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Libyan Found Guilty of 1988 Pan Am Bombing

Aired January 31, 2001 - 7:01 a.m. ET


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: It has been a busy night. We've been following a breaking news story this hour.

Twelve years since the explosion, nine months of trial and more than 10,000 pages of testimony, this morning, we have a verdict in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.

Two Libyans were on trial. Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi is found guilty of murder. Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah is declared not guilty.

Sentencing for Al-Megrahi is expected shortly, which we will bring to you live from the Netherlands.

We have correspondents covering this big story in New York, Washington, the Netherlands and Tripoli.

But first, we go to Richard Blystone. He is outside the specially built courthouse at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands.

Richard, why the split verdict?

RICHARD BLYSTONE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was a case of the web of circumstantial evidence, Carol. The prosecution case was entirely circumstantial.

But as the defense pointed out, there was no proof at all that Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, the ex-station manager of Libyan Arab Airlines in Malta, was even at the airport in Malta when the bomb was allegedly slipped aboard an Air Malta flight from which it went to Frankfurt, West Germany, was transferred to a feeder flight and joined Pan Am 103 in London.

In the case of Abdel Baset Al-Megrahi, a 48-year-old former -- allegedly -- Libyan security agent, the evidence was somewhat stronger.

But in the end, the judges actually will be telling us a little bit more about their reasons for their verdicts in about an hour. So I'll leave that there for now.

There were gasps in the courtroom this morning when the verdict of guilty was announced, on the other side of the bulletproof glass. Both the Chief Judge Lord Sutherland and the accused Megrahi staring straight ahead -- Carol. LIN: Richard, is there any chance for parole for Al-Megrahi?

BLYSTONE: That will be discussed later.

How long it will be before he can be paroled, there is a mandatory life sentence. And William Taylor, the defender of Megrahi, the Scottish lawyer, rose to tell the judge he would not offer matters in mitigation, so that -- because he said his client is not guilty, is innocent; and hence he would not make that plea for mitigation to lower the sentence.

But he said he would ask that, at least, it start when the accused first came here to jail April 5, 1999, whatever the sentence is.

But we'll hear more about those proceedings later in the day, Carol.

LIN: OK. And what happens to Mr. Fhimah at this point?

BLYSTONE: He apparently, already, is on his way out of here. He was escorted from the courtroom after exchanging what had seemed to be a few words with Megrahi, taken under guard, out of the courtroom where he will be free.

The scenario for his leaving is he would be turned over by the Scots from this little bit of Scotland in the Netherlands, to the Dutch authorities, handed over to the United Nations and flown to Libya, retracing the steps he made last April when -- not two years ago April -- when he came to court.

LIN: All right. Richard Blystone, thank you very much, reporting live from the Netherlands -- Linda.

LINDA STOUFFER, CNN ANCHOR: Two-hundred-seventy people killed in that bombing.

CNN's Frank Buckley has been with a couple of families who lost loved ones in the bombing. He's in New York this morning.

Frank, hello.


We are at the Jacob Javitz Federal Building, where about 50 or 60 family members of the victims of Pan Am 103 gathered to watch on closed-circuit television as the verdict was read.

They couldn't hear the verdict initially, and they had to actually make a phone call to Camp Zeist to find out exactly what that verdict was. When they heard there was at least one guilty verdict, there was a cheer.

Joining me now is Jeannine Boulanger, who is the mother of Nicole Elise Boulanger who was a musical theater major at Syracuse University. Thanks for joining us.

Your reaction to this verdict today?


I've always reminded myself, however, that we have gone through the most horrific moment and survived. And that was December 21st. And anything else would have to pale in terms of its relevance. But it does feel very good.

BUCKLEY: You were able to go to Camp Zeist to see these -- trial at lest for a week, the Justice Department taking family members over there in a rotation.

Can you give me a sense, having been there, having seen these defendants, what was your reaction upon seeing them and being there and hearing the evidence for yourself?

BOULANGER: Well, I was seated in the courtroom I would say approximately, maybe, 15 feet away from them. It was a bit intimidating at first. But I grewly -- slowly grew to be comfortable in that arena. It's a very formal setting, a lot of procedures that are intricately followed, and certainly no aspiring thespians in that courtroom.

BUCKLEY: But to be so close to the men accused of killing your daughter and so many others, what was that like?

