LONDON -- Nearly 19 years after a bomb blew up Pan Am Flight 103 in the skies above Lockerbie, Scotland, and six years after a former Libyan intelligence agent was convicted of planning the attack, a judicial review has resurrected lingering doubts about the case.
The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, an independent panel that oversees matters brought before Scottish courts, recommended yesterday that Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, the only person convicted in the case, be granted permission to file a fresh appeal.
"The commission is of the view, based on our lengthy investigations, the new evidence we have found and other evidence which was not before the trial court, that the applicant may have suffered a miscarriage of justice," the commission said in a statement.
The panel's 800-page report has not been made public, but in a brief statement, the commission said that it had concerns about a key witness identification of al-Megrahi and that other exculpatory evidence had not been made available to the defense.
The immediate effect of the decision is that al-Megrahi, who already has seen one appeal rejected, will get another chance, and the Libyan government, which reached a separate $2.7 billion settlement with the victims' families in 2002, could also seek legal redress.
Legal experts in Britain suggested that if the conviction is overturned, Libya could ask for its money back or demand compensation from the United States or Britain.
Jim Kreindler, the New York attorney who negotiated the settlement with the Libyan government, disputed that, noting that al-Megrahi was convicted in a Scottish criminal proceeding while the settlement with Libya was reached in a separate civil proceeding.
"We reached an agreement with Libya. It's a contract; it's enforceable. Even if Megrahi is acquitted, it has no bearing on the settlement," he said.
The Pan Am 747 jumbo jet, en route from London to New York, blew up 35 minutes into its flight, killing all 259 people on board and 11 others on the ground. It remains the worst terrorist act on British soil and resulted in the most expensive criminal prosecution in British history.
The case was tried before a panel of three Scottish judges at a military base in the Netherlands. Although al-Megrahi remains the only person convicted in the case - a second Libyan named in the indictment was acquitted - no one believes he acted alone.
"It's unsettling because it keeps coming back," said Kara Weipz of Cherry Hill, N.J., who lost her brother on the flight. "Every time Pan Am 103 is back in the news, it brings the family members back to Dec. 21, 1988 - and that's what's unsettling."
Weipz, president of the Victims of Pan Am Flight 103, and other members of the survivors group said that while they remain convinced of al-Megrahi's guilt, they are not troubled by the new appeal.
Tom Hundley writes for the Chicago Tribune.