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Wednesday, March 10, 1999 Published at 15:22 GMT


Libyans sentenced for French bombing

Colonel Gaddafi's brother-in-law and five other Libyans have been found guilty of bombing a French airliner.

They were sentenced to life in prison by a special court in Paris. However, they were tried in absentia and will be allowed another hearing if they are ever taken into French custody.

[ image: Xavier De Boery's sister, stewardess Laurence Penon, was killed in the bombing]
Xavier De Boery's sister, stewardess Laurence Penon, was killed in the bombing
The aircraft, a DC-10 operated by the French airline UTA, crashed in Niger in September 1989, killing all 170 people on board. Debris was scattered over hundreds of kilometres in the Sahara desert.

Libya helped France during part of the investigation but did not offer full co-operation and refused to hand over the suspects.

It was alleged that Libya had orchestrated the attack as part of its territorial war with Chad, which had been backed by France.

The trial opened on Monday, with the names of the six being read out twice. They were charged with "murder or complicity in murder connected with terrorism".

Secret service links

Prosecutors said a package containing a bomb had been planted on a young Congolese with links to Libyan agents in the Congolese capital Brazzaville, from where the UTA flight to Paris had set off.

The prosecution said the six had been working for the Libyan secret service, which is also accused of bombing Pan Am flight 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in 1988.

[ image: Col Gaddafi in Cairo: Lockerbie, not UTA, on the agenda]
Col Gaddafi in Cairo: Lockerbie, not UTA, on the agenda
The most senior of the six, Colonel Gaddafi's brother-in-law Abdullah Senoussi, is reportedly the deputy head of Libya's security services.

The others are: Abdelsalam Hammouda - Mr Senoussi's top aide, Abdallah Elazragh - a Libyan diplomat posted in Brazzaville at the time, Ibrahim Naeli, Musbah Arbas and Abdelsalam Shibani.

In November it was reported that Mr Senoussi had been tried in Libya and convicted on charges of "dereliction of duty".

Libya did not deny the reports but observers said he was unlikely to serve a reported seven-year sentence given his seniority in the Gaddafi regime.

Correspondents say the victims' families and French officials are resigned to the bombers not being brought to justice.

However diplomats have been quoted as saying Libya might be prepared to pay damages.

French approach

Correspondents have highlighted differences between France's handling of the case and the way the UK and US Governments have sought the extradition of those accused of the Lockerbie bombing.

Evidence against the UTA suspects is said to be much stronger than that against the two Lockerbie suspects.

Libya has been under UN sanctions since 1992 in connection with the UTA and Pan Am bombs.

The US and UK say they will allow sanctions to be dropped when the Lockerbie suspects are handed over for trial under Scottish law in the Netherlands.

France has promised to boost ties with Libya on the basis of its role in the UTA investigation.

Chief examining magistrate Jean-Louis Brugere was allowed into Libya to question the suspects and Libya provided evidence it said implicated Libya's domestic opposition.

Pierre Haski of the French paper Liberation says it was an explosives-filled suitcase supplied by Libya which led to charges being brought against Mr Senoussi and the others.

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