BOULANGER: It was so hard. I mean, they look like ordinary individuals, except for the particular garb they may have had on in that day. I guess we kind of portray in our minds what murderers look like. And they really look like ordinary human beings.

BUCKLEY: Many people we've spoken with today, family members have suggested they believe this goes beyond the two men who were standing trial. Do you share their belief?

BOULANGER: Absolutely. I think Mr. Megrahi, having been a Libyan intelligence agent, certainly points the finger directly to state-sponsored terrorism with Mr. Qadhafi at the helm.

BUCKLEY: There was very little media coverage of this case in terms of the trial itself that began in May. Were you disappointed in that? Do you believe that people have forgotten 12 years later what happened?

BOULANGER: Well, I think the people who have connections to 103 certainly remember it. But I think that it was probably to the good. I remember sitting in the courtroom, hearing testimony, and the next moment picking up some European press articles, and not recognizing what I myself had experienced in that courtroom. So I learned, then, to rely not on the spin that the press chose to make on the day's activities.

BUCKLEY: And you were able to access a Web site that was password-protected just for family members and get daily transcripts. Was that helpful for you at all?

BOULANGER: Oh absolutely, absolutely. And it certainly showed it was a lot of evidence to support this verdict.

BUCKLEY: Jeannine, thank you very much, Jeannine Boulanger.

We should tell you there were 35 Syracuse University students aboard that Pan Am 103 when it went down -- Linda.

STOUFFER: Frank Buckley, in New York, thank you very much.

Well CNN's Kathleen Koch is also following some of these families. She's in Washington D.C. today.

Hello, Kathleen.


Well, obviously here, just as in New York, just as overseas, this has been a heart-wrenchingly emotional morning for these families.

Some 60 family members, along with U.S. Justice Department and FBI officials, gathered here in downtown Washington at an office building to hear the verdict be read.

The families say that their greatest fear, after the 12 long years of waiting, was that these two Libyan defendants would go free. Now, many of these were parents who had lost children, just as the woman who Frank just interviewed, and many of them students at Stanford University.

Now, they -- as the verdict was read, families said that they held hands, they clasp hands. And cheers went up, and there were some gasps, and there were some screams. But the family members here, just as the U.S. Justice Department, firmly believe that this case is far from over.


ROSEMARY WOLFE, MOTHER OF VICTIM: We only have part of the truth, and we only have a small measure of justice. What we have here is the foot soldier. But we don't have Qadhafi, and we don't have the rest of the Libyan agents who worked with him to do this.



BOB MUELLER, ACTING DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: The case is not closed. The investigation continues. It has continued since the plane went down, and will continue until every individual and we can identify who played any role in this tragedy is brought to justice.


KOCH: The acting deputy attorney general says, though, that they will need more evidence to bring further charges in this case.

But the families are not waiting. They say that they have over 100 civil suits pending against Libya for more than $10 billion in damages. They believe, obviously, that this one guilty verdict today strengthens their case. But they are also realistic. They realize that actually collecting damages from Libya will be very difficult.

Now, on the issue of closure, these families today say that obviously this verdict does not bring back their loved ones. One father said that he will have closure the day that they close the lid on his casket.

Reporting live in Washington, I'm Kathleen Koch. Back to you.

LIN: All right.

Right now, let's go to CNN's Walt Rodgers who has been getting reaction from the towns people in Lockerbie, Scotland -- Walt.


Well, you had a verdict that was split in the Netherlands, and so is public opinion here in Lockerbie, Scotland. One woman with whom I spoke right here in the town center said she thought the verdict was great. So did another man.

Others in Lockerbie, however, the Scots in this little village of 3,000 to 4,000 people are simply relieved, glad that the trial is over, glad that there's a verdict, indeed, glad that the ordeal of the past 12 years has been completed. It was a horrific ordeal here. Many in this -- many here are still seeking answers, as are the relatives in the United States.

A short while ago, in the town hall, there was a representative sampling of opinion of government officials here in Lockerbie. Many of them -- many of the government officials, town councilors spoke on the subject of the tragedy and the verdict.


ANDREW CAMPBELL, DUMFRIES GALLOWAY COUNCIL: And on behalf of Dumfries and Galloway Council, I want to thank you, everyone who helped and give me assurance that their efforts have been appreciated.

