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Pan Am 103 Bombing Verdict: Sentence Handed Down

Aired January 31, 2001 - 8:01 a.m. ET


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, it was just before Christmas a dozen years ago: A Pan American World Airways jumbo jet was flying to New York City. It was blown out of the sky over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 259 people on board the plane and 11 on the ground.

After years of waiting and a nine-month trial in the Netherlands, a split verdict in the trial of two Libyan men. Convicted of murder now: Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi. He worked as a security chief for Libyan Arab Airlines in Malta at the time of the bombing. Found not guilty: Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah. He worked as a station manager for Libyan Arab Airlines in Malta.

Al-Megrahi is scheduled to be sentenced at any time now, and as soon as we have that sentencing, we will bring it to you.

In the meantime, we go now to Walter Rodgers. He has been on the ground in Lockerbie, Scotland, where people are trying to rebuild their lives.

Walt, what was the reaction there to the verdict?

WALTER RODGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Carol, I think the reaction here in Lockerbie, Scotland, a town of about 3,000 to 4,000 people was probably one of relief. I talked to a number of people on the street as soon as the verdict came out of the Netherlands. I asked them what their reaction to the verdict was. Several people said great. Others were troubled by the verdict, troubled in the sense that only one of the defendants was convicted -- the other was let go.

Others in this town are just grateful that this ordeal is over. It has been extremely difficult for the people of Lockerbie. This was a quiet market town -- this was a quiet market town until 12 years ago. Now of course, it will be remembered as the site of a terrible mass murder: 270 people -- of that number, 11 came from this town.

Joining us now is the convener of the town council, Mr. Andrew Campbell.

Mr. Campbell, are the scars healing?

ANDREW CAMPBELL, CONVENER, DUMFRIES & GALLOWAY COUNCIL: Well, indeed -- 12 years is a long time from the disasters. They happened over the skies here -- Pan Am 103. And yes, the scars are healing, and the people of Lockerbie would want that to be the case. But Lockerbie will always be synonymous, as you said yourself, to this disaster. And if a message could go loud and clear, I'm sure the message that the people of Lockerbie would like to hear is there is no hiding place anywhere in the world for the atrocity that took place on the 21st of December, 1988.

RODGERS: Do you -- do you personally think justice was done?

CAMPBELL: Well, I think it has gone a long way towards justice. I believe in the Scottish judicial system. And it has been undertaken at Camp Van Zeist in Holland. And the judges came out and announced that one guilty, one not guilty. They may appeal, but I so believe in the system and the system being correct. And if that is -- if that is the judgment of the court, then that is the judgment that people of Lockerbie and the people of Scotland would accept. And I think that it does signal quite clearly to the world there is no hiding place, there is no room in society today, for such an atrocity that took place in December of 1988.

RODGERS: Mr. Campbell, thank you very much. We've been talking with Andrew Campbell, the convener of the town council here in Lockerbie -- Carol.

LIN: All right, well, you might want to tell Mr. Campbell that we have just learned, now out of the Netherlands, that Ali Al-Megrahi, 48-years old, guilty in the Pan Am 103 bombing, has now been sentenced to life in prison. But his attorney has vowed that he will appeal the decision, and according to Scottish law, he still has the ability to apply for parole.

We will keep you updated on the situation, and we will get live reaction and reports out of Camp Zeist, in the Netherlands, in just one moment.

But right now, we want to get more reaction from family members, who lost their loved ones in the bombing.

And we go to reaction now with CNN's Frank Buckley. He is standing by at a federal building where many of the families were able to watch live the verdict.

Frank, the reaction there.

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Carol, family members started arriving in the pre-dawn darkness. Many of them stayed in a hotel together last night and came over in a bus while it was still dark outside here in New York City. They went into a room here and were able to watch on a television link up to the Netherlands, but they were not able to hear the verdict. So there was a moment of tension while they waited to find out exactly what that verdict was.

Someone placed a phone call, and then they found out that there was, at least, one guilty verdict.

Many of the family members are pleased about that one guilty verdict, but they also believe that this case goes beyond the two men who were standing trial.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The important thing about the conviction of Megrahi is that he is a Libyan Intelligence officer. So this goes right up to the top. This was state-sponsored terrorism, and that is the important issue here.

BERT AMMERMAN, BROTHER OF VICTIM: The Scottish judicial process was outstanding. No one can question the integrity of what took place. So our loved ones did not die in vain. Today is a day of satisfaction. True justice, though, I believe, will never be served, because the person that should be brought to justice is the leader of Libya, and I just don't think that's going to happen.


BUCKLEY: These family members hope that the U.S. government will continue to press forward with this case. They were happy about the fact that today U.S. officials did, in fact, say that this case remains open -- Carol.

LIN: Frank, many of these families are involved in a civil suit against the government of Libya. They want Moammar Gadhafi to account for this bombing in some manner. So what specifically do they want in order for this case to be resolved in their mind that justice was done?

