By Henry Ridgwell
Libya’s former justice minister, who has resigned following the government’s crackdown on protestors there, says the country’s leader Moammar Gadhafi personally ordered the Lockerbie plane bombing in 1988. Mr. Gadhafi has always denied that he knew of the plans to carry out the attack. The claim has reignited the debate over whether Western countries were too quick to welcome Mr. Gadhafi back into the international community.
Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Scotland in 1988, killing all 259 passengers and crew as well as 11 people on the ground in the town of Lockerbie. In 2003, Libyan leader Colonel Gadhafi finally admitted his country was responsible for the bombing – but Mr. Gadhafi himself has always denied prior knowledge.
Now his former justice minister, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil – who resigned this week following the violent crackdown on anti-government protests – says Mr. Gadhafi personally ordered the attack.
The Swedish newspaper Expressen says Jalil told their correspondent in Libya, “I have proof that Gadhafi gave the order about Lockerbie.” He has not yet produced that evidence.
He said Gadhafi gave that order to Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the only man convicted of the attack – who was released from a Scottish jail on compassionate grounds in 2009 as he was suffering from cancer.
Bert Ammerman’s brother, Tom, was of one of the Lockerbie victims. At his home in the U.S. state of New Jersey, Bert has been listening avidly to the latest news from Libya.
“This information that’s coming out today is the smoking gun that we’ve been waiting for 23 years,” Ammerman said. “It’s now out in the open. A justice minister has clearly stated that Gadhafi ordered the bombing of Pan Am 103. That is an act of war. Finally an American administration can’t hide behind rhetoric any longer. They must respond, they must react. President Obama what are you going to do?”
The allegation has reignited accusations that the West, and especially Britain, was too quick to welcome Mr. Gadhafi back into the international fold.
David Trefgarne, a former British government minister, is now chairman of the Libyan British Business Council. He says people should not jump to conclusions.
“Well, if you look back at the Lockerbie incident and all that happened from it, there have been huge numbers of allegations of all sorts of different kinds, some of which have proved to be true and some of which have proved to be not true,” said Trefgarne. “I’m not in a position to provide any authenticity for the one to which you have referred.”
In 2003, Colonel Gadhafi hosted former British Prime Minister Tony Blair in his tent in the desert. It was seen as the moment Libya – long a pariah state – came in from the cold.
Lord Trefgarne of the Libyan British Business Council says the relationship brought many benefits.
“They handed over their weapons of mass destruction, handed over their WMD program, they gave an undertaking not to support any form of international terrorism in the future,” he added.
The fact that Mr. Gadhafi now appears to be using lethal force against his own people has brought further accusations of hypocrisy for the British government. Many Western countries have sold arms to Libya. British companies shipped sniper rifles to Tripoli as recently as November.
Kaye Stearman is spokesperson for the Campaign Against Arms Trade.
“The European picture, of course, is that everybody is trying to sell to Libya – they’re a very, very rich country and it’s opened up enormously in the past few years,” Stearman said. “So there, I think you’ll find the Italians, the French, the Germans are very much competing with the British to sell things. Even tiny Malta has sold I think about $120 million worth of weapons to Libya.”
The brutal suppression of the protests has led to calls from many European governments to impose trade sanctions on Libya.
Scotland, meanwhile, says it will pursue any new lines of inquiry that become available in relation to the Lockerbie bombing.