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Victims' Families React to Lockerbie Trial Verdict

Aired January 31, 2001 - 6:00 a.m. ET


LINDA STOUFFER, CNN ANCHOR: It was just about an hour ago that the verdict was announced in the trial of the two men accused in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. The bombing happened over Lockerbie, Scotland.

JASON CARROLL, CNN ANCHOR: A Scottish court in Camp Zeist, Netherlands delivered a split decision. The three-judge panel found Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi guilty. He is expected to be sentenced in about two hours.

The other defendant, his name is Lamen Khalifa Fhimah. He was found innocent and is free to go; 270 people were killed when the jumbo jet exploded just four days before Christmas, 1988. Nearly three-quarters of the people on board the plane were Americans. Some of their relatives watched the verdict this morning from a closed- circuit television in New York.

We go now to CNN's Frank Buckley, who is standing by live with reaction from the families.

Good morning, Frank. What can you tell us about what the families are saying?

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Jason.

The family members did gather here at the Jacob Javits Federal Building, where some of them have been gathering for months now, watching the trial unfold on closed-circuit television. They had the same opportunity today to see the verdict announced. And they say, as they crowded into the room and watched on the closed-circuit television, there was a moment of tension because they couldn't actually hear the verdict being announced.

Someone had to place a phone call. And then finally they understood that there was at least one guilty verdict here.

However, many of the family members here believe that this case went far beyond the two alleged Libyan operatives, intelligence operatives, who were on trial here. They believe this goes to the top of the Libyan government to Moammar Gadhafi.


BERT AMMERMAN, FAMILY MEMBER OF VICTIM: With Megrahi being found guilty, that is state-sponsored terrorism. That leads to the doorsteps of Gadhafi. Gadhafi is a coward. He is a rogue leader. And Libya is a rogue nation. I don't hold out much hope that our new president or even prime minister the England at this point will show any backbone, because the politicians over 12 years have never shown a backbone.

They have never done what is right for citizens. Some in government have. But most of the leaders wanted this to go away. They wanted it to go away because they are more concerned about Middle East peace and oil than they are about their own citizens.


BUCKLEY: And we can -- we'd like to take you now to another camera just in front of the Jacob Javits Federal Building, where Jack Flynn, one of the family members, is speaking to reporters.

JACK FLYNN, FAMILY MEMBER OF VICTIM: I don't think that he was not involved. He was involved. But from a legal point of view, you could not prove it. So I am in agreement with the judge's decision.

QUESTION: ... your 12-year odyssey, to have a guilty verdict today, when people thought it would never maybe happen, just from an emotional family personal standpoint?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'll speak on our behalf.

FLYNN: No. I'll take it. It was -- after waiting 12 years, it was some level of justice. Obviously, it would never bring your kid back. And hopefully, the U.S. government takes some substantial action against Libya because this person was a member of their central intelligence. He was a major in their central intelligence. He was very involved with their central intelligence.

And hopefully, the government takes a level of action against a terrorist country such as Libya and makes sure that they never do it again to anybody.

QUESTION: What sort of (OFF-MIKE)

FLYNN: It was an act of war, as you all probably know. They deliberately went after Americans, an American flagship with Americans on the plane. It was not against anybody else. It was in retaliation for what we had done to Gadhafi in blowing up his tent and killing his daughter. And this was retaliation. It was an act of war.

What the government does at this time is their decision. I can't make that decision because it's 12 years later. They should have done something in 1991, when they had the same level of evidence. Yes, they didn't have to prove it in court at that time and should have taken some action. But the existing administration at that time did not and threw it into the U.N., which, in our opinion, was a mistake.

QUESTION: Jack and Kerry (ph), can you describe to me what it was like for you as the verdict, when you were watching the television after -- immediately afterwards, after you found out what the verdict was?

