Lockerbie Families Seek Inquiry over Abu Nidal Claim


Friday, August 23, 2002; 8:01 AM

By Dominic Evans

LONDON (Reuters) - Relatives of the Lockerbie airliner bombing victims renewed their calls on Friday for an independent inquiry into the 1988 attack after a former aide to Abu Nidal said the guerrilla chief had claimed responsibility.

Jim Swire, a spokesman for families of British victims, said Palestinian militant Abu Nidal's possible involvement was "one more of the many questions which we feel absolutely demand an independent inquiry into Lockerbie."

A special Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands convicted former Libyan agent Abdel Basset al-Megrahi of the bombing and sentenced him in January 2001 to life in prison.

But an estranged comrade of Abu Nidal, who Iraqi officials said this week had committed suicide in a Baghdad flat, said in remarks published on Friday the guerrilla leader claimed responsibility for the bombing of the Pan Am jumbo over Scotland which killed 270 people.

"Abu Nidal said during an inner-circle meeting of the leadership of the Revolutionary Council, '... the reports which link the Lockerbie act to others are false reports. We are behind what happened'," Atef Abu Bakr, once a member of Abu Nidal's Fatah-Revolutionary Council, told Al-Hayat newspaper.

Most of the 259 people killed on board Pan Am flight 103 when it blew up over Lockerbie in December 1988 were Americans. Eleven residents of the small Scottish town were also killed.

Swire, whose daughter Flora was killed in the bombing, has long demanded an independent inquiry into Lockerbie to uncover how much British intelligence services knew about the attacks.

"We certainly have part or all of at least eight intelligence warnings received in good time beforehand, some of them incredibly detailed, and I think we have a right to know why these didn't lead to any form of special protection for our loved ones," he told BBC radio.



Swire's demands were backed by Tam Dalyell, the longest serving member of Britain's parliament, who called on the government to investigate Abu Bakr's allegations "as a matter of the utmost urgency."

"If these allegations are true they blow everything relating to Lockerbie out of the water, including the trial in Holland," Dalyell said.

Hans Koechler, one of five U.N. observers who followed the trial as part of the deal with Libya, said Abu Bakr's comments underlined the urgency of calls he has already made for an independent public inquiry into the entire Lockerbie case.

"The fact that Libya had hired a defense team that grossly neglected its professional duties and chose not to use most of the legal means available to Megrahi's defense requires an explanation," Koechler said in a statement released in Vienna.

Megrahi's lawyer, Eddie MacKechnie, said he was applying to the European Court of Human Rights to challenge the Libyan's life sentence, which was upheld by Scottish appeal judges in the Netherlands in March.

But he said the allegations about Abu Nidal's involvement offered little fresh support for his client's legal battle.

"I'm not aware of there being any usable evidence arising from this second hand confession, though I do know that Abu Nidal was thought to have links to the Lockerbie murders right from the very beginning," MacKechnie said.

The group led by Abu Nidal, one of the world's most-wanted men before Iraqi authorities on Wednesday announced he had committed suicide, was blamed for attacks in which hundreds were killed or wounded, mostly in the 1970s and 1980s.

Abu Nidal set up his headquarters in the Libyan capital Tripoli in 1987. He was put under house arrest when Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi came under pressure to crack down on militants after the Lockerbie bombing.