Relatives of people killed in the terrorist attack on Pan Am Flight 103 gathered at Arlington National Cemetery on Sunday to mark the 15th anniversary of the plane's downing.
The plane bound from London to New York blew up in midair over Lockerbie, Scotland, on December 21, 1988. Eleven people on the ground and 259 people on the plane were killed, including two Canadians.
Libyan intelligence officer Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, 51, was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in 2001 for the bombing of Flight 103, while a second Libyan man was acquitted.
At Arlington, the victims' names were read aloud as family members laid flowers at the foot of a memorial cairn built out of 270 blocks of red Scottish sandstone. The sandstone came from a quarry a few kilometres from Lockerbie.
The anniversary comes just two days after Libya announced it would renounce its weapons of mass destruction program in exchange for the reopening of relations with the United States and Great Britain.
Lockerbie victims' families keep pressure on Libya
Relatives of those killed in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing insisted at a memorial marking the 15th anniversary of the attack they were not satisfied with Libya's cooperation in spite of hopeful developments in the past year.
This year's anniversary service at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington comes just two days after Libya agreed to renounce its clandestine pursuit of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons in nine months of secret talks with the United States and Britain.
Earlier this year, the United Nations lifted sanctions on Libya after Tripoli agreed to pay 2.7 billion dollars and accept responsibility for the bombing but denying guilt. US sanctions remain in place.
“We've made huge progress, including some of the recent announcements, and we should celebrate, but we should not let up the fight,” said Larry Fisher, whose brother, Charles Fisher IV, was among those killed on Pan Am Flight 103.
“Libya's acceptance of responsibility but denying guilt falls far short of justice.”
The Boeing 747 en route to New York from London, blew up over Lockerbie, Scotland, December 21, 1988, killing all 259 on board and 11 others on the ground.
Libyan national Abdel Bassett Ali al-Megrahi, 51, is serving a life sentence after he was convicted by a special Scottish court in the Netherlands in January 2001 of planting a suitcase bomb on the aircraft.
Megrahi had been identified as a Libyan intelligence agent at his trial, where co-accused Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah was acquitted.
“There has been some conclusion. Many are happy with that conclusion. Many, like me, are not so sure and are troubled and confused,” said the Reverend Pat Keegans, pastor of a Catholic church in Lockerbie when the bombing occurred.
Some 250 people, including victims' relatives and diplomats from countries which lost nationals in the bombing, gathered at the Scottish cairn erected at the cemetery in 1995 to honor the victims. The sandstone cairn contains 270 stones — one for each person killed.
Federal Aviation Administration head Marion Blakey, representing President George W. Bush, credited families of the Lockerbie victims for the success in pressing Libya to accept responsibility for the bombing and pay compensation.
“You pushed for new laws. You helped other families cope with similar tragedies, and you continue to demand justice,” she said.
Many of the relatives who spoke fought to be heard through their own tears, a sign the passage of time had not dimmed their grief.
“Some assume it gets easier after 15 years, but it doesn't,” said Kara Monetti Weipz, whose brother, Richard Monetti, a 20-year-old college student from Cherry Hill, New Jersey, was among those killed.
“We urge the Bush administration to remain steadfast in light of recent developments. Fifteen years have now passed, but our resolve has not diminished and we are not going anywhere.”
Families Honor Lockerbie Victims
Relatives at Arlington Cemetery Event Still Seeking Justice
The families of victims of Pan Am Flight 103 gathered at Arlington National Cemetery yesterday to mark the 15th anniversary of the bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, and, as they remembered those who died, they vowed to continue seeking prosecution of all those responsible for the attack.
The December 21 anniversary came two days after Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi, in a surprise reversal, announced that his country will abandon weapons of mass destruction, freeze its nuclear program and invite international inspectors to follow the process.
Under a crisp blue sky and bright sunshine, more than 200 people sat in folding chairs near the Lockerbie Cairn, a 10-foot tower built of Scottish sandstone, for the one-hour ceremony. Kara Monetti Weipz, president of the Victims of Pan Am Flight 103, said her group would continue to lobby the Bush administration to seek all people behind the 1988 bombing, which killed 259 people aboard the aircraft and 11 on the ground.
“We have been told over the past several years by government officials that there are no shortcuts for Libya,” Weipz said. “We urge the Bush administration to remain steadfast in light of recent developments. Fifteen years may have passed, but our resolve on this issue has not, and we are not going anywhere.”
One Libyan intelligence agent, Abdel Basset Ali Megrahi, has been convicted of plotting to destroy the U.S. airliner. The conviction came after Libya surrendered two officials, prompting sanctions to be lifted in 1999.
Monetti Weipz, who lost her brother in the bombing, said the families should take credit for the latest developments in Libya, saying that top U.S. officials have told them that “this would not have happened without our work and persistence.”
Along with turning over the two suspects, the Libyan government promised to compensate the victims' families with a $2.7 billion fund. Relatives will be granted as much as $10 million for each victim. But Larry Fisher, who lost his brother, Charles Thomas Fisher IV, in the bombing, said yesterday that for many families, financial compensation has not been the top priority.
“For all of the families, justice was the top priority,” Fisher said. “Libya's mere acceptance of responsibility while denying guilt falls far short. . . . Assisting with the further prosecution of those responsible is the only way we'll be able truly to measure justice.”
For Mary Kay Stratis, Libya's recent actions are a move in the right direction.
“If the world can be rid of more weapons of mass destruction, it's a good thing for the world and our country,” said Stratis, whose husband died in the bombing. “On a personal level, I cannot pat Gaddafi on the back and hug him and say, ‘Atta boy.' I cannot praise him for what he condoned and sanctioned.”
At the ceremony, which included the reading of all the victims' names, several family members reflected on what the past 15 years have been like for them — describing how they can again appreciate the joyous moments of life, in spite of grief that hasn't gone away.
Michelle Ciulla Lipkin, who was 17 when her father, Frank Ciulla, died in the bombing, said she that after his death, she was obsessed with how she would sustain his memory.
“How could my 17 short years with my dad sustain me for the rest of my life . . . how would he stay with me as the years passed?” Lipkin said. But as the years go by, she said her father's presence stays strong.
“He exists beyond just our memories,” she said. “He is in my brother's face and my nephew's eyes and the color of my hair. Fifteen years have passed, but his life continues.
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Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard