[As a reminder of just how febrile was the atmosphere in the months immediately preceding the surrender of Abdelbaset Megrahi and Lamin Fhima for trial at Camp Zeist, here is a news agency report from The Associated Press from this date in 1998:]
Three top Libyan officials have been tried and jailed in the 1988 Pan Am bombing, newspapers reported today. Libyan dissidents said the reports appear to be a political ploy by Libyan leader Col Moammar Gadhafi.
An Egyptian source, who like Libyan sources spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, said he had heard nothing about any such trials during meetings with leading officials on a just-ended trip to the Libyan capital, Tripoli.
The reported jailing comes as Gadhafi is under pressure to accept a plan to turn over for trial two other Libyans wanted for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 people, including 189 Americans.
Two London newspapers, The Guardian and the leading Arabic daily Al-Hayat, reported today that three top intelligence chiefs at the time of the airliner bombing had been convicted and imprisoned in Libya.
The Guardian said Abdullah al-Senussi, Musa Koussa and Mohammed al-Misrati were sentenced to between five and seven years in prison earlier this month.
Quoting “well-placed sources,” The Guardian said the charge filed against the three was “dereliction of duty,” but gave no further details.
Al-Hayat's report said it had questioned Libyan Justice Minister Mohamed Belgasim al-Zuwiy [RB: subsequently Libyan ambassador in London, now on trial in Tripoli] about the purported trials, but he had replied only that “trials are going on all the time.”
The Guardian and Al-Hayat suggested that the jailing of the three was aimed at blocking their testimony at a trial of the two Libyan suspects which, under a plan approved by the UN Security Council, would be heard by Scottish judges in the Netherlands.
After refusing for years to turn over two men for trial in the United States or Britain, Libya recently accepted in principle the proposed trial in The Hague, Netherlands, but has delayed in turning over the suspects. Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, accused by the United States and Britain, allegedly were Libyan intelligence agents.
The Libyan dissidents said the jailings probably were a total invention leaked by Gadhafi's government. One dissident said the three men had been close associates of Gadhafi for decades and were “too valuable for Gadhafi to dispose of them.”
Al-Senousi was head of the Libyan intelligence service and Koussa was in charge of its foreign operations during the 1988 bombing. The third man, al-Misrati, was a senior official in the Revolutionary Committees, Gadhafi's ruling party.
The dissidents said Gadhafi's long resistance to turning over al-Megrahi and Fhimah stemmed from fear that their testimony would directly implicate his government in the bombing.
Libya has been under UN sanctions since 1992 to force it to hand over the two suspects in the Lockerbie case. The sanctions include a ban on air links with Libya, an arms embargo and a partial ban on the sale of oil equipment.
[RB: While there is no evidence that I am aware of that establishes that any such trial of these three officials took place, it is certainly the case that Moussa Koussa disappeared from public view for a relatively lengthy period around this time. It was only some time after Megrahi’s conviction that I encountered him again in my meetings with Libyan officials.
Here is a comment that I posted on the Friends of Justice for Megrahi Facebook page: