Video: Libya will not compensate bombing victims

updated 9/7/2009 11:44:07 AM ET 2009-09-07T15:44:07

Britain's surprise decision to support a lawsuit against Libya by Irish Republican Army victims raised hopes Monday that thousands who were maimed or lost loved ones in IRA bombings might receive compensation payments one day from the oil-rich nation.

Libya admits it shipped hundreds of tons of weaponry to the IRA in the mid-1980s, most critically the plastic explosive Semtex at the heart of the outlawed group's biggest and deadliest bombs. Lawyers say they expect the regime of Col. Moammar Gadhafi to pay 10 million pounds ($16 million) to each member on their growing list of IRA victims.

"The fact is, if the Libyans hadn't provided the IRA with the Semtex, my son would be alive today," said peace campaigner Colin Parry, one of more than 150 litigants in the case initially filed in U.S. courts in 2006 and currently in legal limbo. Parry's 12-year-old son and a 3-year-old boy were killed when the IRA bombed a shopping district in Warrington, northwest England, in February 1993.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown — who has suffered withering criticism over Scotland's Aug. 20 release and transfer home of the only Libyan convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, Britain's deadliest act of terrorism — has been accused by IRA victims of failing to demand compensation for their suffering as part of the deal.

Brown announced Sunday night that his government would provide Foreign Office support for IRA victims who are seeking face-to-face meetings next month with Libyan leaders as they pursue their lawsuit either in Britain or Libya.

The British leader previously had refused such aid, citing Britain's overriding need to keep improving relations with Libya, a source for anti-terror intelligence tips and a base for growing British oil interests.

Gadhafi's son responds
Gadhafi's son Saif responded that his government would permit the British lawsuit access to Libyan courts — but would mount a stern defense.

"Anyone can knock on our door. You go to the court. They have their lawyers. We have our lawyers," Saif Gadhafi said in a Sky News interview in the Libyan capital of Tripoli.

When asked if his father's government would reject compensation demands from IRA victims, Saif Gadhafi responded, "Of course."

Libya has already paid billions to other victims of Libyan-sponsored bloodshed as part of its successful push since 2001 to end its diplomatic isolation and reopen trade with the West.

Libya agreed in 2003 to pay more than $2.1 billion in compensation for the 270 people — among them 180 Americans and 52 Britons — killed in the December 1988 destruction of a civilian jet over Lockerbie, Scotland.

And in mid-2008, the Bush administration negotiated a deal that closed all lawsuits by U.S. citizens against Libya for state-sponsored terrorism. In October, Libya paid $1.5 billion into a joint fund to compensate any qualifying U.S. and Libyan citizens for violence including the 1986 bombing of a Berlin disco frequented by U.S. soldiers; the 1989 downing of a French airliner over Niger that killed 170; and the U.S. air assault on the Libyan cities of Tripoli and Benghazi in 1986.

Crucially, that new fund also covers the cases of a handful of Americans wounded or killed in IRA attacks. Their receipt of out-of-court payments torpedoed the class-action lawsuit being pursued in the United States chiefly by residents of Northern Ireland and England, because it required American plaintiffs to proceed on U.S. soil.

Lawyer hails policy U-turn
Jason McCue, the London lawyer leading the lawsuit-in-limbo, said Britain's policy U-turn "has given hope to thousands of ordinary people" and increased the possibility of spurring Libya to reach an early out-of-court settlement.

McCue — who last year wrote to Brown asking him to negotiate directly with Libya on the matter — said he accepted now that Britain couldn't do this because of earlier treaty agreements that reopened British-Libyan relations.

As part of those talks, Libya accepted responsibility for the Lockerbie attack, agreed to compensate its victims — and gave Britain documents detailing its arms shipments to the IRA from 1984 to 1986. Britain used that information to measure progress in the disarmament of the IRA, a secretive plank of the Northern Ireland peace process completed in 2005.

But McCue said Foreign Office support for the plaintiffs, whether in the form of funds, logistical aid or advice, could achieve the same result as direct British-Libyan negotiations.

The Foreign Office in London declined to detail any potential aid in advance of an expected visit by McCue, British lawmakers and IRA victims to Tripoli next month.

McCue said his London firm, H20, expects the Libyans to pay each of his more than 150 clients in the region of 10 million pounds ($16 million) each for their own injuries or lost loved ones.

The lawyer said he expected potentially thousands of additional claimants to come forward, given that the IRA killed more than 400 people, wounded thousands more and destroyed billions' worth of property following the arrival of the Libyan arsenal.

Focus on 10 of the biggest bombings
The H20 case centers on 10 of the IRA's biggest bombings from 1987 to 1996, the year before the underground group called a cease-fire. British explosives experts determined that all involved use of Libyan-supplied Semtex, which often was used as the fail-safe primer at the core of massive fertilizer-based bombs.

The first bombing was a November 1987 no-warning attack on a British war memorial service in the Northern Ireland town of Enniskillen that killed 11 Protestant civilians and wounded 63. The most recent was the IRA's truck-bomb attack in June 1996 on the center of Manchester, northwest England, that wounded about 200 people.

H20 earlier this year won a landmark British judgment against four IRA dissidents, who were ordered by a Belfast judge to pay 1.6 million pounds ($2.5 million) to 12 plaintiffs over the August 1998 car-bombing of the Northern Ireland town of Omagh. The dissidents are appealing the verdict.

The Real IRA splinter group killed 29 people, mostly women and children. It was the deadliest attack in the Northern Ireland conflict, which has claimed more than 3,600 lives since 1969.

More on: IRA | Libya

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