FLYNN: It was very emotional -- very, very emotional for me. As I said, I followed it so closely. I wanted so much for them to be found guilty because I knew in my heart they were guilty. And they were found guilty. The most -- the key one was Megrahi, which all the evidence is against. He was the one who basically got the timer, went to Zurich and got the timer.

He was the one who bought the clothes. He had been identified by people who said he did that. So we knew he was very intimately involved. Fhimah less so. So I felt that the judges arrived at the right decision. And so, yes, I got very emotional and so forth.

QUESTION: Do you think that the administration at the time of the bombing was really weak in its response?

FLYNN: It was horribly weak in its response. And that was the previous Bush. He did not take any action. I won't -- don't know why.

QUESTION: Do you think it was because of oil interests, or... FLYNN: There is speculation that that is the reason why. OK? I do not know that. I mean, I can't get in his head and say why he did that. But he didn't. He didn't take action. He should have taken action. It was an act of war. They wanted to kill Americans. I always compare it to protecting Kuwait. OK, we went in and went to war to protect Kuwait. Why didn't we go to war over Pan Am 103? And as you say, it may be oil. I hope it wasn't. I hope he was another decision.

QUESTION: There were two suspects. One was found guilty. It would be hard to believe that only one person would involved in this whole thing. Do you feel satisfied at this point? Is it over for you?

FLYNN: Yes, because I followed the evidence very, very closely. I knew the evidence against Megrahi. And yes, there was sufficient evidence against Megrahi. There was not sufficient evidence against Fhimah. They could not prove that Fhimah was part of this central intelligence. The only part he was involved in was the part at the end of getting the bag on the plane.

But no one actually saw him do that. There was probably people in the airport that saw him, but, in fact, didn't come forth and say that they did. So they had nobody saw him do that. They just saw the two of them with the bag coming into Malta with the bag. OK? They did not see them put the bag on the plane. And that's the reason.


FLYNN: Kerry and my daughter and my wife -- who can't be with us today for another reason. And I don't want to bring that up publicly.

QUESTION: Can you tell us the name of your wife?

FLYNN: Kathleen? And Kathleen is...


FLYNN: K-a-t-h is normally the spokesperson in our family. But, quite frankly, she is undergoing surgery right now.


FLYNN: Excuse me?

QUESTION: What do you think the United Nations (OFF-MIKE)

FLYNN: I think that they should make sure that the sanctions are enforced. I think the United States should go beyond the U.N. and impose sanctions. I don't know what degree of sanctions. I think we should go after those people in the Libyan government that sponsored this. How the government does that, I don't quite know. OK?

But I would hope they would take action against Gadhafi and the Libyan government by putting significant sanctions and what else -- whatever else they decide to do.

QUESTION: What's the next steps for you now that this is over? What -- what do you do now?

FLYNN: You fight for justice. You continue to fight for justice. And what I really want to happen is that no terrorist country ever does this to anybody again. And I think the United States government has got to take the kind of action that makes sure those kinds of countries that do that don't ever do it again, because you can't believe the sorrow and horror the families go through when this happens. You can't believe it.

So I hope our government takes appropriate action to stop those kind of countries. There's another person, bin Laden, I'm sure you all heard about. OK -- that they do something to make sure that the countries that keep him protected are not allowed to do that.

BUCKLEY: So an emotional Jack Flynn speaking about his reaction. His son John Patrick Flynn was 21 years old when he died aboard Pan Am 103. He was a junior at Colgate University and was returning home for Christmas. The Flynns have been coming every day from New Jersey to monitor this trial. And as you can see, he was very emotional -- Jason.

CARROLL: Yes, Frank, lots of emotion out there -- obviously, anger, as well. Some of the victims' families seem to think that the Libyan government was involved with this.

BUCKLEY: Well, clearly, there is a belief that continues among family members of the victims. They have always believed that this went far beyond these two alleged intelligence operatives. They believe that it goes to the top of the Libyan government, and they insist that they will continue to press the U.S. government to continue their investigation, U.S. officials today saying that, in fact, the case is not closed and they are continuing their investigation. That is good news for those family members.

CARROLL: Well, let's hope that at least some of the family members can find some closure in all this in the coming months.

Frank Buckley, joining us live from New York -- thank you, Frank.

STOUFFER: And just a recap: one Libyan defendant found not guilty in the Pan Am bombing, the other found guilty. Abdel Basset Ali Al-Megrahi will face sentencing from the Scottish judges. That is expected to happen in just about two hours.

We have the opportunity to take you live now to our Richard Blystone, who is at Camp Zeist, in the Netherlands, where these judges heard the case and made their decisions earlier today.

Hello Richard, what do you have?


Well, among the dozens of bereaved parents, widows, and widowers of Lockerbie, was Mr. Glenn Johnson, who is also the board chairman of one of the three American organizations of the families of the victims. It's called Victims of Pan Am Flight 103.

Mr. Johnson, your reaction at the verdict?

GLENN JOHNSON, VICTIMS OF PAN AM FLIGHT 103: I think it was effectively -- for now able to say yes, there was a conspiracy, it's proven. We now know that there is truth behind this. It still needs to be known, but we feel a little bit of relief -- a little anxiety that we didn't learn more.

BLYSTONE: Were you surprised?

JOHNSON: I was almost ready to accept the fact that we might get a not proven. I don't think there was ever any doubt that they would ever be considered not guilty. The evidence, I believe, proved it; the problem was being so much circumstantial evidence, there was a possibility of being not proven. That weighed heavily on my mind.

BLYSTONE: Now, what's next for your organization -- and I understand that you have some evidence -- or some kind of evidence -- that the prosecution here did not have?

JOHNSON: I think there is still evidence that the police had that has not been released. A lot of it may not fit the category which could be used in this court. We're now going to a civil trial. We're hoping that more of this can be brought out, because we still do not have it certified as to who was responsible. We know who did it, but not who was responsible.

BLYSTONE: Now we have just heard on CNN from a Libyan representative who said my country is not on trial here -- was not on trial here.

JOHNSON: Officially, they may not have been on trial, but in everyone's mind they were.

BLYSTONE: And they were, of course, in the charge, the...

JOHNSON: That's correct.

BLYSTONE: ... the furtherance of the purposes of the Libyan Intelligence Service.

JOHNSON: And they were involved with Libyan Intelligence Service, and I myself cannot believe that a country like Libya would have agents that would do something like this without someone higher up knowing all about it.

BLYSTONE: The guilty verdict on Abdel Basset Ali Al-Megrahi -- will that make your case easier to fight?

JOHNSON: Yes, because we've had our civil case stalled, mainly because wait and see what would happen here. A guilty verdict here will make it much easier for us to obtain justice elsewhere.

BLYSTONE: And just finally: Personally, it's been 12 years, your daughter, a college student, was killed in Lockerbie bombing -- have you come anywhere near closure?

JOHNSON: No, I think this -- we'll always have this with us until the day we die, but it's becoming a little easier to live with it. That is about as far as I can say -- we've taken many steps, and there are still steps to go.

BLYSTONE: Thanks very much, Glenn Johnson, the board chairman of one of the three big American organizations of families of the victims of Pan Am Flight 103 -- Linda.

STOUFFER: Richard Blystone in the Netherlands, thank you very much for that.

And of course, this is a story that we're continuing to follow. As we mentioned, the man who was found guilty, Ali Al-Megrahi, will face sentencing in just about two hours. So we'll let you know what happens when that happens.

CARROLL: Yes, of course -- and the judges in that case finding forensic evidence on Abdel Basset Ali Al-Megrahi's clothes, in his clothes linking him to that bombing. So that was obviously a crucial part of the trial.

STOUFFER: Three Scottish judges heard this case in a special court set up at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands and they had unanimous decisions on both men. Again, one found guilty, one found not guilty.

We will have continuing coverage for you throughout the morning.



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