Appeal in Lockerbie bombing case begins
EDINBURGH, Scotland — The Libyan man jailed for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 was convicted on the basis of circumstantial evidence, his lawyer told a Scottish court Tuesday.
Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, 57, was not in court as his appeal got under way more than 20 years after the Dec. 21, 1988 bombing killed all 259 people aboard the London to New York flight and 11 people on the ground. But he was following the proceedings by a closed circuit television link between the court and Greenock Prison, near Glasgow.
“The trial court, on the basis of wholly circumstantial evidence, concluded beyond reasonable doubt that the appellant was involved in the commission of this crime. Our submission is it was wrong to do so,” lawyer Margaret Scott, told the five judges at the Court of Appeal in Edinburgh.
Al-Megrahi, who is terminally ill with prostate cancer, has spent 10 years behind bars for the terrorist attack. He and another Libyan, Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, were prosecuted in The Hague, Netherlands, in 2001 for the Lockerbie bombing.
Fhimah was acquitted.
Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s decision to hand over the two suspects in the case more than a decade after the bombing, pay billions of dollars in compensation, and renounce his weapons of mass destruction program paved the way for lifting U.S. sanctions on Libya and the country’s re-emergence on the world scene.
Defending al-Megrahi, a former Libyan secret service agent, on Tuesday, Scott told the Court of Appeal: “No jury — properly directed — could have convicted him beyond all reasonable doubt.”
She said the trial court’s conclusion centered on “critical inferences.” These included that al-Megrahi bought the clothing that was in the suitcase containing the bomb and that the suitcase containing the bomb entered the system in Malta, Scott said.
“The appellant challenges the drawing of each of these critical inferences and consequently the conclusion that he was involved in the crime,” she said.
Al-Megrahi has maintained his innocence. While he lost an appeal in 2002, he was granted another one two years ago following a major legal review.
The current hearing is initially set for the next four weeks, but is expected to last up to a year.
Scott said al-Megrahi was undergoing a new course of treatment for his cancer.
Relatives of the victims of Pan Am 103, some of whom were in court Tuesday, are divided over al-Megrahi’s conviction. Some British families have said they think he is innocent, but relatives of U.S. victims have said he is guilty and should remain in jail.