The early-winter frost has returned to the lowlands of southern Scotland, to the valley of the Annan and the little town on the flank of the hill that rises from the river bottom. The cold weather did not arrive in Lockerbie alone. A substantial detachment of the world’s news media, laden with laptop computers and TV cameras, last week went to the community hit by the bomb-blasted wreckage of a jumbo jet nearly three years ago. This time, the journalists sought reaction to reports that Britain and the United States had indicted two Libyans for planting the bomb that blew up Pan Am Flight 103, killing 259 passengers and crew and 11 people on the ground. Alastair Cameron, a 68-year-old semi-retired Lockerbie physician, told Maclean’s: “The simplest way to ensure that this never happens again is for the truth to be uncovered.”
But there were sharply conflicting opinions about what the investigation really had uncovered. Scottish and U.S. law enforcement officials said that evidence gathered in the 35month inquiry into the Dec. 21,1988, explosion and crash of the Boeing 747 pointed clearly to the two Libyan intelligence agents named in the murder warrants. Presidential spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said that the United States was considering “international responses” to apprehend the pair and did not rule out military action. But Libya’s ambassador to France, Saeeb Muber, said that his country was “an easy scapegoat,” adding that it would not surrender anyone. And relatives of some of the victims argued that deleting Syria and Iran as suspects betrayed a U.S. desire not to disrupt the Middle East peace talks, nor to risk the safety of the Western hostages in Lebanon.
According to the U.S. and Scottish announcements, one of the men behind the bombing was Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, 39, Libya’s chief of airline security. The other was Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, 35, an agent who worked for Libyan Arab Airlines in Malta, where the deadly device—plastic explosive, a detonator and timer placed inside a Toshiba portable cassette player and stowed in a Samsonite suitcase—began its journey as unaccompanied luggage. The bomb went off when
the New York City-bound jet had reached an altitude of six miles. Fitzwater said that “we find it very hard to believe that this could have been carried out without the active involvement of higher-ups” in the Libyan government.
Early in the investigation, the discovery that the explosive had been put into a Toshiba cassette player led police to suspect Syrian involvement. The Syrian-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine — General Command had made similar mechanisms designed to destroy planes. Then, in the summer of 1990, a Scottish investigator sifting through crash debris discovered a tiny piece of plastic embedded in a shirt that had been in the suitcase. Officials said that the fragment turned out to be a piece of timer circuitry different than the kind used by the Popular Front. A few later, police determined that it matched the circuitry in 20 Swiss-made electric timers sold to Libya in 1985. Neither British nor U.S. investigators revealed what further evidence led them to the two Libyans.
After the indictments last week, relatives of the Lockerbie victims had mixed reactions. Kerry Freeman, sister of passenger Paul Freeman, 25, of Dundas, Ont., told Maclean’s:“As Christians, we believe that the guilty will be judged for their actions some day.” Others, however, expressed skepticism that only the Libyans were involved. New York City lawyer Jonathan Root, whose wife, Hanne-Maria Maijala, 26, was the other Canadian on the plane, said that “the Bush administration is covering up the role of Syria and Iran in the bombing.” Susan Cohen of Port Jervis, N.Y., whose daughter Theodora was a victim, said that “a lot more is needed than to simply indict a couple of Libyans who they will never catch.”
In Lockerbie, the row of two-storey homes on Rosebank Crescent, heavily damaged by falling wreckage, has been repaired. The craters on Sherwood Crescent have been filled in and paved over. June Wilson, the wife of a neighboring farmer, won the community’s admiration for the hours she spent consoling those who lost family members. Since then, her parents have died and her daughter was killed in a car accident. In the old schoolhouse across from Cameron’s home, the Lockerbie Incident Control Centre, headquarters for the investigation, is still in operation. At one time, nearly 100 policemen worked there. Now, there are 28. Cameron said that “if these Libyans eventually come to trial, that may not be the end of it.” With the investigation continuing, the worst mass murder in British history may yet yield more secrets.
RAE CORELLI with HILARY MACKENZIE in Washington, ANDREW BILSKI in Toronto and correspondents’reports
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.