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Lockerbie bombing: 25th anniversary marked

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WREATHS were laid by the families of the victims of the Lockerbie bombing at a memorial service in the town on the 25th anniversary of the atrocity yesterday.

First Minister Alex Salmond and Lord Wallace, Advocate General for Scotland, were among those who took part in the service and wreath-laying ceremony at Dryfesdale Cemetery.

The service was led by the Rev John MacLeod, while readings and prayers were given by Major Kingsley Layton, commanding officer at Lockerbie Corps, the Salvation Army, and Lord Lieutenant Jean Tulloch, representing the Queen.

MacLeod said: “It is 25 years after the day on which certain men chose to set aside their humanity and destroy the lives of 270 people in the air over this area of Scotland and here in the little town of Lockerbie; not only their lives but also those who survived, families and friends.

“What we the people of Lockerbie in this area will never tire of saying is we welcome you once again to this place where you know you are always welcome. In doing so we seek to comfort and console you.”

Pan Am flight 103 was on its way from London to New York when it exploded above Lockerbie on the evening of 21 December 1988, killing everyone on board and 11 people on the ground.

Among the many lost that day was a group of students from Syracuse University, in the United States.

US consulate general in Edinburgh Zoja Bazarnic, who also attended the ceremony, said it is important to mark the tragedy.

“I think, 25 years on, there were so many lives that were affected by that and it was very important and meaningful for my colleagues and I to be here today to pay our respects to the victims but also to share our thoughts and prayers with the families and the people of Lockerbie,” he said.

US government representative Craig Lynes said at the service: “Families, friends, it is you who bear the heaviest of hearts.

“While our words can do little to repair the damage caused by this act of terrorism, we offer them with hope.

“We offer these words as a tribute to the 270 lives that were cut short that evening, we offer them as a way to help carry their lives forward as we continue ours.

“Your ability to move on from this incident to create your own families, yet remember the loved ones lost, is an encouragement to those who witness your tenacity.

“The comfort and reassurance you have given each other over the years is an inspiration to anyone who has known such loss.

“From the callous and the cowardly acts committed throughout history by those who attempt to strike terror in our hearts and minds, comes the resolve and strength to continue to fight and prevent organisations and individuals from committing such atrocities. We stand together united in our search for justice.”

Speaking just before the service, Wallace said: “There are families who suffered a huge loss at the time, and it changed their lives forever. I don’t think we should ever forget what man’s inhumanity to man does.

“I saw the signs of a community that was trying to build on the bonds of community. I think they have taken tremendous strides to ensure that real sense of community is here.”

After the wreath-laying, Salmond said: “Out of disaster, there are the bonds of friendship. Lockerbie has been a welcoming place for the relatives of those who died, and over the last 25 years has taken as good care of people as it possibly could.

“I don’t think you ever move on, you certainly never forget, but people do rebuild their lives and many have.”

Prime Minister David Cameron said in a statement: “To families, friends, neighbours, loved ones and all those caught up in the painful process of recovery, let us say to them: our admiration for you is unconditional; for the fortitude and resilience you have shown; for your determination never to give up. You have shown that terrorist acts cannot crush the human spirit. That is why terrorism will never prevail.”

“And even in the darkest moments of grief, it is possible to glimpse the flickering flame of hope.”

Speaking on behalf of the Scottish prosecution service, Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland and solicitor general Lesley Thomson said: “Saturday is a time to remember those who lost their lives on December 21 1988 and the impact it had on so many lives then and since that tragic night.

“On behalf of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, our message is simple: Always remembered, never forgotten; forever in our hearts.”

Only one man, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, was convicted of the bombing.

He was found guilty in January 2001 and given a life sentence. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2008, leading to a decision to free him under compassionate release rules.

Justice Minister Kenny

MacAskill took that decision on 20 August the following year, sparking a row among politicians on both sides of the Atlantic. Megrahi died in Tripoli, Libya in May last year.

