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Pan Am 103 Bombing Verdict: 1 Guilty, 1 Not Guilty

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


LINDA STOUFFER, CNN ANCHOR: Three Scottish judges hearing the murder trial of two Libyans accused of bombing Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, revealed their verdict just about two and a half hours ago.

The White House says despite the verdict, Libya must take responsibility for the bombing.

CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's look back now at the events leading up to this bombing and the massive amount of time spent investigating it.

Once again, CNN senior international correspondent Richard Blystone.


RICHARD BLYSTONE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Another few minutes, and there would have been none of this. The jumbo jet made of the deceased (ph) would have plunged to the bottom of the sea, and the investigation would have been virtually impossible.

The first job: to make something out of chaos. Searchers combed hundreds of square miles for clues. Hundreds of investigators interviewed 15,000 people, collected 180,000 items of evidence around the world. Took years of time, trying to assemble a pattern that could be called the truth.

The Wayan (ph) anthropologist tries to coax a whole civilization out of a few pieces of pottery. But from the start, it was always possible that the whole truth would be out of reach.

Twelve years and time has been depositing its layers of forgetfulness like moss over it all. Witnesses have died or disappeared. The village of Lockerbie sick with the attention. And American world airways itself now just a memory. Already financially burdened, Lockerbie a nail in its coffin. Three years later, the line, whose around-the-world clippers were once the pride of America's commercial fleet, was gone.

Lives are still blighted. Dr. Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was aboard the plane, has been a familiar figure at the trial.

DR. JIM SWIRE, FATHER OF VICTIM: All we can do is try to walk away from this. We've done everything humanly possible, honorably in the memory of those who died, who should have been protected and weren't.

BLYSTONE: The bomb-widowed Bruce Smith, himself, an ex Pan Am pilot.

BRUCE SMITH, HUSBAND OF VICTIM: Well, I -- I'm going on, but I'm not going to donate the rest of my life to the Libyans.

BLYSTONE: The Scottish law professor who's followed the trial says the trial never even attempted to tell the whole story.

JOHN GRANT, LAW PROFESSOR: Whatever is true, Megrahi and Fhimah did not sit down in that cafe in Valetta, Malta, and dream up this scheme unexecuted. They had neither the money, the resources, nor anything else to do it. So someone was behind it.

BLYSTONE: The court never dealt with the theory, that the destruction of Pan Am 103 was a revenge bombing, commissioned in Iran, in retaliation for the deaths of 290 people in an Airbus, shot down in the Gulf by a U.S. destroyer six months before Lockerbie.

But the popular front for the Liberation of Palestine general command was the contractor. Raiding West German police had found bomb-making equipment in a hideout near Frankfurt, two months before Lockerbie. But that trail ran out.

In Damascus last fall, CNN asked PFLP leader Ahmed Jibril about it.

We pay no attention to that, he says. It's an old story. And I think it just goes around. And sometimes it comes to us, then it moves on to Syria or Libya. And then it might come back to us.

And though the defense, in the end, didn't follow up its suggestion, that other terrorists could have been behind the bombing, it might just come up again.

(on camera): There are still a couple of Scottish policemen assigned full time to the investigation, and amateurs who follow Lockerbie alert for the missing piece to solve the puzzle.

The Lockerbie case is not closed.

Richard Blystone, CNN, Camp Zeist, the Netherlands.


LIN: And in the 12 years since that fateful tragedy, little has dulled the sorrow and the anger and the frustration over the deaths of a son, a daughter, a wife or a husband.

In fact, that is the tragedy that Stephanie Bernstein has had to deal with when her husband Michael, who was only 36 years old at the time of this crash, died in Pan Am Flight 103.

Stephanie, where were you this morning when you heard the verdict? And what was your reaction?

STEPHANIE BERNSTEIN, VICTIM'S WIDOW: I was at the remote site here in Washington, which was set up by the Department of Justice and the Scottish courts, so that families could view the trial. And today, we were able to view the verdict live in real time.

The reaction in the room was electric when Megrahi was convicted. And I am very pleased. I think this shows that this was an act of faith-sponsored terrorism, and that the pressure must continue to be brought on the Libyan government to find out what fully what happened.

LIN: So what are you going to do next? Are you part of the civil suit now to try to get restitution from the government of Libya?

BERNSTEIN: I am part of the civil suit. But what I hope will happen is the people, either through this suit or on their own, will begin to come forward.

Megrahi was an agent of Libyan Intelligence, as indicated in your report this morning. This was not somebody who woke up one morning and decided to put a bomb on an airplane.

