British prosecutors say they hope that defected Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa will provide valuable new information on Moammar Gadhafi's suspected role in the fatal 1988 terror bombing of Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
Koussa, a longtime ally of Gadhafi, is the most senior member of the regime to defect. British officials Thursday said the onetime intelligence chief had not been offered immunity for the information he might provide.
"There is no deal. He arrived late last night. There are discussions going on. This is going to take some time. It is early days," said a government spokesman.
"We have notified the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that the Scottish prosecuting and investigating authorities wish to interview Mr. Koussa in connection with the Lockerbie bombing," the spokesman said. "The investigation into the Lockerbie bombing remains open and we will pursue all relevant lines of inquiry."
News of Koussa's arrival in the U.K. quickly spread to Washington, where members of Congress were interested to know if American justice officials would also have access to Koussa for questioning.
"Secretary Clinton has taken a very strong personal interest in the Pan Am 103 victims," Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg told the House Foreign Affairs Committee Thursday morning.
"The Department of Justice has a considerable interest in a number of these issues. Because there are ongoing investigations, I'm not in a position to comment on them," he said, adding, "We, obviously, take this decision by the Libyan foreign minister very seriously."
Last month, in the early days of the rebellion, another Gadhafi confidante, Foreign Minister Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, resigned his post and told Swedish newspaper Expressen he had "proof that Gadhafi gave the order about Lockerbie."
That admission raised the hopes of family members, who have long petitioned the British and America governments to hold Gadhafi directly responsible for the attacks. Many of them said they were still outraged at the 2009 release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who had been convicted in the bombing.
Defection from Gadhafi Government in Libya Raises Hopes for Lockerbie Families
Megrahi was released from a Scottish prison in 2009 because he had cancer and claimed he had only weeks to live. His release caused an uproar in the West, with some family members of victims accusing the British government of cutting a deal with Libya to secure lucrative oil contracts.
Megrahi returned to Tripoli to a hero's welcome. He is still alive and living in a seaside mansion provided by the government.
U.S. officials have long suspected Gadhafi was behind the attack, but were unable to accuse a head of state of murder without significant proof and the political will to call for his arrest, said Brad Garrett, a former FBI agent and ABC News consultant.
"At the time of the investigation, FBI agents found substantial evidence that they believed Gadhafi was linked directly to the bombings but never proved it," Garrett said.
In February, Abdel-Jalil accused Gadhafi of brokering a deal with the British to secure Megrahi's release.
"To hide it, [Gadhafi] did everything in his power to get al-Megrahi back from Scotland," Abdel-Jalil told Expressen.
"If you point a finger at a head of state, you've really got to have it down pat. The level of evidence available was just not there," he said. "Just about everyone on the joint FBI and Scottish task force believed Gadhafi was behind the attacks."
Beginning in the late 1990s, Gadhafi tried to soften his image on the international stage, making small concessions to successive U.S. presidents and cooperating openly with Europe.
Without acknowledging any wrongdoing, his government has paid settlements to family members of the victims of Flight 103. In 2001, he dismantled his nuclear arms program, easing relations with the United States.
Two weeks ago, following a United Nations resolution, NATO, led by the United States, began bombing Gadhafi's forces in support of a nascent rebellion based in Eastern Libya.