We should -- we should reflect also on the unique and enduring bond of friendship forged between the people of Scotland and the families of the victims. A bond of friendship born of the tragedy, representing the finest of human qualities and the great human spirit.

We recognize the hardship and the stress that these people have come through over the years. And the message goes out to the world: There is no hiding place anywhere for such atrocity as took place with the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie in December 1988.



PHIL JONES, DUMFRIES AND GALLOWAY COUNCIL: No measure of justice administered by the courts could ever equal such an appalling loss of life. And no measure can be placed on the opportunity that was denied innocent people to live their lives.

The families and those most closely affected will have their own private thoughts today on the outcome of the trial. And whilst for some this verdict will bring matters to a degree of closure, for others, no doubt, the search for answers will go on.



JOE MEECHAN, LOCKERBIE DIST. COMM. COUNCIL: We see the trial as the end of our chapters, and the story will go on. I think there will always be concern that the perpetrator has been prosecuted by the person or people who issued the orders to carry out this disastrous act are still the key.


RODGERS: It has been just over 12 years since tragedy stuck -- struck this town of Lockerbie, Scotland. And everyone is facing the future with a divided opinion.

Some in the town are saying the town must go forward; it must not look backward. Indeed, they want to try to forget what befell them a dozen years ago. Others in the town say time may move along but the disaster of Lockerbie will never go away -- Carol.

LIN: So, Walt, have you heard from any of the people in Lockerbie whether they're going to be helping some of the American families in their civil suit against Libya? Or is there really a sense there that perhaps this is now a situation that these families will have to deal with on their own if Lockerbie moves forward?

RODGERS: Carol, there's been an enormous bond formed between the people of Lockerbie and the families of the victims of the Pan Am 103 disaster.

Americans still come to this town. Families from 21 different countries come to this town. They go to a lovely cemetery just outside town, which has a garden of remembrance in that cemetery. There are plaques recalling many of the victims, all 16 members of the Pan Am crew, many lovely epitaphs and remembrances on those plaques.

Often when Americans come to this town, as it has been for years, they're invited into the homes of the families here in Lockerbie, given a hug, and offered a cup of tea.

There is truly a genuine bond of humanity between the families of the Lockerbie victims and, of course, the 3,000 to 4,000 residents of Lockerbie, Scotland -- Carol. LIN: Walt, I'm just curious if you've had a chance to see the area where the plane actually went down. We see -- we've been rolling the pictures of the devastation shortly after the crash. What does that area look like now? Has it been rebuilt?

RODGERS: The earth has healed, but the crash actually took place over a very large area. The worst part of the plane's wreckage fell on Lockerbie itself. The nose cone, the cockpit, fell on a nearby hillside. Other parts of the plane -- engines fell in cul-de-sacs and crescents -- residential areas. Lockerbie lost 11 of its citizens, killed by the burning and falling debris.

The earth has healed; the psychological scars remain considerably deeper -- Carol.

LIN: Clearly. Thank you very much, Walter Rodgers, reporting live from Lockerbie, Scotland -- Linda.

LINDA STOUFFER, CNN ANCHOR: CNN's Kelly Wallace is live at the White House now. She has details on a statement from the Bush White House.

Hello there, Kelly.


We received a statement just moments ago from White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. The White House is calling this verdict a victory for an international effort that has resulted in an indictment of a member of the Libyan Intelligence Services.

The statement reads, quote, "The government of Libya must take responsibility."

Now at the same time, the White House is saying that the United States and the United Kingdom have made it clear that a verdict, in and of itself, does not signify an end to the United Nations' sanctions against Libya. This statement is pointing to U.N. Security Council resolutions, which called for Libya to satisfy certain requirements such as -- in their statement, compensating the victims' families, and accepting responsibility for this act of terrorism. The statement saying, quote, "The government of Libya has not yet satisfied these requirements."

So the White House is saying it will work closely with the United Kingdom, and then approach the government of Libya to see what next steps it must take.

The statement, though, is also talking about the victims' families saying, quote, "We want to express our deepest sympathy to the families lost in the bombing of Pan Am 103." Quote, "Nothing can undo the suffering this act of terrorism has caused. But we hope that this verdict will help reduce the anguish and uncertainty that the family members have endured since December 21st, 1988."

