Libya has finally completed compensation payments to the families of US victims of Libyan terror attacks, including the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988. The move ends years of wrangling and clears the way for the full normalization of relations between Washington and Tripoli.
"Libya's decision to resolve outstanding claims through the U.S.-Libya Claims Settlement Agreement is a laudable milestone in our bilateral relationship; providing a measure of justice to families of U.S. victims of terrorism and clearing the way for continued and expanding U.S.-Libyan partnership," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.
Libya deposited a total of $1.5 billion for American victims of Libyan bombings of Pan Am Flight 103 and the bombing of a German disco, the State Department said today. The money is part of a $1.8 billion deal reached this summer between the United States and Libya to settle outstanding terror claims held by terror victims from both countries. The remainder, $300 million, has not yet been paid and will go towards compensating Libyan victims of US air strikes following the disco bombing.
As part of the deal the US agreed to provide Libya with immunity in US courts from further terror claims once the funds had been paid.
Before this year's deal, Libya had not completed settlement payments, stemming from a 2003 agreement, to the families of Flight 103 victims. Libya had agreed to pay $2.7 billion in compensation, or $10 million to each family of the 270 victims, but the final $2 million installment owed to each family had still not been paid. Libya was supposed to pay it when the US removed it from its list of states that sponsor terrorism in 2006, but that did not happen within a timeline agreed to in the settlement.
Several key lawmakers have held up the appointment of a US ambassador in Tripoli until the reparation payments were completed.
Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), who has been one of the most vocal advocates for US victims of Libyan terror, welcomed today's announcement.
"American victims and their families have waited decades for Libya to pay for its deadly acts of violence—and today they have received long-overdue justice," Sen. Lautenberg said in a statement. "I am pleased that our relentless pressure and support for terror victims has led to this historic moment."
Kara Weipz, spokesperson for the Families of the Victims of Pan Am 103 stated, "The Pan Am 103 families deeply appreciate Senator Lautenberg's work to urge the Administration to take every step to bring the Agreement to fruition. Senator Lautenberg has been a hero to the families for twenty years since the 1988 bombing."
"While our loved ones will never be forgotten, we are glad this chapter in our efforts is finally over," said Weipz.
Lautenberg today made no mention of releasing his hold on the ambassador's nomination, but a Senate aide says that a vote is likely if Congress comes back in session after next week's election.
Most family members of the victims have praised legislative attempts to create compensation funds, but some draw the line at warming relations with Libya.
Meanwhile, victims' families are still closely watching the ongoing appeals case of the man convicted for the bombing of Flight 103. A former Libyan intelligence agent, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, was granted an appeal last year by a Scottish judicial review panel. Al-Megrahi was convicted in 2001 and has since maintained his innocence.
Victims' families worry that if al-Megrahi's conviction is overturned, Libya can deny having any role in the bombing altogether. A ruling is expected by the end of this year.
Earlier this year Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Libya, the first trip there by a sitting Secretary of State in over 50 years.
Her visit punctuated a remarkable turnaround in relations between the two countries, which were strained over Libya's support for terrorism and a nuclear program that it dismantled in 2003.