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Convicted Lockerbie Bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi Dies; NATO Allies Meet In Chicago To Discuss Afghan Withdrawal

Aired May 21, 2012 - 16:00   ET


ZAIN VERJEE, HOST: Thanks, Isha.

Tonight on Connect the World, the Lockerbie bomber is buried. He is the only man to be convicted of one of the worst acts of terrorism in aviation history. But would the truth be buried with him?

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN London, this is Connect the World.

VERJEE: Abdel Basset al-Megrahi insisted he was innocent until his death. Tonight, the questions over whether the Libyan was just a scapegoat.

Also tonight...


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As Afghans stand up, they will not stand alone.


VERJEE: As U.S. combat forces head for the exit in Afghanistan, how the world plans to shore up its security.

And tributes are paid to a music legend, but some of the songs he was responsible for may just surprise you.

Tonight, a funeral in Libya and a 24 year old tragedy with unanswered questions. They're both connected to one place: Lockerbie. Abdel Basset al-Megrahi went to this grave today. He's the only man convicted of murdering 270 people when a Pan Am jet liner was blown out of the sky over Lockerbie in Scotland in 1988.

Al-Megrahi died of cancer on Sunday. The CIA and the FBI say he was a Libyan intelligence agent. His supporters insist he was a scapegoat.

Al-Megrahi's death stirs up the pain for the victims' families. And they are asking so many more questions. But did the answers die with al- Megrahi?

More than a generation after the bombing, senior international correspondent Matthew Chance has been to the spot where the wreckage left lasting scars. He joins us live from Lockerbie in Scotland.

Matthew, what have they been telling you there, the families of victims?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Zain, nowhere perhaps in the world has been digesting the news that Abdel Basset al- Megrahi has finally died of the cancer from which he was released on medical grounds from his high security prison here in Scotland. And the residents here in Lockerbie -- Lockerbie of course indelibly marked by the downing in 1988 of Pan Am Flight 103 with the loss of 270 lives, 11 of them on the ground here in this sleepy Scottish town.

It's a town that's been marked not just physically, and of course the physical scars have been immense. The 747 jetliner plunged laden with fuel into a residential area of this town. But also emotionally here amongst the people young and old who still live in the town.


CHANCE: As you can see, most of houses here on Sherwood Present are pretty new, that's because they were all rebuilt after the terrible events of 24 years ago, because this is the exactly spot, this quiet back street where the broken wings of Pan Am Flight 103, heavy with jet fuel, came crashing down on December 21, 1988 causing utter devastation.

11 people were killed on the ground here in Lockerbie along with 259 on the plane. It's the single biggest act of mass murder that Scotland has ever seen.

Almost a quarter of century on from the bombing you can get a sense that many people in Lockerbie are tired of talking about what happened. They very much want to move on, but Marjorie McQueen is a former local councillor and she's agreed to speak to us.

Mrs. McQueen, the death of al-Megrahi now, how will that be reacted to by the people of Lockerbie? Is it sense of closure for them?

MARJORIE MCQUEEN, FORMER LOCKERBIE COUNCILLOR: I think it's all been reacted to in the same it's reacted in any time in the United Kingdom. And it's a piece of news. And I don't think certainly from my own point of view, it kind of that's how I do it. That's the news Mr. Megrahi is dead.

CHANCE: What -- how does Lockerbie cope with the idea that it is perhaps forever linked with this terrible, terrible act, this terrible crime?

MCQUEEN: Right. Well, we have to get on with that. But we've done a lot more to Lockerbie than what happened here 23 years ago.

CHANCE: All right. But speaking to residents of Lockerbie you get the distinct impression that the bombing has had and enduring impact, even those who weren't born when it happened have an opinion. And those who were even more so.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I've grown up in Lockerbie. And I loved through it. And the aftermath and everything.

