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Shopkeeper Testifies At Lockerbie Trial

A Maltese shop owner Tuesday could not positively identify one of the two Libyans accused of blowing up Pan Am flight 103 as the man who bought items alleged to have been in a suitcase with the bomb.

Anthony Gauci said Abdel Basset al-Megrahi resembled the man who bought clothes and an umbrella from his store in 1988, just weeks before the plane exploded over the Scottish town of Lockerbie killing all 259 people on board and 11 on the ground.

Forensic scientists have identified fragments of clothes and an umbrella found at the crash as having been in the suitcase along with the bomb and traced them to Gauci's store, Mary's House. Prosecutors wanted to link the two Libyan suspects with the suitcase.

Trial at a Glance
  • The charges: Murder, conspiracy to murder, contravention of the 1982 Aviation Security Act. The court can convict only on one charge.
  • Maximum sentences: A life sentence is mandatory if convicted of murder or violation of the aviation act. In case of a conspiracy conviction, punishment is at the court's discretion.
  • Possible verdicts: Guilty, not guilty, not proven. In either of the latter two cases, the defendants are acquitted.
  • Burden of proof: The defense does not need to prove anything to secure an acquittal, merely to raise a doubt as to the prosecution's assertion of the defendants' guilt.
  • Corroboration: Each incriminating fact must be supported by two pieces of evidence or credible witness testimonies.
  • Appeals: An appeal may be made on the basis of a procedural error, insufficient evidence or wrongful submission of evidence. In case of appeal, the five-judge Scottish High Court in Edinburgh would come to Camp Zeist to hear it.
  • "That is the one who resembles the man who came into my shop," Gauci said, pointing to al-Megrahi sitting next to his bespectacled co-accused Al-Amin Khalifa Fahima in the witness box. "The one without glasses."

    The client bought a jacket, two pajamas, a baby suit, two shirts, two pullovers, two trousers and an umbrella, Gauci said.

    "It wasn't important for him what he was buying," Gauci said. "When I asked him whether he wanted to try on the trousers, he said it wasn't for him."

    Gauci was asked by Prosecutor Alistair Campbell to see if the man was in the courtroo.

    "He resembles him a lot," Gauci told the special Scottish court set up on neutral territory in the Netherlands, referring to al-Megrahi who in the indictment is said to have bought articles on Dec. 7, 1988, from Gauci.

    However, Gauci used exactly the same phrase to describe a newspaper photograph of Mohammed Abu Talb, a Lebanese member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) incriminated by defense lawyers and one of the first suspects in the Lockerbie case.

    The grainy, black and white photograph of Abu Talb, who is in jail for terrorism in Sweden and has been named as a prosecution witness, was first shown to Gauci by his brother and then later referred to by Gauci in police statements as bearing a close likeness to the man he served in his shop.

    At no time has Gauci definitely identified anyone. However, he repeatedly insisted he could differentiate between Libyans and other Arabs.

    Prosecutors aim to prove al-Megrahi and co-defendant Al-Amin Khalifa Fahima worked for Libya's secret service and, posing as Libyan Arab Airlines employees, placed a bomb in a radio-tape recorder inside a suitcase and loaded it onto a plane in Malta.

    The suitcase was then allegedly transferred onto New-York bound jet Pan Am flight 103 in Frankfurt, which had a stop-over in London. The Libyans deny the charges.

    The defense, which need only raise "reasonable doubt" in the minds of the three Scottish judges to secure an acquittal, aim to incriminate the PFLP-GC.

    Professor Fraser Davidson, a lecturer on evidence at Glasgow University, said the fact that Gauci did not positively identify al-Megrahi was not fatal to the prosecution's case.

    "The Crown doesn't have to prove that fact beyond reasonable doubt, so it is enough if the individual pieces as a whole fit together," he told Reuters.

    Davidson said the defense had some success in denting the Crown's attempt to build a case by getting Gauci to say his customer also closely resembled Abu Talb. But he added the defense would need to do more to positively incriminate Abu Talb.

    The trial of the two Libyans resumed Tuesday after a week-long break to allow prosecutors to examine last-minute defense witness statements. The two deny murdering the 270 people killed when New York-bound Pan Am flight 103 blew up on the evening of Dec. 21, 1988.