BUCKLEY: They want this case to be pursued further. They believe that there might have been some links that were established that take this case beyond the two men who were standing trial. They are hoping that U.S. investigators will now follow those links.

They now have one conviction in their pockets. They are hoping that they can press forward and follow the links that they have established, follow the investigative leads that have been developed during this several years long investigation, and follow it to its logical conclusion.

LIN: We'll see where it takes them. Thank you very much, Frank Buckley, reporting live from New York, with reaction from the families.

Well, what has angered and frustrated many of these families is that there was a deal made, shortly before this trial, in order to get these two men to trial, that stiff U.N. sanctions against Libya would be suspended if that trial were to go forward. Well, in addition to that, there were U.S. sanctions against Libya, which actually even pre-date the United Nations penalties. So how will these sanctions be affected by today's verdict?

For some answers, we go to senior United Nations correspondent Richard Roth. He's at the U.N. -- Richard.

RICHARD ROTH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, in the short-term, they may not be affected very much. The sanctions were suspended -- that was part of the agreement, if Libya turned over the two suspects wanted in connection with the Lockerbie bombing. So those sanctions indeed were suspended.

Now, many members of the U.N. Security Council want them lifted. The United States and the United Kingdom are not ready to do that right now.

Libya's government denies, though, any involvement in this bombing.


ABUZED DORDA, LIBYAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Libyan officials or Libya as a state is not accused in this incident and was not accused by the prosecutors in the Scotch courts, I think, in the Netherlands. It was a case concerned two individuals, and today, one of them shown innocent, and unfortunately, the other one was convicted.

QUESTION: Will the families...

DORDA: The Libyan government has nothing to do at all with this.


ROTH: That's Ambassador Dorda of Libya here in our office just a short time ago. He met last week with the United Kingdom's ambassador and a U.S. representative to go over where things stand. He thinks everyone should "move forward and put the past behind it." Families are not ready to do that; Washington wants Libya to do more in the way of cooperating with any investigation.

Richard Roth, CNN, reporting live at the U.N. -- Carol.

LIN: All right, Richard, thank you very much.

And right now, live to the Netherlands, where CNN's Richard Blystone is standing by.

Richard, tell us more about the sentencing that just occurred.

RICHARD BLYSTONE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's just in the last couple of minutes we've learned that Abdel Baset Ali Al-Megrahi, the first accused in this case -- accused of being the murderer and as acting as an agent of Libyan Intelligence -- sentenced to life and has to serve 20 years before he is eligible for parole.

Now, the judges said that that period starts, that clocks starts, on the 5th of April, 1999, when he arrived here and was put into the prison at this Scottish court in the middle of the Netherlands. So -- but it will be another 18 years, or a little more than 18 years, before he is eligible for parole.

He will be going to a specially built cell in Glasgow, Scotland -- and so that's what we know about that. Whether or not there will be an appeal, we expect possibly there will, because when he was saying there would be no matters offered in mitigation in attempt to reduce the sentence, his lawyer, William Taylor, told the judges that his client was innocent, and that's why he was not entering anything in mitigation. We haven't heard that yet; we may any minute now -- Carol.

LIN: Richard, any reaction from Al-Megrahi?

BLYSTONE: Phillip Turner, our producer, who was in the court, said he stared straight ahead the whole time, as did the Chief Judge, Lord Ronald Sutherland, when he was pronouncing the verdict. The reaction was on the other side of the bulletproof glass: gasps when the guilty verdict was announced, because many of the family members gathered for this climax to an 84-day trial, had expected there might be verdicts of innocent or not proven, which is a peculiarity of Scottish law, but in effect means the same thing in practice -- Carol.

LIN: Well, if Al-Megrahi...

BLYSTONE: We're getting some more news.

LIN: When you do get more news, just please feel free to interrupt me, but in the meantime, is there...

BLYSTONE: All right, Carol, the latest ...

LIN: Go ahead.

BLYSTONE: The latest that we have learned, Carol, is that after serving the full sentence of 20 years, if he is paroled, he would be deported back to Libya.

LIN: All right -- but in the meantime, perhaps as a basis for some sort of an appeal, is there any discussion yet as to whether Al- Megrahi can offer information that might lead to other suspects, and is there any indication on his part that he would be willing to cooperate?

BLYSTONE: There's really nothing about that so far. Certainly, these two did not act alone. But it has to be asked, if we're going to be thorough about it, how much of the Libyan establishment, the Libyan regime, knew about this, if it is true that Libyan agents were behind it.

So he might have some grounds for making a deal, launching an appeal, but we don't know about that. Neither of the defendants testified in this trial. The defense relied instead on what it perceived to be weaknesses in the prosecution's circumstantial case -- Carol.

LIN: All right, thank you very much, Richard Blystone, for bringing us the latest on that sentencing and clarifying a lot of different points.

Now, of course, you can head to our Web site for complete coverage of the Lockerbie verdict, as well as the next steps in this case. Just point and click to your browser to, and once you're there, you'll find a history of the investigation and in-depth coverage from the Netherlands. The address, as always, is, and the AOL keyword is CNN.



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