Libya to resist payments to IRA victims

LONDON - September 7, 2009 Victims' families believe Libya should take some responsibility for IRA attacks because the country once supplied weapons and explosives - including Semtex plastic explosive - to terrorists around the world. The explosive was used by the IRA during the 1980s and 1990s.

But Col. Moammar Gadhafi's son, Saif, told Sky News that Libya would fight the issue in court.

"Anyone can knock on our door. You go to the court," he said. "They have their lawyers. We have our lawyers."

The compensation issue has grown heated in recent days amid an outburst of rage that followed the release of the Lockerbie bomber, who was serving a life sentence for the 1988 deaths of 270 people in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.

The issue of whether the government struck deals with the Libyans to further commercial ties in exchange for the release of the bomber, Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, has dominated headlines - and shows no sign of abating.

Scottish officials freed al-Megrahi, 57, Aug. 20 on compassionate grounds because he is dying of prostate cancer.

In his interview with Sky, Gadhafi's son attacked "disgusting" and "immoral" British politicians whom he accused of manipulating the issue for personal gain.

"Politicians, both in the U.K. and America, are trying to use this human tragedy - both Mr. (al) Megrahi and the families - for their own political agenda," he said. "It's a tragedy. It's completely immoral."

Over the weekend, the Sunday Times issued new documents that suggested Britain failed to press the compensation issue because of fears that burgeoning ties with Tripoli might be jeopardized. The report added to questions about whether trade ties also influenced last month's decision to release al-Megrahi.

The news outraged British survivors of IRA bombings - particularly since U.S. victims of Libya-sponsored terrorist attacks have secured a separate compensation deal with Tripoli.

Libya last year cut a deal with the Bush administration establishing a compensation fund worth $1.5 billion to cover all U.S. citizens (or if dead, their next of kin) victimized by Libyan-sponsored terror. This includes a handful who were killed or maimed in IRA attacks in London in mid-1970s to early 1980s.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Sunday he would offer diplomatic support to private efforts to secure compensation. But British officials have said they will not pursue the issue directly with Libya.

"I desperately care about what has happened to the people who have been victims of IRA terrorism," Brown said.

Britain has been at the forefront of efforts to have Libya shed the image of pariah state. Following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Gadhafi renounced terrorism, dismantled his country's secret nuclear program, accepted his government's responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing and paid compensation to the victims.

Brown and other government officials stressed the need to keep Libya on that route when explaining why they did not press the Libyans for compensation for the IRA's attacks.

But documents released Sunday - including a letter sent from Middle East minister Bill Rammell to Jonathan Ganesh, a survivor of one of the IRA bombings - suggest that the government was also keeping Libya's vast oil wealth in mind.

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