CHANCE: And now Megrahi is dead. How does that make you feel?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good riddance. Really. He might not have been solely responsible for the downing of Flight 103 and all those poor people death's, but whatever he knew, he took it with him to the grave and he could have said something to help the poor relatives.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I wasn't around when it happened, but it'll never be forgotten. Lockerbie will always have a feeling of, you know, destruction and things like that that will always stay with us.

CHANCE: From two months to 82 years, the ages of the 270 victims from 21 nations, all of them named here at this very quiet and peaceful memorial on the outskirts of Lockerbie. For some, the death of al Megrahi, the only person ever to be convicted of the bombing, means that some of the questions over what happened may never be answered, but the truth is his passing doesn't change any of this.


CHANCE: So no sympathy here on the streets of Lockerbie for al Megrahi, but only concern that if he did have any secrets about what actually happened in the Lockerbie bombing in 1988 he will have taken them to the grave with him. Zain, back to you.

VERJEE: CNN senior international correspondent Matthew Chance, thank you.

The Lockerbie bombing is a tragedy with many victims and many questions. Doomed Pan Am Flight 103 was on its way back to New York when a cassette filled with centex just blew up. Senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is in New York. And he tells us why the story doesn't end with al Megrahi's death.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So why do these questions continue to persist. Well, perhaps number one it's because Megrahi himself continued to say that he was innocent right up til the moment that he died. His family continue now to maintain his innocence. We have the UN special representative at Camp Zeis (ph) where the trial took place and Megrahi was sentenced in 2001 say it was a spectacular miscarriage of justice. We have the Scottish criminal review system reviewing Megrahi's case and saying that there may have been a miscarriage of justice and further review is required. And we also have Alex Hammond, the first minister of Scotland now saying upon Megrahi's death that the investigation is still live and ongoing, which rather gives the impression that there are unanswered questions.

Some of those questions have been about the evidence presented, the clothing that Megrahi was allegedly supposed to have purchased in (inaudible) and put in the suitcase and packed it allegedly around the bomb that made it on board the flight. And there are questions from the storekeeper who allegedly sold him the clothes that perhaps doesn't stand - - hasn't stood the scrutiny of time. There are questions about the circuit board and the fragment of the bomb that was allegedly recovered from the bomb site. There are questions about that.

And then there are mortar too and whether Libya was solely responsible for this. There have been allegations, indeed a source in Jordan told me that they believe that this was an intelligence source in Jordan said they believe that a Palestinian group had been contracted by the Iranians to bring down a U.S. flight in retaliation for the downing for an Iranian Airbus killing several hundred passengers earlier in the summer of 1988 by the USS Vincennes that was then stationed in the Persian Gulf.

So that allegation was based on the fact, according to the Jordanians, that a bomb maker in this Palestinian terror group had indeed made the bomb then warned the Jordanians who say they warned the CIA that one of their bombs had gone missing. So these are the reasons that the sort of story won't die, or is unlikely to die with Megrahi.

According to the Scots, it is up to his family now to move that process forward.

Nic Robertson, CNN, New York.


VERJEE: Let's get right to the Libyan ambassador to the United States. Ali Suleiman Aujali. He joins us now live from CNN in Washington, D.C. Thank you for being with us, ambassador. Will the truth be buried with Megrahi?

ALI SULEIMAN AUJALI, LIBYAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: Well, I think maybe part of the truth will be buried by Megrahi, but may other questions have to be answered. There is Abdullah Senussi who is now arrested in Mauritania. Maybe he has more news to tell us about Lockerbie.

VERJEE: What can the NTC do at this point to help with a future investigation?

AUJALI: Well, I mean Libyan they have requested the extradition of Abdullah Senussi from Mauritania. And that's proceed to have him in Libya to be tried for as a criminal against the Libyan and again the international community. I think we can get some answer for our questions that's been asking who is responsible. How many of them. I'm sure that Gadhafi knew whom are responsible for that, but he has tools to use for his terrorist action.

