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Shadow Over Lockerbie: The Pan Am 103 Case

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Plane Crash
A police officer walks by the nose of Pan Am flight 103 in a field near the town of Lockerbie, Scotland.
(Credit: AP Photo/Martin Cleaver)
Two hundred seventy people died when Pan Am 103 was blown out of the sky over Lockerbie, Scotland, on December 21st, 1988. It was the worst-ever act of airline terrorism against the United States. It's also been called the world's biggest unsolved murder. Finally, after 12 years of investigation, political stalemate, and legal delays, two Libyan men have been tried for the Lockerbie bombing. On January 31, 2001, Libyan agent Abdel Basset Al Megrahi, was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 20 years. He is appealing the decision. The other, Lamen Khalifa Fahimah, was acquitted and set free. But many observers say the trial, which began on May 3, 2000, in the Netherlands, has not fully answered the question of who bombed Pan Am 103.

In this special report, broadcast on March 23, 2000, Ian Ferguson and John Biewen of American RadioWorks explore the case against the Libyans - its strengths and weaknesses. They also examine the evidence against other one-time suspects, the Iranian government and members of a terrorist group based in Syria. Some who lost loves ones on Pan Am 103 wonder if political expediency played a role in the government's decision to absolve those suspects and accuse the Libyans.

Shadow Over Lockerbie begins in Lockerbie, where the jumbo jet and its cargo, fuel, and passengers fell on the town like violent rain from a nightmare. We meet Jane and Jim Swire, who yearn for justice 11 years after their daughter died on Pan Am 103. The report then traces the massive three-year Lockerbie investigation through Germany, Malta, and Switzerland. It reveals apparent weaknesses in the purported evidence against the Libyan defendants, such as a fragment of circuit board from the bomb's timer and clothing scraps traced to a Maltese clothing store. Shadow Over Lockerbie suggests that despite the coming trial, the atrocity over Lockerbie might well remain unsolved.

American RadioWorks is the documentary project of Minnesota Public Radio and NPR News. For more information, visit American RadioWorks at their Web site: