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The BBC's Bill Hayton
"Things might be about to become murkier still"
 real 56k

Tuesday, 7 November, 2000, 16:41 GMT
Closed meeting at Lockerbie trial
Judges sitting on bench
The judges are meeting lawyers
Private talks are taking place as the defence team in the Lockerbie trial seeks more time to investigate new evidence.

The case was due to resume in open court on Tuesday but was delayed by a meeting in the judges' chambers.

The court resumed in the afternoon officially to adjourn until Wednesday.

Lawyers for the two Libyans accused of bringing down Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988, with the loss of 270 lives, are understood to be arguing for another adjournment.

They are said to be blaming a lack of co-operation by the German federal police as they investigate evidence believed to relate to their contention that Palestinian extremists were behind the bombing.

A court source has been quoted by the Agence France Presse news agency as saying: "They're arguing that they may be able to soften up the German police if they were granted another week or two.

"The alternative would be to go to letters of request, which could last at least three months."

Trial details
The two accused are Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, 48, and Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, 44
Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie on 21 December 1988, killing all 259 people on board and another 11 on the ground
The two men deny three charges - murder, conspiracy to murder and a breach of the 1982 Aviation Security Act
The trial is taking place in a Scottish courtroom at Camp Zeist, in the Netherlands
The case is being heard by a panel of Scottish judges
Letters of request - a formal request for specific police information - would be transmitted by the court to the British government, to the German government, to a German court, which could then order the German police to co-operate.

"The delay is now being caused by a hearing in chambers regarding letters of request," a spokesman for the Scottish court told reporters.

If another delay were granted, it would be the fifth so far.

The trial of the two accused, Abdelbaset Ali Mohamed al Megrahi and Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, began last May at the former military base of Camp Zeist, but under Scottish law.

Only one other major witness is expected to give evidence to complete the prosecution case against the two Libyans.

He is Mohamed Abu Talb, a member of a Palestinian militant group serving a prison sentence in Sweden for a different bomb attack.

Appearance delayed

But his appearance has been delayed since the prosecution announced a month ago that new information had been made available by a foreign government other than the United States.

Defence lawyers said that, if true, it would have the greatest conceivable effect on the trial, especially on their effort to put the blame for the Lockerbie disaster on Palestinian extremists.

It may be in the interests of the defence to maximise the possible significance of the new information.

There is no confirmation so far of speculation that it came from Syria, but defence lawyers told the court last week that they were trying to obtain help from a Middle East state to recover evidence from there.

In another intriguing detail, they said inquiries had also been made in an unnamed European country - not one so far connected with the Lockerbie case - where a Serbo-Croat translator had been used.

According to the defence, their inquiries centre on a German police operation back in 1988, before the Lockerbie attack, into the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command.

The early stages of the Lockerbie investigation focused on a possible Palestinian connection before switching to Libya.

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See also:

23 Oct 00 | World
Six quizzed over Lockerbie
09 Oct 00 | World
Lockerbie trial postponed again
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