rapidly changing diplomatic situation across the Middle East in the late 1980s.

Tim Llewellyn told the World at One that although Iran and Syria have been accused of involvement in the bombing, the rapprochement of Britain and the US to those countries during the 1990 Gulf crisis meant that there was a good reason for guilt to be pointed at Libya.

One of the leading investigators of the competing theories is the writer and broadcaster John Ashcroft. He was involved in the documentary 'The Maltese Double Cross' and is about to publish a book on the Lockerbie bombing.

They [CIA] were making deals with all kinds of unsavoury elements in the Middle East

John Ashton

He told The World at One of the alternative theory about Lockerbie, in which the bomb was planted in Frankfurt on an unwitting man who carried it onto the plane. He was allegedly involved in drug running sanctioned by the CIA. He alleged that this was connected to the Americans trying to get hostages in Iran released.

The Scottish Labour MP Tam Dalyell is one of those who agrees that the Americans do indeed have a large number of question to answer - ideally in response to a judicial enquiry in this country.

Al Megrahi's lawyer William Taylor QC
Will Al Megrahi appeal?

There has been an immediate response from Libya. Colonel Ghaddafi's regime in Tripoli said it respected the verdict of the court. The state television service broke into its regular programmes to announce the outcome.

The newsreader said, "The court's judge announced that Abdelbasset Al Megrahi was guilty, but Amin Fhimah was not guilty......We have just learned that the defence will submit an appeal on this verdict within 14 days as from today."

Libya says that it now expects an immediate end to UN sanctions - and reparations for the economic damage the country has suffered.

That's unlikely to happen.

The US government has already said that sanctions won't be lifted until Libya accepts full responsibility for the bombing.

One reference in the judges' 82-page findings ensures that Libya will remain isolated. There was no evidence, they said, linking any radical Palestinian groups with the crime.

That judgement, if widely accepted, removes one of the main planks from the alternative theories put forward by those who still believe that the Libyans are mere scapegoats.

To see the full judgement, use the link on the World At One homepage.

Clare Connolly
"The first accused is guilty as charged"
Tim Llewellyn
"Iran and Syria could both be extremely helpful to us"
John Ashton
"The two accused were simply scapegoats"
Tam Dalyell
"The judicial inquiry should...invite a number of Americans"
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