Gaddafi’s insult to Lockerbie
Ron Mackenna and John Woodcock
THE PICTURES were supposed to elicit sympathy. In one clip, the weeping wife of Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi sits hunched on a couch, three of her children, looking drawn, beside her. In another, her face contorted in grief, she is helped uncertainly to her feet supported by two other women.
As a snapshot of a family which has been devastated by the loss of a loved one it was accurate, genuine, and, to the victims of the Lockerbie bombing, very familiar. But as an exercise in manipulating public opinion, as it also certainly was, it failed conclusively. Colonel Gaddafi’s clumsy attempt to convince the world that Libya, too, was suffering from the aftermath of the Lockerbie bombing, infuriated those who lost loved ones in the bombing of Pan Am 103. Broadcast on Libya’s state-controlled television channel yesterday, the pictures of al-Megrahi were quickly beamed around the world.
But compared to the grim statistics of the greatest act of mass murder on British soil, the plight of the family of the man found guilty of causing the death paled into insignificance. On the night of December 21, 1988 a total of 400 parents lost a son or daughter. .. 46 of them lost their only child...65 were widowed...140 people lost a parent. Seven lost both.
One of those who suffered was Susan Cohen, from New Jersey, whose daughter, Theodora, 20, was on the plane. "This is atrocious," she said last night of the attempt to soften the impact of the court verdict. "But then Gaddafi is a mass murderer, we could never expect that he would start acting like a gentleman. He will use absolutely anything he can. "I find it difficult to have too much sympathy for this man’s family. My daughter is dead. "What we demand of Colonel Gaddafi is that he accepts responsibility for what he did. "Yet instead he is running round, lying, and saying it was nothing to do with him."
Vera Pattie lost her sister Dora Henry and her brother-in-law Morris when they were killed in Lockerbie as part of the plane exploded on Sherwood Avenue "To use images like that is terrible," she said. "One day they may get al-Megrahi back. He is still alive. I will never get my sister and brother-in law back."
Bert Ammerman, 53, from River Vale, New Jersey, whose brother, Tom, was a passenger on the plane, said he had sympathy for the family of the jailed Libyan but not for al-Megrahi. "My feelings go out to his family. They have lost a father, a husband and a brother. "But he was working on behalf of the Libyan government, and if he stands on trial without revealing that then he must pay the penalty." He added: "This is just more posturing from Gaddafi. He’s a politician, and this is a tactic to gain sympathy for al-Megrahi. It is standard operating procedure, and you would expect it from him."
Mr Ammerman urged the British and American governments not to lift sanctions on Libya. He said: "I am not pleased he has made this statement about al-Megrahi being innocent. As long as he continues his posturing, Prime Minister Blair and President Bush should not normalise relations with him."
Libyan television also broadcast family photographs of al-Megrahi taken before he left for trial. They included one of him holding his baby son in his arms, surrounded by his children. The state-controlled station announced that defence lawyers for Megrahi would lodge an appeal against his sentence within 14 days.
A broadcaster attacked the British and US Governments for demanding compensation and asked: "Who is going to compensate the Libyan people for what they suffered in the failed US-NATO aggression on Tripoli and Benghazi in February 1986..." In a separate news conference held in Tripoli’s Hotel Kabir after the Lockerbie verdict, Libyan Munir Mohammed al-Sharmit reminded the world that Libya had its own victims of aggression.
Sharmit, an engineer who is secretary of the League of the Families of the Victims of US Aggression, lost his daughter aged eight and four other family members when his house next to the French embassy was hit by a bomb. He told reporters: "The families of the martyrs and the victims have to be compensated for the damage they suffered; and those who were responsible for that aggression should be brought to justice."