VERJEE: Ambassador, do you really think that the NTC at this point at least can be very effective. I mean, they don't have so much authority even today in Libya to be able to operate, to get information or get things that you need. So people may not have a lot of confidence in the NTC at this point.

AUJALI: Well, I think we are not far away from the elections going to take place. They'll be on the 23rd of June. We have elected conference. We'll have a cover of government. It is a transitional period of course, yes. And it is -- there are also the challenges in Libya. But NTC has the confidence of the international community. It has been dealing with the crisis since February 2011. And of course we want to cooperate with the nation concerning this issue.

VERJEE: You mentioned the elections. Do you think that the Lockerbie issue is going to be a fresh election issue?

AUJALI: Not in Libya.

VERJEE: Not in Libya at all. So it's -- it's basic bread and butter issues that are more important than Lockerbie in any election.

AUJALI: Of course there are -- well, I think it's not a domestic problem. It's a problem to have to be negotiated, and they have to be discussed through the pilot regulation between Libya and the -- the countries concerned and the families. But maybe it will be an issue after the election when the conference, the Libyan elected conference will debate this kind of issue and will have political questions about it.

VERJEE: And finally ambassador, just for our audience around the world to understand, how does the average Libyan person view al-Megrahi today?

AUJALI: Well, I think they view him as a victim of Gadhafi's regime, victim of the Gadhafi's intelligence -- victim like any other Libyans. This is the way they look him. He be used for terrorist actions and they look to him as a victim.

VERJEE: Thank you so much. Libya's ambassador to the U.S. Ali Suleiman Aujali, appreciate it.

Still to come tonight, as the Afghans stand up, they will not stand alone: that's what U.S. President Barack Obama said at the NATO summit. But what did he mean?

And Grammy award winner Robin Gibb dies at age 62. We take a look at his musical legacy. All that and much more when Connect the World continues.


VERJEE: You're watching CNN. And this is Connect the World with me, Zain Verjee. Welcome back.

NATO is vowing to stand behind Afghanistan even as the alliance finalizes plans to pull its troops out by the end of 2014. At the NATO meeting in Chicago, leads agreed to direct their military officers to begin planning past 2014 with a focus on training and advising Afghan forces. NATO's secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen says he expects that critical supply lies through Pakistan will be reopened soon.

Here's what he had to say.


ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN, NATO SECRETARY GENERAL: I'm not going to comment or interfere with the bilateral relationship between Pakistan and the United States. As regards NATO our position is very clear we need a positive engagement of Pakistan if we are to ensure long-term peace and stability in Afghanistan and in the region. Pakistan plays an important role not only when it comes to our transit routes, but also in the fight against terrorism in the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan. And Pakistan can play an instrumental role in a possible reconciliation process in Afghanistan.

So for all these reasons we are interested in a positive engagement of Pakistan.


VERJEE: U.S. President Barack Obama is taking a leading role at the NATO summit. We're going to bring you his latest remarks on the alliance in Afghanistan a little bit later on Connect the World. We're actually hearing that he will be speaking in about 10 minutes from now.

Meanwhile, here's a look at some of the other stories connecting our world tonight. At least 100 soldiers have been killed and hundreds more injured in a suicide attack in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa. Al Qaeda has reportedly claimed responsibility for the blast saying the Defense Minister was the target. Fionnuala Sweeney has more.


FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A shocking attack in Yemen's capital, the work of at least one suicide bomber who disguised in a military uniform was able to infiltrate the country's central security forces as they rehearsed for Tuesday's National Unification Day celebrations.

Body parts were scattered across Sanaa's Sabine Square as shaken and confused military men ran to the aid of their fallen colleagues. Ambulances responding to the blast had to cart away six to seven victims apiece.

UNIDENTIIFED MALE (through translator): The soldiers were in their parade. We saw one man in an army uniform and wearing an explosives belt. Suddenly we saw the explosion aimed at the first battalion of the military.

