Lawyers for two Libyans charged with murdering 270 people in the 1988 Lockerbie airliner bombing pointed the finger at ‘Palestinian terrorists’ as the long-awaited trial finally began on Wednesday.
Counsel for Abdel Basset al-Megrahi and Al-Amin Khalifa Fahima said they would blame the Syrian-backed Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) and the obscure Palestinian Popular Struggle Front (PPSF).
PPSF founder Samir Ghosheh in a phone conversation with Reuters in Jerusalem from his office in the West Bank town of Ramallah denied any involvement in the Lockerbie bombing.
There was no immediate comment from the PFLP-GC.
First witnesses at the trial were air traffic controllers who traced the aircraft's path from its departure from London's Heathrow airport to its disappearance from radar screens. One recounted how he and the pilot exchanged a final "goodnight".
Relatives bereaved by the blast that cratered the Scottish town of Lockerbie after falling from the sky gasped and wiped their eyes as a video depicted the moment when New York-bound Pan Am flight 103 vanished from radar on December 21, 1988.
Visibly moved, soft-spoken Scottish traffic controller Alan Topp recalled his anxiety when his boss told him of a fire on the ground in the area in which the jumbo jet had disappeared.
"It was at that point that the penny dropped," Topp told chief prosecutor Colin Boyd. "I said then, 'It's (flight) 103'."
Jim Swire, who has campaigned tirelessly for justice since losing his daughter Flora in the Lockerbie bombing, said he was relieved the trial had begun but had found it draining.
"It was quite trying emotionally because what was being discussed was the last few minutes of the lives of our loved ones," Swire told Reuters.
Earlier, lawyers for the Libyans incriminated nine alleged members of the PPSF including Mohammed Abu Talb, a Lebanese PFLP-GC member jailed in Sweden for terrorism. Talb was one of the first suspects identified in the Lockerbie case. He was never arrested and is now named as a prosecution witness.
Also named was Parviz Taheri, another prosecution witness. A prosecution spokesman declined to give details about him.
DEFENDANTS PLEAD INNOCENT
The two alleged Libyan intelligence agents accused of bombing pleaded innocent.
The plea, read by the clerk of the Scottish court, came just minutes after Scottish High Court judge, Lord Ranald Sutherland, opened the proceedings against the defendants.
Pan Am Flight 103 exploded in the sky above the Scottish village of Lockerbie at 6:25 p.m. on Dec. 21, 1988, about 38 minutes after the jumbo-jet took off from London's Heathrow airport. All 259 passengers and crew members - including 189 Americans heading home - were killed along with 11 residents of Lockerbie.
Wednesday's proceedings, expected to last about a year, cap an 11-year international manhunt that spanned 20 countries across Europe and the Mediterranean. The search for the bombers was the largest international murder investigation on record, with officials interviewing 15,000 witnesses and sifting through 180,000 pieces of evidence since the blast.
If convicted for murder or violation of aviation security, they face life imprisonment in Scotland's Barlinnie jail. The prison term for conspiracy is at the discretion of the court.
The case is being heard at a disused military base in the central Netherlands under Scottish law, with four judges taking the place of the customary 15-member jury – (Agencies)
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