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Qaddafi death resonates with Lockerbie relatives

Susan Cohen has been waiting for this day since shortly after her 20-year-old daughter was blown out of the sky by a terrorist bomb in 1988, allegedly at the behest of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi.

"I would get up each day and run to the computer and look up any news articles about what was going on with him: reading, reading reading, every day, waiting for this," she said.

Thursday morning, she got the news. Qaddafi was dead. And she planned to keep a promise that she had made to herself long ago.

"I'm just going to go out and buy an expensive bottle of champagne to celebrate," she said.

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The Boeing 747 operating as Pan Am Flight 103 from London to New York exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, on Dec. 21, 1988, killing all 259 people on board and 11 people on the ground. Many victims were Americans from New Jersey and New York flying home for the holidays.

The U.S. government implicated Qaddafi's regime, and a Libyan intelligence agent, Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, was convicted as the mastermind.

He was released from British captivity in 2009 on humanitarian grounds because he was supposedly near death. But the fact that he remains alive two years later remains a thorn in the side of American officials and relatives of the victims.

Kara Weipz, of Mount Laurel, N.J., whose 20-year-old brother, Richard Monetti, was a Syracuse University student aboard the flight, said she was stunned to hear of the dictator's death.

"Talk about shock!" she said.

Weipz said she was feeling "relief, knowing he can't hurt and torture anyone else. For 20-some years, I never thought this day would come. The world is a better and safer place today."

Her father, Bob Monetti, of Cherry Hill, says there's still a lot of information that relatives need to know.

"There are a number of people who were involved in the bombing who have not been arrested or captured," he said.

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Two weeks ago, Monetti opened a nursery school with his daughter in Mount Laurel, using funds he received in Qaddafi's monetary settlement with the victims' families, a deal reached years after the bombing.

Weipz agreed, adding that Qaddafi's death still doesn't close the book on Lockerbie.

"Ultimately, the one thing I hope is he had evidence on him," she said. "All the families really want to know the truth of how this happened. That has been our motto since 1988, and it remains our motto in 2011."

Britain's Prime Minister, David Cameron, makes a statement outside his London residence No.10 Downing Street, about the death of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi in Libya, Oct. 20, 2011. Stefan Rousseau,AP Photo/PA

In London, British Prime Minister David Cameron pledged assistance to Libya's leaders as they work to form a new government.

"Today is a day to remember all of Qaddafi's victims," he said. "We should also remember the many, many people who died at the hands of this brutal dictator and his regime."

Bert Ammerman of River Vale, N.J., whose brother, Tom, died in the bombing, said Thursday was a day he had longed for.

"I never thought I would see the day this man, this coward, would no longer be part of the world population," he said. "I can say today with a great deal of satisfaction that my brother and the other 269 people that were massacred on Dec. 21, 1988, did not die in vain.

He also hailed President Barack Obama with the military action that resulted in the death of Qaddafi, as well as that of Osama Bin Laden.

"He eliminated Bin Laden; he's now eliminated Qaddafi. That's the right way to go," he said. "We never again should occupy these countries; we should use our technology, our intelligence and work through an allied group like NATO. And if we do that we will eliminate, I think, future areas of state-sponsored terrorism."

Cohen said she spent an anxious morning devouring news reports that initially hinted — but could not confirm — that Qaddafi was dead.

"This was sort of like Dracula: Is Dracula really dead?" she asked. "It's great now that we know. I didn't want him to go to a trial. When you have a tyrant, a monster like him, we're all better off with him dead. Now there can be no illusion of him ever returning to power."

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