World

One guilty, one acquitted in Lockerbie trial

A Scottish court has convicted one of two Libyans accused of murder in the Lockerbie air disaster. The other was acquitted.

Libyan intelligence agent Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi was found guilty of murder in a decision delivered Wednesday morning. He was sentenced to life in prison.

His co-accused, Al-Amin Khalifa Fahima was found not guilty and will be released.

Pan Am Flight 103 blew up over Scotland on Dec. 21, 1988, while en route from Frankfurt, Germany, to New York. All 259 people on board and 11 more on the ground were killed. Two Canadians were among the dead.

The families of the victims say they will pursue the case to find out who ordered the bombing, and why their families weren't better protected.

U.S. President George Bush said in light of the verdicts, the Libyan government should compensate the victims' families.

Both verdicts were unanimous decisions of the three-judge panel.

Megrahi has two weeks to appeal the ruling. The prosecution has no ability to appeal Fahima's acquittal.

It took 11 years of legal wrangling to get the case to trial. Libya finally turned over the suspects in April 1999, on condition that sanctions be lifted against the country and that the trial be held in neutral territory.

A courthouse was constructed at a cost of about $120 million on a former U.S. military base 50 kilometres from Amsterdam for the trial.

It was the first time a murder trial was held under Scottish law without a jury.

The case against the Libyans was entirely circumstantial. It alleged they put a suitcase loaded with explosives on a plane in Malta which was transferred to the doomed plane in Frankfurt.

The defence tried to establish an alternative scenario that blamed Syria-based Palestinian terrorists for the attack. That was scuttled when Syria refused to release documents to the court after a recess of several weeks.

Ultimately, the defence called only three witnesses, and focused on discrediting the prosecution's case and witnesses.

During the nine-month trial, the tribunal heard from a total of 235 witnesses and accumulated more than 10,000 pages of testimony.

Under Scottish law, the tribunal had verdict options of guilty, innocent or not proven. The maximum penalty is life imprisonment.

Representatives from the United States, Britain and Libya met last week to discuss possible consultations for permanently lifting the sanctions in place since 1992.

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