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Lockerbie prosecutors to hammer home murder charge

Lockerbie prosecutors to hammer home murder charge

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Prosecutors in the Lockerbie bombing trial, in what is seen as a bold, all-or-nothing strategy, will hammer home on Wednesday their charge that two Libyans murdered the 270 victims of the 1988 disaster.

In the second day of its final submissions, the prosecution will formally amend the indictment to erase lesser counts of conspiracy to murder and violation of aviation security, and urge a conviction on the toughest charge to prove - murder.

On Monday, prosecutor Alastair Campbell began his closing submissions by saying the two lesser charges against Abdel Basset al-Megrahi and Al-Amin Khalifa Fahima should be dropped.

Experts said the bold move suggested the prosecution was confident it could prove its case beyond reasonable doubt, as it must do to win.

If the three judges indeed return a guilty verdict, the Libyans face life in jail - the mandatory sentence for murder in Scottish law, under which the trial is being held.

Summing up the Scottish Crown's case as the eight-month trial headed towards a conclusion, Campbell took the judges on Monday on a long-winded journey through reams of evidence and testimony from more than 200 prosecution witnesses. His submissions are likely to be completed on Wednesday.

It is then the turn of the defence, which contends that radical Palestinian groups were really behind the bomb that blew up Pan Am Flight 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie on December 21, 1988, killing all 259 people on board and 11 on the ground.

The defence need prove nothing to win acquittal. It must only sow "sufficient doubt" in the minds of the judges sitting at a special court on a former U.S. airbase in the Netherlands.

But the defence's closing submissions will be followed closely. While prosecutors called 230 witnesses over several months, the defence called just three in a case they closed after little more then one day of questioning.

William Taylor, for Megrahi, and Fahima's counsel Richard Keen say the true Lockerbie culprits were the Syrian-backed Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command and the obscure Palestinian Popular Struggle Front.

SPECULATION OVER SPEED OF VERDICT

After the defence lawyers' closing arguments, judges will adjourn to consider their verdict. They have three to choose from for each defendant: guilty, not guilty or not proven.

How long the judges will take is a subject of fevered speculation, but all is guesswork. It could take days, a week or even several weeks.

Conviction would vindicate the years of international sanctions that were applied to force Libya to hand over the two for trial. Acquittal would formally absolve it of responsibility for one of the world's worst terrorist outrages.

According to the indictment, Megrahi and Fahima were members of Libyan intelligence who used cover as Libyan Arab Airlines employees at Malta's Luqa airport to put a suitcase bomb on a plane to Frankfurt, which was later loaded at London Heathrow aboard the doomed New York-bound flight.

The two defendants, who have not taken the witness stand during the trial, deny planting the bomb.


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