Lockerbie bombing families find 21-year anniversary a tough one

Families of Lockerbie bombing victims gather in Washington, knowing that the only man convicted of the crime has been released from prison for health reasons and had almost £2 million in a bank account at the time Pan Am Flight 103 went down.

Libyan Abdel Basset al-Megrahi (3rd left) is is hugged by Seif al-Islam, the son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, as he walks down the stairs upon his arrival at airport in Tripoli August 20, 2009.

The holidays are always a difficult time for the families of the victims of Pam Am Flight 103.

It was only four days before Christmas – 21 years ago Monday – that a bomb aboard the transcontinental flight detonated over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people.

But this year is especially tough. Four months ago, the only person to be held legally responsible for the 1988 terrorist attack was released from prison on grounds that he was terminally ill. Then, two days ago, the families learned that the bomber had nearly £2 million in a personal bank account at the time of the attack.

“One of the problems with this case is that it never seems to end,” says Frank Duggan, president of the Victims of Pan Am Flight 103.

Still, the families of Americans killed on the flight will gather Monday at Arlington National Cemetery, as they have each year, to console one another and read aloud the names of their absent loved ones. As before, they will bring flowers to place on the memorial and a wreath with 21 red blooms, one for each year since the bombing. While most of Washington digs out from its recent record snowfall, they will sit in cold metal chairs, listen to a bell toll 270 times, and think of their lost children, spouses, and parents.

Across the Atlantic Ocean, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who was convicted in 2001 and sentenced to life in prison (with a minimum of 27 years before being considered for parole), was reported to be receiving care in Libya at a Tripoli hospital on Sunday. A health worker told Scotland’s Herald that Mr. Megrahi's health is deteriorating.

In August, Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill granted Megrahi a “compassionate release” from prison after his legal team argued he is terminally ill and had only three months to live.

Now, four months later, Megrahi is still alive, and reports have surfaced indicating he had £1.8 million (or almost $2.9 million at today’s exchange rate) in a Swiss bank account at the time of the bombing.

Scotland’s Crown Office confirmed it refused to grant bail to Megrahi as recently as November 2008 because of concerns he might try to gain access to the money, according to the Times of London.

This further proves that Megrahi was not the low-level airline employee he claimed to be, says Mr. Duggan. “He spent a lifetime in the terrorism business.”

Stan Maslowski, who lost his daughter Diane in the Pam Am bombing, is also finding this year especially difficult. Megrahi’s release and the recent reports have brought up old pain and more questions about the investigation, he says.

“As a Christian, I’m not supposed to be bitter, but it’s sometimes very trying,” he says in a phone interview.

Still, he says that he’s learned to accept his daughter won’t be there for Christmas dinner, and that he finds comfort in calls from other families who also lost loved ones.

“There’s always something missing,” he says. “But we survive another year.”


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