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Lockerbie Appeal Hearing Begins - 2002-01-23

The appeals hearing of a former Libyan intelligence agent, convicted in the 1988 bombing of Pan American flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, has opened in the Netherlands. The proceeding is taking place one year after a Scottish court sentenced him to life in prison for the murder of 270 people. The Libyan's lawyers have argued, before a five-member panel of Scottish judges, that their client was a victim of a miscarriage of justice.

In an eight-page brief, the chief lawyer for Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi made it clear to the court that he will try to throw doubts on two key elements of the prosecution's case that led to the conviction of his client at the original trial.

William Taylor is questioning the testimony of a shopkeeper in Malta who identified Megrahi as the man who purchased clothing that was later found to have been wrapped around the bomb. He is also disputing the prosecution's scenario of how the bomb was placed aboard Pan Am 103.

Defense lawyer Taylor is requesting that the court admit the previously unheard testimony of a security guard at London's Heathrow airport who is prepared to say that shortly before the doomed flight took off, there were security breaches in a baggage area of the airport that could have allowed the bomb to be placed on the plane at Heathrow.

The original trial agreed with the prosecution's contention that Megrahi placed the bomb in a suitcase that was flown from Malta to Frankfurt, from where it was transferred as interline baggage to Heathrow to be put aboard flight 103.

While some legal analysts describe Mr. Taylor's arguments as somewhat limited in nature; it could take the appeals court weeks to go through them.

Experts say Mr. Taylor has a daunting task ahead of him if he is to get the court to set aside the guilty verdict against his client.

They say Mr. Taylor will have to prove that there was a miscarriage of justice at the original trial or that key evidence, which could have overturned the verdict, was overlooked.

A man accused along with Megrahi at the original trial, Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah, was acquitted.