Some of the British relatives are considering another appeal against his conviction when they meet with lawyers in the new year.

Campaigner’s quest for justice

SENIOR politicians and families of the victims gathered in London last night to mark the anniversary of the Lockerbie bombing.

Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael and Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon were to join victims’ campaigner Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora died in the disaster, at Westminter Abbey.

The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Right Reverend Lorna Hood, was also to take part.

Swire led the campaign for a public inquiry, becoming a spokesman for victims and pushing for the release of alleged Libyan intelligence officer Abdelbaset ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, who was convicted for the deaths in 2001.

He said: “Flora was our beautiful vivacious first-born of three wonderful children. She had been on her way to spend Christmas with her American Jewish boyfriend. They had both become outstanding young medical scientists invited to do their own research projects at our premier neurological institute at Queen’s Square in London where they met. Through him she had met with Rabbi Albert Friedlander: he called her a great seeker after truth.

“We are the lucky ones, in the UK and US. Not only do we live in two of the most free and safe countries in the world, but we relatives also had the joy of living with those we loved until their untimely deaths. It was Abraham Lincoln who at Gettysburg proclaimed a new birth of freedom for the people of the United States.

“Here, Saint Thomas a Becket born on this day, but 700 years before Lincoln, was slaughtered in Canterbury Cathedral for upholding the Church against his King. I claim habeas corpus as I say in this ancient abbey that I do not believe that our governments have told us all the truth.

“Recently in a cold suburban car park in Sweden with the snow beginning to fall, I was watching a small townhouse. All day the curtains were drawn shut and the blinds down. Inside was a man who has spent his life as a terrorist. I believe he played a key role in the Lockerbie atrocity. Too afraid to answer the bell himself, he sent his wife to an upstairs window to threaten.

“How would I feel in meeting one of those deeply involved: what were the roots of his hatred, could one forgive? Nelson Mandela made forgiveness look easy. But even a truth and reconciliation commission cannot work unless first the truth is known.

“When I first met the late Megrahi face to face in Greenock Prison, though he was a practicing Muslim, he had bought me a Christmas card in the prison shop; in it he had written ‘Dr Swire and family, please pray for me and my family’. He died my friend. Over Christmas, if you pray, please pray for his innocent family, but also for all those who wrestle with hatred, that they may be healed by God’s love. Please pray also that we who will sit down at a Christmas table with chairs forever empty may find peace.”

Lockerbie timeline

21 December 1988

Pan Am flight 103 blows up at 19.03 over Lockerbie en route from London to New York, killing all 243 passengers and 16 crew on board and 11 people on the ground after sections of the jet crashed into the town. A total of 189 passengers and crew were American, another 43 victims were British and 19 other nationalities were represented in the attack.

November 1991

Libyans Abdelbaset al-Megrahi and Al-Amin Khalifah Fhimah are charged in the US and Scotland after a joint investigation by US and UK police. Libya says it will try both men in its courts, refusing extradition to face justice elsewhere. The next year, the UN bans air travel and arms sales to Libya for ignoring their orders to hand over the men.

5 April 1999

After agreeing in 1998 to have a trial under Scottish law in a third country, a deal is struck to have the case held in the Hague. In March 1999, Nelson Mandela meets Muammar Gaddafi and announces the men will be surrendered on or before 6 April. Megrahi and Fhimah arrive at the Hague and are charged on 5 April. UN sanctions against Libya are lifted.

3 May 2000

Having pleaded not guilty in February 2000, the trial begins at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands, eventually lasting nearly a year. In January 2001, defence lawyers announce they will not present further evidence and the prosecution drop conspiracy charges.

31 January 2001

Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence officer, is convicted of mass murder and sentenced to life in prison with a minimum term of 27 years. Fhimah, is found not guilty and freed. The three justices on the case concluded that the “conception, planning and execution of the plot…was of Libyan origin”. He was initially jailed at HMP Barlinnie before being moved to HMP Greenock.

