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Appeal to posthumously clear Lockerbie bomber begins in Scotland

Family of Libyan found guilty of 1988 attack that killed 270 believes sealed documents thought to implicate Jordanian intel agent in the PFLP-GC are key to overturning conviction

Hours after the event, policemen stand near the wreckage of the 747 Pan Am airliner that exploded and crashed over Lockerbie, Scotland, on December 21, 1988. (Roy Letkey/AFP)
Hours after the event, policemen stand near the wreckage of the 747 Pan Am airliner that exploded and crashed over Lockerbie, Scotland, on December 21, 1988. (Roy Letkey/AFP)

GLASGOW, Scotland (AFP) — The family of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Mohmet Al-Megrahi on Tuesday began a posthumous appeal in Scotland, hoping to overturn the former Libyan intelligence officer’s conviction for downing a Pan Am flight in 1988, killing 270 people.

Lawyer Claire Mitchell told five judges in Edinburgh that “no reasonable jury, properly directed, could have returned the verdict that it did.”

The case was referred to Scotland’s highest criminal court by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) in March on grounds a possible miscarriage of justice may have occurred.

The SCCRC said there were grounds an “unreasonable verdict” was returned in that it could not be proved Megrahi bought the suitcase containing the bomb that was loaded onto the flight.

It also highlighted “non-disclosure” of evidence to Megrahi’s defense team.

Megrahi is the only person convicted of bombing Pan Flight 103, which was blown up over the Scottish town of Lockerbie as it flew from London to New York on December 21, 1988.

Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi at a hospital in Tripoli, September 9, 2009. (Mahmud Turkia/AFP)

Three Scottish judges sitting at a special court in the Netherlands jailed him for life in 2001, recommending he serve at least 27 years.

He was released from a Scottish prison on health grounds in 2009 and returned to Libya, where he maintained his innocence until his death in 2012.

A total of 270 people from 21 countries were killed, including 11 people on the ground, in what remains Britain’s worst terrorist attack.

But Megrahi’s family maintain there are widespread doubts about his conviction.

A successful appeal would vindicate their belief the US and UK governments had “lived a monumental lie for 31 years” by imprisoning an innocent man and punishing Libya’s people, they said.

Lawyer Aamer Anwar said before the appeal began that he had spoken to Megrahi’s son, Ali, who was eight years old when his father stood trial.

“The Megrahis regard their father as the 271st victim of Lockerbie,” he said.

“Finally there is hope that we are coming to the end of a very long journey in nearly 32 years of their struggle for truth and justice.”

British lawyer Aamer Anwar (R) reads a statement to the media in Glasgow on November 24, 2020, on the opening day of a posthumous appeal against the conviction of Libyan Abdelbaset Mohmet al-Megrahi for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. (Andy Buchanan/AFP)

Megrahi’s first appeal was dismissed in 2002 and a second abandoned after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Five judges including Scotland’s most senior jurist, Lord Justice General Colin Sutherland, are hearing the case, which is due to last until Friday with a ruling at a later date.

The family’s legal team is taking part remotely from Glasgow.

Secrecy order

It has been widely claimed that the bombing was ordered by Iran and carried out by a Syrian-based Palestinian group in retaliation for a US Navy strike on an Iranian Airbus six months earlier in which 290 people died.

Late last Friday, the High Court upheld a secrecy order signed in August by UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to withhold intelligence documents related to the case on grounds of national security.

The documents are thought to allege a Jordanian intelligence agent within the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) built the bomb.

The PFLP-GC has been designated a terrorist group by several countries, including Britain and the United States.

Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who was found guilty of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing and sentenced to life imprisonment, is greeted by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, in Tripoli, Libya on August 21, 2009, following his release on compassionate grounds because he had terminal cancer. (AP Photo/Jamahiriya Broadcasting via APTN)

Lawyers acting for the Megrahi family believe the documents are central to their appeal, which is backed by some of the victims’ families.

They also said they would disclose “significant material about the role of individuals, nations and their politicians” at the end of the appeal.

“There can never be a time limit on justice or the truth emerging,” said Anwar.

In 2008, then-foreign secretary David Miliband also refused to release the papers before Megrahi’s second appeal.

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