- A court in the United States has ordered Libya and six Libyans to pay US $6 billion as compensation to seven families of the US victims of the 1989 bombing of a French aircraft over Niger. The American owner of UTA Flight 772 would also benefit from the compensation.
Though it had denied having links to the bombing, Libya had agreed to pay US $1 million as compensation to the relatives of each of the 170 people on board the bombed flight.
The North African country is yet to respond to the order, but it has until 25 February to appeal. It had earlier pledged to honour US court judgments as part of efforts to foster good relations with the US.
However, it is believed that in the absence of a settlement of the judgment, the growing commerce between Libya and the US companies will be subject to compulsory court attachment to satisfy the award.
A suitcase bomb exploded on board the plane over the Sahara as it left France to Chad on 19 September, 1989, crashing the aircraft into the Tenere District in North-Eastern Niger. All the 170 passengers and crew, including seven Americans were killed.
In 1999, French court found Libya and its six officials guilty of bombing the plane. But Libya had refused to hand over the suspects to France.
Libya had paid compensation to victims of a similar attack [Lockerbie] in 1988 in which 270 people were killed.
Families of American victims and the aircraft owner brought the suit against Libya and six Libyans in federal court in April 2002. Among the seven Americans killed on the flight was Bonnie Pugh, the wife of then U.S. Ambassador to Chad, Robert Pugh.
"This award proves that the rule of law will always prevail over state-sponsored terrorism," said the lead lawyer for the victim, Stuart Newberger of Crowell & Moring legal firm.
"At the end of the day, all 170 victims of UTA Flight 772 will be remembered and honoured by this decision. Indeed, it is because of rulings like this that Libya has rejected terrorism and re-joined the civilized nations of the world."
Counsel for Interlease, Inc, the owner of the bombed DC-10 aircraft, John Metzger, said, "the day of accountability for Libya has been a long time coming. We are grateful that the court has determined that Libya committed this terrorist act.
"While nothing will bring back these loved ones, this decision makes clear that terrorism is not only abhorrent, but hits the terrorist state where it hurts -- in their pocketbook."
As part of its well-publicized abandonment of terrorism and nuclear weapon development and to engage the US and the EU on political and commercial deals, Libya defended its case in the US. This is the first ever case decided in which the terrorist state appeared in court and had attorneys defend the case through final judgment.
Libya had become victim of rough western diplomacy characterised by sanctions shortly after the bombings.
But the country later enjoyed the fruits of its readiness to comply with the international community in 2006 when the US removed it from the "state sponsor of terrorism list" and restored diplomatic relations for the first time in decades.
This followed earlier actions to lift United Nations' sanctions and other commercial restrictions on Libya.
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