On This Day

lockerbie, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, lockerbie bomber
Handout/PA Wire
Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi

On This Day: 270 Killed in Lockerbie Bombing

December 21, 2011 05:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On Dec. 21, 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 crashed over Lockerbie, Scotland, due to a Libyan terrorist bomb, killing all 259 people on board and 11 people on the ground.

The Lockerbie Bombing of Pan Am Flight 103

Pan Am Flight 103, a Boeing 747, was bound for New York from London. It was flying on course at 31,000 feet over Scotland when it disappeared from radar screens without warning.

“The Boeing 747 slammed into a gasoline station and a row of houses in this small town of 2,500 residents, 15 miles north of the English border, igniting a fireball that rose up to 300 feet into the sky,” reported The Washington Post.

All 259 passengers and crewmembers were killed, as were 11 people on the ground in the village of Lockerbie.

There was immediate speculation over the cause of the crash. Scottish Secretary Malcolm Rifkin told the media, “The aircraft clearly experienced some form of explosion, which has resulted in many parts of the aircraft falling in many different locations—that we know. But what might have caused that to happen, I'm sorry, I could not even speculate.”

The Lockerbie Trial and Appeals

A massive investigation conducted by Scottish police found that the crash had been caused by a bomb, likely planted by Libyan men. In 1991, Scottish and American officials issued murder indictments against Libyans Lamin Khalifah Fhimah and Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, chief of security for Libyan Arab Airlines and an alleged Libyan intelligence officer. Libya refused to extradite the two subjects, prompting the United Nations to issue sanctions against the country.

Libya finally agreed to hand over the subjects in 1999 on the condition that their trial be held in a neutral country. The two men, who both maintained their innocence, went on trial before Scottish judges in the Netherlands. In 2001, the court found Megrahi guilty of murder, but acquitted Fhimah of all charges.

The Libyan government admitted responsibility for the bombing and agreed to pay $10 million to each victim’s family, contingent on the U.N. rescinding its sanctions. Still, there remained questions over Megrahi’s guilt.

In 2007, a Scottish legal panel determined that “a miscarriage of justice may have occurred” and ordered that an appeal be heard. Megrahi dropped his appeal in 2009 when he was instead able to secure a release from prison on compassionate grounds because he was suffering from prostate cancer and allegedly near death.

Megrahi remains alive and, with the collapse of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi's government in the 2011 Libyan Revolution, many in the west are calling for him to be returned to Scottish custody, “hoping for a fuller accounting of the crime and the Qaddafi government’s role in it,” according to The New York Times.

Key Player: Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi

Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi was born in Tripoli, the capital of Libya, in 1952. The father of five lived in the suburbs of Tripoli in his father-in-law's house before the events of December 1988, the BBC explains in a profile of Megrahi.

Proficient in English after spending time traveling and studying in the U.S. and U.K., Megrahi allegedly worked as the director of Libya's Centre for Strategic Studies, which, according to the FBI, "gave him cover to act as an intelligence officer for the Libyan Intelligence Services (JSO)," the BBC reports.

Following that position, Megrahi was the chief of security for Libyan Arab Airlines (LAA), which prosecutors said allowed him the freedom to travel to locations including Malta, where LAA had an office, and Zurich, where the timing device for the bomb found on Pam Am 103 was made. Clothing wrapped around the bomb was traced to a store in Malta, then to Megrahi, the BBC adds.

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