19 August 2003

Libya accepts blame for bombing and to compensate victims’ families. A Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission examination of the case begins the same year, later referring it back to the High Court in 2007 stating there “may have been a miscarriage of justice” and it is “in the interests of justice”.

September 2008

Megrahi is diagnosed with terminal cancer, amid BP oil deals with Libya and negotiations for a prisoner transfer agreement (PTA) that is signed in November 2008. An application is made to transfer Megrahi, despite assurances by then home secretary Jack Straw that Megrahi was excluded from any PTA. Straw later said the trade and oil deals played a “very big part” in his decision to include Megrahi in the PTA.

20 August 2009

Megrahi’s legal team seek to abandon the appeal against conviction and against sentence, which is granted a few days later. On 20 August, Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill (left) announces the release of Megrahi on compassionate grounds and claims Megrahi has just three months to live. He returns to a hero’s welcome in Libya.

August 2010

On the anniversary of Megrahi’s release, US senators demand an inquiry into the decision to return him to Libya, saying there is a “cloud of suspicion” over the deal. Scottish officials meet a US delegation in September after Scottish and UK Governments previously refuse to appear before senators. A petition is lodged at the Scottish Parliament for an independent inquiry into Megrahi’s conviction.

20 May 2012

Megrahi dies in Tripoli, almost three years after his release from prison. The next day, his body is transferred discreetly in an ambulance to a burial site, followed by a convoy of male relatives. The funeral is very much a private family affair and takes place in the suburb of Janzour, where many other members of his family lie buried. “His pain is over now – he is with God,” says his brother Muhammad.

Lawyer for Megrahi condemns rival claims

THE most prominent member of Abdelbaset Ali Mohamed al-Megrahi’s legal team broke his long silence on the case yesterday to condemn those who claim that Libya was not behind the ­attack.

Bill Taylor, QC, who defended Megrahi, said allegations suggesting Iran was behind the attack were examined and dismissed.

Taylor said: “We did raise all these other possibilities in the course of our defence. They were examined in the greatest detail, and fully investigated, but they did not stand up. It’s like all the theories in the Kennedy assassination. They are simply doors that have to be opened, and investigated if you are defending – as we did.”

Taylor’s intervention, 13 years after his client was convicted, comes as a fresh spate of theories have emerged that other countries and terrorist groups were involved in the atrocity.

He added that the announcement by Frank Mulholland, the Lord Advocate, that the Libyan government had agreed to appoint prosecutors to examine the evidence appeared to undermine the suggestion that Libyan played no role in the terrorist attack.

Several experts and Libyan officials have identified Gaddafi as being responsible for the terrorist attack – particularly since the dictator was killed in 2011.

Meanwhile, the former British ambassador to Libya has said that the truth behind the Lockerbie bombing may never be known.

Former British ambassador Oliver Miles said he believes nobody could be brought to justice – but he suspected former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi was behind the bombing.

Governments promise to reveal ‘the full facts’ behind bombing

THE UK, US and Libyan ­administrations will co-operate to reveal “the full facts” of the bombing.

In a joint statement, the three governments also expressed ­their condolences to the families of the victims killed in the disaster.

The statement said: “On the 25th anniversary of the bombing of Pan ­American flight 103 over Lockerbie on 21 December 1988, the governments of ­Libya, the United Kingdom and United States of America reiterate their deepest ­condolences to the families of the victims of this terrible crime.

“We want all those responsible for this most brutal act of terrorism brought to justice, and to understand why it was committed.

“We are committed to co-

operate fully in order to reveal the full facts of the case.” The joint statement continues: “We will all provide full support to the investigation team to ­enable them to complete their inquiries successfully.

“We are striving to further deepen our co-operation and welcome the visit by UK and US investigators to Libya in the near future to discuss all aspects of that co-operation, including sharing of information and documents and ­access to witnesses.”

Libyan Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi was the only person convicted of the bombing. He died from cancer last year protesting his innocence.

 

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