SWEENEY: It's being called the deadliest single attack ever carried out against Yemeni troops as forensic investigators scoured the scene for evidence. The political blame game began. How could a sight so close to one of the most heavily guarded bases in all of Yemen be targeted in this way?

What is known is that this is a huge embarrassment for Yemen's new President Abd al-Rab Mansur al-Hadi who ran for office promising better security for all Yemenis and who just last month oversaw a huge military shake-up. During his inauguration speech he promised to do all he could to rid Yemen of al Qaeda.

Earlier, a few hours after the attack, several security officials were sacked. But it will take a lot more to convince Yemen's jittery citizens and eyes that the situation there is improving.

Fionnuala Sweeney, CNN, Atlanta.


VERJEE: Violence in Syria seems to be spilling over into neighboring Lebanon. Rival Sunni factions clashed in Beirut overnight leaving at least two people dead and dozens injured. This follows a week of skirmishes in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli highlighting just how intertwined the politics of Syria and Lebanon are. Meanwhile, at least 20 people report to have been killed across Syria today.

French authorities are widening an investigation involving former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Now they're saying some thing that allegedly took place in Washington a year-and-a-half ago raises suspicions of gang rape. Earlier this month the French newspaper reported that an escort said Strauss-Kahn forced her to have sex with him during an orgy at a hotel in Washington in 2010. His attorneys in Paris issued a statement denying those allegations.

We're going to take a short break right now here on CNN. But when we come back, a rare Monday finish for a marquee tennis match-up. Could the king of players keep his title? We'll tell you when we come back.


VERJEE: The tide is turning in the world of tennis. Novak Djokovic enjoyed a season for the ages in 2011 beating former world number one Rafael Nadal in seven finals, yep, seven. But he's finding the going a lot tougher this time around, because Nadal is now the one winning those head to head match-ups.

The latest battle took place on the clay courts in Rome on Monday after rain postponed Sunday's final. Patrick Snell joins me now with more information on how it all went down this time. Hey, Patrick.

PATRICK SNELL, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDNET: Hi there, Zain. Yes, this is a significant victory for Rafa Nadal, because it really has emphasized, as you say, this shift in power, if you like, between these two players. As we bring you highlights from Rome. The rain delayed final in the eternal city of Rome.

And really impressive stuff from Rafa, because a lot of people thought that once again in 2012 he was going to have problems with Novak. But he's won the last two now. This was a big win for him on this occasion, Monday, 7-5, 6-3. It was close fought as you would expect, particularly in that first set. In the second set he kind of kicked on a little bit, got up a couple of breaks and get the job done. But he's now won two straight, as I say. He won recently against the Serbian in the final at Monte Carlo as well.

And this is a huge boost ahead of the next major, which is the French Open in Paris. It's two straight for Rafa against his opponent. And as you say, Zain, he'd gone seven straight defeats against him. So this is really significant.

It is also Rafa's 21st masters victory as well, putting him ahead of Roger Federer who is on 20. Big breakthrough win for the Mallorcan player, Zain.

VERJEE: What more do we know?

SNELL: Well, we saw tennis balls in that video. And I'm going to tell you this, tennis balls made an unwelcome appearance as well on a football field in France over the weekend. Look at...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's what was saw the Auxerre fans preparing at half-time.

SNELL: And Montpellier, these are the home fans registering their displeasure at the season that Auxerre have had. But crucially for Montpellier, it affected them, because they were just minutes away from their first ever league earned crown. The first ever champion successful Montpellier, a magnificent achievement for them. They won the game by 2-1. In the end, that victory sealed the championship for them. And they kept three points ahead of Paris Saint Germain. A really fine achievement, really good stuff. Nobody in France actually thought they were going to do it, but they did. And that's a big, big significant victory for Montpellier, Zain.

Patrick, we want to go to Chicago now, because the U.S. President Barack Obama is speaking at the NATO summit on Afghanistan. Let's listen.