Small World

Jewish World Review / Oct. 7, 1998 / 17 Tishrei, 5759

Flake of Araby Won't Make Deal on Pan Am 103

By Richard Z. Chesnoff

LIBYA'S ERRATIC LEADER, Moammar Khadafy, is backing away from a deal that would have finally brought to justice the two men charged with blowing up Pan Am Flight 103.

It's a decade since the plane exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 innocent people, among them 189 Americans. For years, Khadafy has refused to turn over the two accused Libyans to a British or American court. But Libyan officials have claimed he'd agree to an "impartial international court" if United Nations sanctions against Libya were lifted.

Yet now that the United States and Britain have okayed the idea of simultaneously convening a special court in the Netherlands and lifting sanctions, Khadafy is demanding "new guarantees."

The truth is that the Flake of Araby has never wanted to turn his two bombers over to anyone. And if he can manage it, he never will. For one thing, the risk is high that once in open international court, the two Abdel Basset Megrahi and Lamen Fhimah will point fingers at Khadafy and blab about other nasty plots that he has up his burnoose.

Still, in fairness to Moammar, he has been sort of consistent. When I last interviewed him in his desert tent four years ago, he firmly ruled out any compromise. "As far as we're concerned," he told me as we sat in front of a bonfire, "the Lockerbie crisis is over."

Would that it were for the sake of the long-suffering Libyan people. Faced with Khadafy's refusal to extradite, the UN imposed stiff sanctions that savaged even Libya's oil-rich economy. Air traffic to and from Libya has been banned since 1992, and just try and find a spare part for the planes that fly internally. You can't even get a clean glass of water from the taps in Tripoli!

Even in the best of times, Khadafy's "Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya," as he calls it, is an odd place. Walls are adorned with Alice in Wonderland-like slogans from Khadafy's Green Book of political philosophy. Meetings are often days late. Even the capital city is hard to find: Highway signs to Tripoli have been painted over "to confuse possible foreign invaders."

My favorite memory of Libya is the first time I interviewed Khadafy. It was 1986, a few months after the U.S. bombed Tripoli as punishment for Libya's attack on a U.S. troop club in Germany.

Khadafy insisted on receiving me in the ruins of his house. When he showed me his bombed-out bedroom, I discovered his secret: The desert lord slept in a round bed, the headboard of which was adorned with a photo of the surf at Big Sur, Calif.

It's unlikely that Libya is the only country behind the Pan Am 103 tragedy. Intelligence sources have always told me that while they believe the two Libyans actually placed the bomb and that Khadafy was in on it, the plot originated in Iran and was to have been carried out by a Syrian-based extremist group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, which had a training base in Libya at the time.

Sources say the Palestinians provided the technical knowhow that downed Pan Am 103. I once tracked down PFLP-GC leader Ahmed Jibril, and he deniedthat he had anything to do with Pan Am 103. He then told me about the time he blew up a busload of Israeli school children.

Jibril, Khadafy, Osama Bin Laden. These are hardened extremists who believe that their brand of terror is fully justified. The way to deal with their ilk is not to give in as some of our European allies who want to do business with Libya now urge we do with Khadafy. The memory of those who died on Pan Am 103 forbids it, not to mention self-preservation.

JWR contributor and veteran journalist Richard Z. Chesnoff is a senior correspondent at US News And World Report and a columnist at the NY Daily News.


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