Scottish police continuing their probe into the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie will visit Libya for the first time, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron announced.
Officers from the Dumfries and Galloway force in southwest Scotland will be granted visas by Libya to meet with officials and discuss the next steps in their investigation, Cameron told a joint news conference with Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zaidan after talks in Tripoli today.
“We are delighted,” Cameron said. “The Dumfries and Galloway police team are now able to visit. In all these cases what I want to achieve is justice.”
Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, the Libyan who was the only person ever convicted of the attack, died at his home in Tripoli last year, three years after being released from a Scottish prison on medical grounds and returning to Libya to a hero’s welcome. Some of the victims’ families remain unconvinced of his guilt.
The bombing, which followed a number of other attacks blamed on Libya including a 1986 blast at a Berlin disco, largely cemented the country’s pariah status in the world community under Muammar Qaddafi’s rule. Qaddafi was ousted by rebels backed by the U.K. and other western countries in 2011.
The bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 as it flew at about 31,000 feet (9,450 meters) killed all 259 aboard, plus 11 on the ground. Investigators said the explosive had been hidden in a cassette recorder packed with clothes in a suitcase in the cargo hold.
A former Libyan intelligence officer, al-Megrahi always maintained his innocence. He returned from Scotland after serving eight years of a 27-year sentence.
Cameron arrived in Tripoli earlier today from Algeria for his second visit to Libya since the Qaddafi’s overthrow. He toured a police training college and addressed cadets before walking through Martyrs’ Square in the Libyan capital, where Qaddafi used to address crowds.
The Libya leg of the trip wasn’t announced in advance. The secrecy and heavy security around the premier’s visit to Tripoli were evidence that Libya, which has Africa’s largest oil reserves, hasn’t made the transition to a peaceful democracy that Cameron and other western leaders hoped for when they welcomed the Arab Spring uprisings.
“In building a new Libya, a free and democratic and secure Libya, you will have no greater friend than the United Kingdom,” Cameron told the cadets. “We will stand with you every step of the way. There is no real freedom, no real democracy, no chance of prosperity without security.”
Cameron is looking to boost security ties in the region in the wake of the hostage crisis at a gas plant in eastern Algeria this month in which six Britons were among those killed and as French and African troops battle Islamist militants in northern Mali. He announced training assistance for Algerian forces yesterday.
In Tripoli earlier this week, British embassy officials said they were aware of a potential threat against the mission and were liaising with the Libyan government, without providing details. There was no change in the U.K.’s travel advice, which recommends avoidance of all but essential trips to the Libyan capital.
The U.K. Foreign Office told British nationals to leave Benghazi, the center of the uprising against Qaddafi, “immediately” on Jan. 24 after it became aware of “a specific and imminent threat” to westerners.
“Ungoverned spaces” in Libya are providing havens for terrorists, Cameron told lawmakers on Jan. 18 after militants seized the hostages in Algeria. “We know that there are real connections between Islamist extremist militants in Algeria and those in Libya,” he said.
“These are all part of terrorist networks and they use whatever available ungoverned space there is in order to plan, build and thrive,” the premier said, “We need to work with the new Libyan government to reduce the quantity of ungoverned spaces there, and to ensure that there is proper security in that country and that weapons are properly accounted for.”
The U.K. flew fighter jets and bombers out of a base in Italy to enforce an air-exclusion zone as part of a United Nations-backed NATO operation to protect civilians in Libya as rebels battled Qaddafi in 2011. Royal Navy ships also helped enforce an arms embargo. The operation, cost 212 million pounds ($335 million), the Defense Ministry said in December 2011.