And I think what's crucial is that businesses who want to go back into Libya understand that when they deal with Qadhafi, when they deal with the Libyan government, despite the Libyan government, wholehearted and very sophisticated attempts to paint another face on this, this is a regime which conducted murder, which murdered my husband and 269 other people.

It was an attack on America. And today showed that state- sponsored terrorism was responsible.

LIN: At the same time, the Libyan government, as you know, is denying any responsibility for the crash of that plane. And it seems that the Scottish court decided to rule based on circumstantial evidence that focused only on this one man's specific role at the Malta airport.

So in terms of whether there was evidence, that it was in fact, state-sponsored terrorism, that still is circumstantial. So how does the verdict change that?

BERNSTEIN: Well, I don't think it's circumstantial. I think that both sides agreed that Megrahi was an agent of Libyan Intelligence. And I think that we all know what that means.

We have been told for years by law enforcement agencies that there is plenty of evidence pointing to the Libyans. But there is only certain evidence which will stand up in court.

And I think that, that was the challenge in this case. I think the Scottish police, the Scottish prosecutors, our own Department of Justice are to be commended for bringing this case together, was a circumstantial case in a way that enabled the conviction of Megrahi.

So, again, there is much more evidence that's out there. There's intelligence evidence. I hope the people will start to come forward now. There are people who know what happened. And I am hopeful that they will begin to come forward. I'm hoping that the Bush government will push to find out who else was involved.

We were told upstairs by a very high-level official in the Justice Department that the Justice Department, that the FBI are committed to continuing this investigation. That was very gratifying.

That was not the case under President Bush's father or under President Clinton. And I hope that the Bush administration will pursue this and take it where it leads, that they will increase and keep the pressure to have the sanctions remain in the United Nations.

LIN: Stephanie, we shall see. There is a different sentiment brewing in the United Nations, as you well know. Thanks for joining us this morning.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you very much.

LIN: Stephanie Bernstein.

STOUFFER: And speaking of the United Nations, we are getting reaction to the verdicts from all over the world.

Richard Roth is at the U.N. today with more.

Hello, Richard.


Well, earlier, CNN spoke with Libya's United Nations Ambassador, Abuzed Dorda. Now we have him here in person.

Ambassador, thank you very much for joining us.

You heard the family members there say that this conviction proves that the Libyan government was behind the bombing, it was state-sponsored terrorism. Your reaction?

ABUZED DORDA, LIBYAN AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: Where did they find this proof? Libya government or Libya officials or Libya as a state is not guilty in this incident, and was not accused by the prosecutors in the Scottish court in the Netherlands.

It was a case concerned two individuals. And today, one of them shown innocent. And unfortunately, the other one was convicted.

ROTH: Well, the families...

DORDA: Libyan government has nothing to do, at all, with this. And we all know that the prosecutors themselves, the last three or four weeks, they themselves pulled out two of the accusations with concern of...

ROTH: With lesser charges.

But the family members say that Mr.Megrahi...

DORDA: Anyway...

ROTH: ... how could he put a bomb on a plane without any instruction?

DORDA: First of all, no one could prove that he did that in that thing.

ROTH: Well...

DORDA: No one.

ROTH: ... the justices have said now that...

DORDA: We do respect the decision of the court. But according to what happened in the court, no one could find a single evidence to prove that.

Anyhow, we do respect the decision of the court for sure, but it -- by the definition of the Scotch legal experts, that when the persecutors pulled out two of the accusations, that means that Libya, as a state, has nothing to do at all with this incident -- at all, in this case.

ROTH: The White House in a statement today said, quote, "The government of Libya must take responsibility."

DORDA: Well, if that court in the defense of the decision shown that there was any responsible or any official, we will see. But, as I mentioned before, that this case, again, as individuals, has nothing to do with the Libyans -- I mean, with Libya as a state at all.

ROTH: Will your government cooperate with investigators, which is one of the paramount considerations for any consideration of lifting of sanctions? Will Libya open itself up to investigators probing the bombing?

DORDA: Libya the first who suggested investigations since November 1991, but we could not find the positive reply again. And later, of course, we agreed to three part, this consent part. We agreed to go to the Scotch court, and the Scotch court is over at this stage at least. But, of course, it's up to the accused and up to the -- his defense to appeal or go on.

ROTH: OK, Ambassador Dorda of Libya, thank you very much for joining us. Your government will probably be pushing for a lifting of economic sanctions that have been suspended here at the U.N. That's still to come in the days and weeks ahead -- Linda.

STOUFFER: Richard Roth, thank you very much.

And just to recap our breaking news today, a split decision from the judges. One will be a man found guilty, the other not guilty in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.



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