Lockerbie: Conspiracy Charges

A Scottish judge ruled Wednesday that two Libyans suspected of blowing up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, should stand trial on conspiracy charges -- despite a defense request to have them dropped.

Presiding Judge Lord Ranald Sutherland rejected a defense motion that the conspiracy-to-murder charges be dropped because the 1988 bombing that killed 270 people had been planned on Scottish soil.

Â"I am satisfied that on the basis of what is set out in Charge 1, Scottish courts do have jurisdiction,Â" he said. Â"When ... a crime of the utmost gravity has been conspired abroad, it appears to me quite illogical to say that we cannot put the conspirators on trial in Scotland, even though the conspiracy has been entered into abroad.Â"

The suspects have been charged with murder, conspiracy to commit murder and breaches of Britain's Aviation Security Act. They are to be tried beginning Feb. 2 under Scottish law in the Netherlands.

At a pretrial hearing that began Tuesday and continued into Wednesday, lawyers for the suspects argued that the court was not authorized to rule on activities that occurred outside Scotland, such as the construction of the explosive device that was planted aboard the jetliner at London's Heathrow Airport.

The defense also wanted the description of the men as Libyan intelligence agents struck from the indictment, asserting that it casts doubt on the character of the defendants in violation of Scottish judicial procedures.

The lead prosecutor, Scottish Solicitor General Colin Boyd, rejected the notion that the court lacks jurisdiction and said the defendants' alleged membership in the Libyan intelligence agency was Â"the glue that holds the conspiracy together.Â"

Boyd also maintained that while the plan to blow up the jet was formed in Europe and North Africa, it was a Â"continuing crimeÂ" that ended only at the moment of the explosion over Scotland.

The trial, which the judge on Wednesday postponed three months -- until May 3 -- is expected to last a year or more.

Justice Lord Ranald Sutherland said it was "extremely unfortunate" that a trial already delayed by six months had to be postponed again, but he upheld a defense motion to set the date back from February 2 to May 3.

If convicted, the suspects face up to life imprisonment in Glasgow's Barlinnie jail, Scotland's highest-security prison. Scotland has no death penalty.

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