Lockerbie Trial to Resume after Assessment of New Evidence
The trial of two Libyans accused of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing resumes Tuesday after their lawyers pleaded for time to probe mysterious new evidence allegedly linking the downing of a Pan Am jet over Scotland with a Palestinian group and the Balkans.
The three Scottish judges hearing the murder and conspiracy trial at this former US military base in the Netherlands granted the postponement last Tuesday to enable the new information to be verified in Europe, the Middle East and United States.
Defense lawyer William Taylor said it concerned the making of the bomb and the way it was smuggled onto the London-New York flight, as well as a German investigation into the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC).
He said the information establishes hitherto unknown links between an investigation by the German federal police (BKA) and the PFLP-GC.
"It purports to provide information as to the manufacture of the bomb and to give explanation as to how that bomb got on the plane," he said.
Previous witnesses have testified BKA was involved in the early stages of the investigation into the downing of Pan Am Flight 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in 1988.
It was the fourth such adjournment, despite concerns last month by presiding judge Lord Ranald Sutherland that the trial was "beginning to grind along rather slowly."
Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, 48, and Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah, 44, have been on trial since May on charges of blowing up the Boeing 747 on December 23, 1988, killing all 259 people aboard plus 11 on the ground.
Their lawyers claimed before last week's adjournment that the new information could bolster their claim and that the PFLP-GC were the real villains in the bombing.
The prosecution alleges that Megrahi and Fhimah were Libyan agents who hid plastic explosives and a timer inside a Toshiba radio-cassette recorder. The bomb was then allegedly concealed in a suitcase that was put on a flight out of Malta, tagged for transfer via Frankfurt onto the Pan Am Flight in London.
The marathon trial began its latest twist on October 9 when Mohamed Abu Talb, a PFLP-GC member now doing time in a Swedish prison for a wave of bomb attacks in European cities, was set to testify for the prosecution.
Instead Scotland's top prosecutor Colin Boyd announced that highly sensitive information had emerged from a foreign country "other than the United States" that could affect the outcome of the trial.
Proceedings have been adjourned every Tuesday each week since then, as both prosecution and defence followed up on the information.
Taylor said his team's enquiries involved questioning witnesses in an unnamed European country, using a Serbo-Croat translator. Serbo-Croat is the language spoken in the former Yugoslavia.
Six or seven more witnesses needed to be quizzed in Germany, plus others in Washington and in an unnamed Middle Eastern country, the lawyer said.
Two months before the Lockerbie attack, German police broke up a Palestinian extremist cell, seizing weapons, plastic explosives and a Toshiba radio-cassette recorder. PFLP-GC members were arrested, but later freed.
The trial, fruit of a 1998 compromise brokered by former South African President Nelson Mandela with UN participation that persuaded Libyan leader Moammer Kadhafi to hand over the suspects, is unprecedented in legal history.
Under the deal, this patch of Dutch soil has been declared Scottish territory for the duration of the trial, which is being held under Scottish law and, for all intents and purposes, in Scotland -- CAMP ZEIST, Netherlands (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)