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Lockerbie bomber sentenced to life

Libyan Abdel Baset Al-Megrahi has been found guilty of the Lockerbie bombing  

CAMP ZEIST, Netherlands -- A Libyan intelligence agent has been sentenced to life imprisonment after being found guilty of the mass murder of 270 people in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

The trial judges recommended Abdel Baset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi, who is expected to appeal, should serve at least 20 years before he is eligible for parole.

Megrahi was one of two Libyans accused of planting a device on Pan Am Flight 103 which blew up over the Scottish town on December 21, 1988, killing all 259 passengers and crew, and 11 people on the ground.

His co-defendant, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, 44, was found not guilty of murder. He will not face any further legal action in British, U.S. or other courts.

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Just after 1800 GMT -- eight hours after he was acquitted -- Fhimah left the Netherlands where he had been held since last April and began his journey home.

The father-of-five waved to photographers as he was whisked away in one of two black BMW saloons, escorted by a police car, which left Camp Zeist.

His immediate destination was unclear, but he was expected to be transferred to a Dutch airport to board a flight to Libya.

The verdicts, on Wednesday, were the culmination of a 12-year investigation that involved an international manhunt led by Scottish police and CIA investigators.

Libya has said that Megrahi, 48, who could serve his sentence in the tough Barlinnie prison in Glasgow, will appeal against the ruling -- a process that could take a year.

The three judges said the sentence recognised "the horrendous nature of this crime."

However, presiding judge Lord Sutherland said the 20 year period was "substantially less" than the court would have recommended were it not for Megrahi's age, and the fact that he will be serving his sentence in a foreign country.

In Washington, President George W. Bush said he hoped the victims' families would take some solace from the guilty verdict.

"I appreciate very much the Scottish court...decision to convict a member of the Libyan intelligence service," he said.

"I want to assure the families and victims the United States Government continues to press Libya to accept responsibility for this act and to compensate the families."

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the verdicts show "justice has taken its course" and asked that the legitimacy of authority of the legal process must be respected.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair said he was "glad that justice has been done."

Following the end of the £60 million ($90m) trial, U.S. Acting Deputy Attorney General Bob Mueller told CNN that investigations would continue.

"The investigation continues to determine who else may have been involved in this act of terrorism and to bring that individual or those individuals to justice," he said.

"This case is not closed. The investigation continues, it has continued since the plane went down and it will continue until every individual who we can identify who played a role in this tragedy is brought to justice."

Britain now expects Libya to take responsibility for the actions of its official and pay at least the £470 million ($700 million) compensation already awarded by the courts.

Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told the House of Commons, in London: "In the light of the guilty verdict… we require Libya to accept responsibility for the acts of their official, who has been convicted.

"We also require Libya to pay compensation to the relatives of the victims."

Libya's ambassador to the U.N. said Libya will "respect and implement" the verdicts.

But Abduzed Dorda denied Libya was involved in the bombing, even though the trial judges accepted that Megrahi was a member of the Libyan Intelligence Services (JSO) -- "occupying posts of fairly high rank."

The ambassador told CNN: "Libya was never accused in that court and has never been tried. The prosecutors themselves said that Libya as a state had nothing at all to do with this case, at all."

During the 84-day trial, held at a special Scottish court built on a disused air base near Utrecht, in the Netherlands, prosecutors claimed that the bomb was loaded at Malta's Luqa airport on to an Air Malta flight for Frankfurt, West Germany.

From there, the prosecution said it was transferred to a feeder flight to London's Heathrow Airport, where it joined Pan Am 103 bound for New York.

In their ruling, the judges ruling said: "We are aware that in relation to certain aspects of the case there are a number of uncertainties and qualifications.

"We are also aware that there is a danger that by selecting parts of the evidence which seem to fit together and ignoring parts which might not fit, it is possible to read into a mass of conflicting evidence, a pattern or conclusion which is not really justified."

But, they continued: "There is nothing in the evidence which leaves us with any reasonable doubt as to the guilt of (Megrahi)."

The court and the prosecution must be notified of Megrahi's intention to appeal by February 14.

Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah (left) and Abdel Baset Al-Megrahi pleaded not guilty to murder  

A spokeswoman for the Law Society of Scotland said the most likely basis for an appeal would be for the defence to claim that the verdict represented a miscarriage of justice.

This would possibly revolve around the theory that a vital piece of evidence in the prosecution's case was "inadmissible" and should not have been put before the three judges.

If an appeal is granted it will be heard in the High Court of Justiciary -- sitting as a Court of Criminal Appeal -- by five judges at Camp Zeist, where Megrahi would continue to be held until that hearing finishes.

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Lockerbie Verdict
Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal
Scottish Courts
Lockerbie Trial Briefing
Libyan Mission to the U.N.
Pan Am Flight 103
The White House
US Department of State
Libya Online
UK Government

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