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Court Rejects Appeal to Overturn Lockerbie Bombing Conviction - 2002-03-15

It is life in a high-security Scottish prison for a Libyan intelligence officer convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, in which 270 people were killed. In a unanimous decision, appeals judges at the special Scottish court in The Netherlands rejected the Libyan's appeal that his conviction and life sentence be overturned.

It took less than a minute for presiding Judge Lord Cullen to read the court's final decision. Abdel Basset al-Megrahi's conviction and life sentence stand.

Upon hearing the sentence, al-Megrahi's wife broke down in tears and was led out of the courtroom to spend the last couple of hours with her husband before his transfer to a high-security Scottish prison.

Families of the victims were also in tears, many hugging each other after 14 years of legal wrangling finally came to a close. For many of the families of the British victims, Thursday's decision frees them up to press for an independent inquiry into what they say was their government's failure to protect their loved ones.

But American Peter Lowenstein, whose 21-year-old son, Alexander, was killed on Pan Am flight 103, says he is delighted by the final verdict. "It is not going to change the fact that my son is dead, but it will at least make me feel a little bit better that justice was done," he said.

But some Libyan and Tunisian lawyers disagree. They called the verdict political, not legal, and said al-Megrahi is willing to go to the European Court of Human Rights to get his conviction and life sentence overturned. All the Arab people are upset by the verdict, say the lawyers, who called Thursday a sad day.

For many relatives of the American victims, the events of September 11 reinforced the significance of the proceedings. Kathleen Flynn of New Jersey, whose 21-year-old son, John Patrick, was on the Pan Am plane, says flight 103 was "a wake-up call for 9-11," one which the U.S. didn't take seriously enough.

And Larry Fisher, whose brother Charles was killed, said the U.S. policy of zero-tolerance for terrorism should apply to Libya and Gadhafi, too.

As for Scotland's lead prosecutor, Lord Advocate Colin Boyd, the verdict is a hard-won triumph. The trial, says the lord advocate, shows the importance of the judicial process, what it can achieve when the international community works together.

Colin Boyd says he hopes that will be the lasting legacy of the Lockerbie trial all the more so, he says, since September 11.