So, again, this is a statement from the White House press secretary, issued just a short time ago. We'll have to wait and see what next steps the U.S. will take, Linda. But this is the first major international development that this 11-day-old White House has had to confront -- Linda.

STOUFFER: Foreign policy team is in place, and already they have this to consider.

Now, you talked about the U.N. sanctions that were suspended when the two Libyans were delivered for trial. But what about in the future? The U.S. sanctions, does the same go for those?

WALLACE: No mention of the U.S. sanctions. But as you point out, that is correct. The U.S. does have some unilateral sanctions against Libya, some imposed by President Clinton back in 1996.

Other sanctions predate the bombing in 1988. Also, the U.S. continues to have Libya on its State Department list of state- sponsored terrorism countries that are accused of sponsoring terrorism.

So it's unclear what next steps the U.S. will take. We'll have to be watching to see some signals from the Bush administration's foreign policy team -- Linda.

STOUFFER: And we know you'll keep us up to day. Kelly Wallace at the White House, thank you -- Carol.

LIN: All right, right now, then, let's go to CNN's Richard Roth. He is standing by at the United Nations.

Richard, any reaction there from members to the United States' plan to continue to press for restitution from the government of Libya?

RICHARD ROTH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, diplomats are still not here yet. But officials we've reached over the phone, U.S.,U.K. authorities, are certainly in no mood to lift sanctions on Libya.

But that is the mood of many members of the U.N. Security Council, that -- before the verdict, there was a move in late December by the so-called "non-aligned movement" to get the sanctions lifted.

The U.S., U.K. and Libyan ambassadors and representatives did meet a week ago to just go over what would happen before these verdicts. Now, the U.N. sanction will apparently remain in a suspended status.

But the U.S., the U.K., to get these sanctions lifted, they say Libya first has to give an official renunciation of terrorism. It also has to offer compensation to the families, and cooperate with crime investigators to determine what exactly happened, now that one of the defendants has been found guilty.

The Libyan government here, of course, denies any involvement in the bombing.


ABUZED DORDA, LIBYAN AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: We do respect the Scotch court sitting in the Netherlands. And Libya will implement the decision; not only respect it. And we are looking forward to the appeal. And then we will watch the result of that.

And may I say what we have assured to the Security Council and to the secretary general and to the concerned parties, I mean, U.S.A. and U.K., since two years ago, that Libya's going to also respect and implement the decision which might be taken by civil Scotch court based on this criminal court decision.


ROTH: The Security Council voted March 31st, 1992, to impose an air and arms embargo. That will still remain in place if it's up to the U.S. and U.K..

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

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

STOUFFER: And now we want to go straight to Tripoli.

CNN's Brent Sadler is in the Libyan capital. He joins us right now on the telephone.

Brent, what can you tell us?

BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Linda. Well, first of all, it would appear that the Libyan authorities here in Tripoli are opening the doors to international journalists who are now arriving, have been for the past hour or so and earlier, really gathering at the airport here and allowing access to journalists to report Libyan reaction to this verdict in the Netherlands.

I've been able to just canvass one or two comments from people around the airport, Libyans. And they expressed relief that one of the two men will be coming home, but also expressed concern about what the conviction would be in terms of relations between Libya, the United States in particular, and elsewhere in the world.

And there has been an announcement, as you heard, from the United Nations that the Libyan ambassador to the U.N. has confirmed that Libya will appeal -- or the guilty verdict will be appealed on behalf of Abdel Baset Al-Megrahi. That's the man who has been convicted for blowing up the airline, the Pan Am 103.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman here in Tripoli has said they hoped here that this verdict in the Netherlands would help turn the page of stormy relations between Libya and the United States. The foreign ministry spokesman said here that they hope the U.S. attitude towards Libya would change as a result of Libya's involvement in allowing these suspects originally to be handed over. And they would hope that relations between the two countries would improve. It remains to be seen, however, just how high a level of reaction there is here in the capital itself. And, doubtless, we'll be finding that out over the next day or so -- Linda.

STOUFFER: Doubtless you'll keep us posted. Brent Sadler, thank you very much. Brent joining us on the phone from Tripoli.

And as mentioned, the Libyan government says they plan to appeal the conviction of the one Libyan man. He will actually be sentenced in less than an hour. We will continue to follow this story, bring you that sentencing when it happens.



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