[Abdelbaset al-Megrahi’s nightmare began twenty-three years ago today. Here is what I have written elsewhere about how it started:]
It was on 14 November 1991 that the prosecution authorities in Scotland (the Lord Advocate, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie QC) and the United States (acting US Attorney General, William P Barr) simultaneously announced that they had brought criminal charges -- principally murder and conspiracy to murder -- arising out of the destruction of Pan Am 103 against two Libyan nationals, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi and Lamin Fhimah, who were alleged to be members, and to have been acting throughout as agents, of the Libyan intelligence service.
According to the Scottish and American prosecutors, what had happened was this. The two Libyans had manufactured, or caused to be manufactured, a bomb using a Toshiba cassette recorder, Semtex explosive and a digital electric timer (supplied and manufactured by a Swiss company based in Zurich, MeBo AG, the principals of which were Erwin Meister and Edwin Bollier). The device had been placed in a brown Samsonite suitcase in Malta, along with items of clothing purchased for the purpose from a particular shop (Mary's House) in Sliema owned by the Gauci family. Using stolen Air Malta luggage tags, the Libyans (one of whom -- Fhimah -- had occupied the post of station manager for Libyan Arab Airlines in Malta) introduced the suitcase at Luqa Airport into the interline baggage system as unaccompanied luggage on Air Malta Flight KM 180 from Malta to Frankfurt, with directions for its onward transmission (first) on to a feeder flight (PA 103A) to Heathrow and (second) on to Pan Am flight 103 from Heathrow to J F Kennedy Airport in New York.
On 27 November 1991 the governments of the United Kingdom and the United States each issued a statement calling upon the Libyan government to hand over the two accused to either the Scottish or the American authorities for trial in Scotland or the United States. Requests for their extradition were transmitted to the government of Libya through diplomatic channels. No extradition treaties are in force between Libya on the one hand and United Kingdom and the United States on the other.
Libyan internal law, in common with the laws of many countries in the world, does not permit the extradition of its own nationals for trial overseas. The government of Libya accordingly contended that the affair should be resolved through the application of the provisions of a 1971 civil aviation Convention concluded in Montreal to which all three relevant governments are signatories. That Convention provides that a state in whose territory persons accused of terrorist offences against aircraft are resident has a choice aut dedere aut judicare, either to hand over the accused for trial in the courts of the state bringing the accusation or to take the necessary steps to have the accused brought to trial in its own domestic courts. In purported compliance with the second of these options, the Libyan authorities arrested the two accused and appointed a Supreme Court judge as examining magistrate to consider the evidence and prepare the case against them. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the UK and US governments refused to make available to the examining magistrate the evidence that they claimed to have amassed against the accused, who remained under house arrest in Libya until they were eventually handed over in April 1999 for trial at Camp Zeist.