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PanAm families mark "bittersweet victory" in Libya

A couple shelters from the rain under an umbrella as they look at the main headstone in the Lockerbie air disaster memorial garden in Locker
A couple shelters from the rain under an umbrella as they look at the main headstone in the Lockerbie air disaster memorial garden in Locker

By Grant McCool

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Relatives of victims of the PanAm Flight 103 bombing rejoiced on Monday over Muammar Gaddafi's ouster, 23 years after Libyan agents blew up the flight over Scotland, killing 270 people.

"I'm just so thrilled," said Kathy Tedeschi, whose first husband was on the flight destroyed on December 21, 1988.

"If somebody could find him dead, all the better," she said of Gaddafi, who most believe ordered the bombing that killed the 259 passengers, most of whom were Americans, the crew and 11 people on the ground in the village of Lockerbie.

Some of the relatives of those killed have been riveted to reports of rebels taking over Tripoli, the Libyan capital, in the past 24 hours.

"It's a bittersweet victory ... We wished this could have happened sooner," said Brian Flynn, vice president of the Victims of PanAm 103 group. "The Libyan people have freed themselves, and we did our part to help."

President Barack Obama said Gaddafi's overthrow has special resonance for Americans.

"Gaddafi's regime has murdered scores of American citizens in acts of terror .... Today we remember the lives of those who were taken in those acts of terror and stand in solidarity with their families," he said.

In January 2001, a three-judge Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands found a Libyan agent, Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, guilty of murder in the downing of the airliner. The court acquitted his co-defendant, Al-Amin Khalifa Fahima.

Al-Megrahi was sentenced to life in prison but released by Scottish authorities on health grounds in August 2009, a decision that infuriated members of the victims' group.

Flynn, whose brother was killed, described decades of lobbying the U.S. Congress, the White House, the State Department and the United Nations to impose sanctions on Libya and bring the agents to trial.

The group also helped pressure Gaddafi to give up materials that could be used to make nuclear weapons and to renounce terrorism.

Among many of the unanswered questions in Libya on Monday was the whereabouts of al-Megrahi, who was said to have prostate cancer with three months to live at the time of his release. But he appeared last month in a televised rally in Tripoli alongside Gaddafi.

If al-Megrahi were found alive, there was no reason to have another trial, said Frank Duggan, president of the Victims of PanAm 103 group and a liaison between families and the U.S. government. "Just put him in a real jail."

(Editing by Philip Barbara)

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