[This is the headline over an Agence France Presse news agency report published today on the Al-Arabiya website. It reads as follows:]
Libya is responsible for a deadly 1989 attack on a French airliner, Libyan former foreign minister Abdel Rahman Shalgam told al-Hayat newspaper in an interview published on Monday.
“The Libyan security services blew up the plane. They believed that opposition leader Mohammed al-Megrief was on board, but after the plane was blown up, it was found that he was not on the plane,” said Mr Shalgam, who defected from Muammar Qaddafi’s embattled regime earlier this year.
On September 19, 1989, a UTA DC-10 travelling from Brazzaville to Paris via N’Djamena crashed in Niger after explosives on board detonated, killing 170 passengers and crew, including 54 French citizens.
A French court in 2009 sentenced six Libyan agents in absentia to life in prison for the attack, but Libya has never admitted it was responsible.
However, Tripoli had in 2004 agreed to pay $170 million in compensation to the families of the victims.
Mr Shalgam also said that the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am flight over the Scottish town of Lockerbie that killed 270 people, for which Libya is widely believed to have been responsible, was more complicated than the UTA attack.
“The Lockerbie operation was more complex ... the role of states and organizations has been discussed, and while the Libyan services were implicated, I do not think it was a purely Libyan operation,” he said.
Last February, a former official from the radical Palestinian group Abu Nidal said that the attacks against the Pan Am and UTA planes were conducted “in conjunction” with Libya, and that the explosives were fabricated in Libya.
Mr Shalgam’s defection came in March when he was serving as Libya’s representative to the United Nations.
[Whether Libya was involved in the destruction of Pan Am 103 or not (eg by supplying materials to the culprits) it does not follow that a particular Libyan, viz Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, was involved. The evidence against him remains just as weak as it was before Mr Shalgam spoke and the conviction of Megrahi on the evidence led at Zeist remains just as outrageous.
I may say that Mr Shalgam, whom I met on several occasions while he was Libya's foreign minister, always denied to me that his country was responsible for Lockerbie. But it may be that he is one of those who tends to tell people what he thinks, rightly or wrongly, that they want to hear.]