Lockerbie 25 years on: some relatives still pushing for answers

Relatives of some victims continue their campaign to investigate what happened to Pan Am Flight 103, which was blown up over Scotland in 1988.

David Moir / Reuters
A father and daughter stand in front of the main headstone in the Lockerbie memorial garden in Lockerbie, Scotland, in August 2009. Some relatives of victims of the 1988 bombing remain adamant that the search for truth isn't over.

Twenty five years ago, Pan Am Flight 103 was about 31,000 feet over the Scottish town of Lockerbie when a bomb hidden in a suitcase exploded in the baggage hold, sending the plane plummeting from the sky. All 259 passengers on board were killed, as well as 11 people on the ground.

On Saturday, the anniversary of the terrorist attack, relatives of the victims and others will join commemoration services in the US and Britain to grieve for the dead. Grief, however, is not the only thing that remains strong a quarter century on. Stubborn doubt about responsibility for the bombing means Lockerbie remains a live issue on both sides of the Atlantic.

“We relatives need the truth about who murdered our families,” veteran Lockerbie campaigner, Jim Swire, whose eldest daughter died the attack, wrote in the Scotsman newspaper this week. “While that truth is hidden, the true perpetrators are protected." 

The only person ever convicted in connection with the bombing was the former head of security at Libyan Arab Airlines, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi. A Dutch court, operating under Scottish law, found him guilty in 2000, but he was freed from prison in 2009 on compassionate grounds.

The regime of the late Libyan dictator Col. Muammar Qaddafi later acknowledged responsibility and offered tens of millions of dollars in restitution for victims.

Upon his release, Mr. Megrahi returned to Libya where he was accorded a hero’s welcome and a personal greeting by Col. Qaddafi, deeply angering victims’ families. Mr. Megrahi died last year in Tripoli as the country convulsed from the revolution that ousted and ultimately killed Qaddafi.

Among the 270 people who died in the bombing on Dec. 21, 1988, 189 were American citizens. US relatives have largely supported the official investigation, but British campaigners have raised doubts about the conviction of Megrahi and the assumption that Libyan authorities were responsible for the bombing.

Mr. Swire, for one, has campaigned aggressively for a new investigation, saying Megrahi’s involvement was doubtful. He insists that there was evidence that pointed to Iran as the culprit, not Libya.

On Monday, Scotland’s top prosecutor, Frank Mulholland, welcomed news that Libya had appointed two prosecutors to work alongside Scottish and American investigations in the ongoing probe into the bombing.

“The court found Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi guilty of the bombing but recognized it was an act of state terrorism and he did not act alone,” Mr. Mulholland said. “We are still looking for others and the evidence leads to Libya.”

Former FBI Director Robert Mueller was said that progress has been achieved in the investigation since the Libyan revolution in 2011 and that he expects new charges to be brought over the Lockerbie attack.

“My expectation is that continuously we will obtain additional information, perhaps additional witnesses, and that others will be charged with their participation in this,” Mr. Mueller told the BBC in a recent documentary.

“We do not forget. And by that I mean the FBI, the US Department of Justice, we do not forget,” he said.

“If you look at terrible disasters – Northern Ireland and the IRA trials, the Hillsborough [soccer stadium] disaster, and also Lockerbie, it is the denial of truth to the victims that is the common thread,” Mr. Swire wrote in his op-ed piece. “So, indeed, there is a thread and that thread is truth.”

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