Lockerbie bombing: 35th anniversary of UK's deadliest terrorist attack

By John Mercury December 21, 2023

Today marks 35 years since the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 – and a series of events will take place in memory of those who died.

When the Boeing 747 exploded over the Scottish town of Lockerbie, it killed all 259 passengers and crew on board and 11 people on the ground.

The bombing – which took place on 21 December 1988 as the plane made its way from London to New York – remains the UK’s worst terrorist attack.

BLACK AND WHITE ONLY: File photo dated 22/12/88 of the wrecked nose section of the Pan-Am Boeing 747 in Lockerbie, near Dumfries.
Pan Am flight 103 was travelling from London to New York when it exploded over Lockerbie

A policeman stands guard over houses damaged in the Pan Am Boeing 747 Lockerbie crash, which killed all 258 on board and 17 people on the ground.
A policeman standing guard over houses damaged in the bombing

The Dumfries and Galloway town will mark the 35th anniversary of the tragedy on Thursday with a series of events.

Lockerbie Academy will host its annual remembrance assembly.

A small number of pupils will then take part in a rose-laying ceremony at Dryfesdale Cemetery at 11.30am. They will be accompanied by a remembrance scholar from Syracuse University who will be representing the 35 students from Syracuse who were killed in the disaster.

Wreaths and floral tributes left during the commemoration service in the Memorial Garden at Dryfesdale Cemetery in Lockerbie to mark the 30th anniversary of the Lockerbie bombing.
Wreaths and floral tributes at Dryfesdale Cemetery on the tragedy’s 30th anniversary in 2018

A number of public events have also been organised and all those wishing to take part are warmly invited to attend.

10am: Communal wreath-laying and remembrance service at Tundergarth Church.
•​​​​​​​ 11.45am: Communal wreath-laying at Dryfesdale Cemetery.
•​​​​​​​ 12.15pm: Communal wreath-laying at Sherwood Crescent.
•​​​​​​​ 12.45pm: Communal wreath-laying at Rosebank Crescent.
7pm: Mass at Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church. A service will also take place at Hendricks Chapel at Syracuse University and can be watched online.

Lockerbie Town Hall will be open between 10am and 8pm, where light refreshments will be available. Soup will also be served between 1pm and 2.30pm.

The Remembrance Room at Tundergarth Church and Dryfesdale Lodge Visitor Centre will remain open throughout the day, and both offer a wealth of information surrounding the disaster.

First Minister Humza Yousaf has marked the anniversary by paying tribute to all those who lost their life in the disaster.

He added: “My thoughts are also with the emergency workers who responded in the immediate aftermath of the atrocity.

“Their rapid response along with the people of Lockerbie while facing extraordinary circumstances demonstrated extreme kindness and humanity in the face of such horrific events.

“While those lost on that night can never be replaced, and the events have had a lasting impact on the town, I know links were forged following the disaster between Lockerbie and other communities that continue to this day, including the Syracuse University scholarship programme with Lockerbie Academy.

“The strength and compassion that both the victims’ families and the community of Lockerbie have shown has created a legacy of friendship and ensured that the memory of those who died lives on.”

The Stone of Remembrance at the Memorial Garden, Dryfesdale Cemetery, in Lockerbie, as people prepare to mark the 30th anniversary of the Lockerbie bombing.
The Stone of Remembrance within the Memorial Garden at Dryfesdale Cemetery

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Key dates in the three decades since the Lockerbie bombing:

21 December 1988: Pan Am flight 103 explodes over Lockerbie in Scotland, killing 270 people – 259 on board and 11 on the ground.

Undated file handout photo issued by the Crown Office of the late Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. Nelson Mandela's attempts to act as an intermediary over the Lockerbie bombing led to friction with Blair's Labour government, according to newly-released official documents. Files released to the National Archives at Kew, west London, showed officials in No 10 feared the former South African president's efforts to act as a go between with the Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi were "unli
Abdelbaset al Megrahi

January 2001: Following a trial at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands, Libyan intelligence officer Abdelbaset al Megrahi is found guilty of mass murder and jailed for life. Co-accused Lamin Khalifah Fhimah is found not guilty.

A newsagent displays the outcome of the Lockerbie trial in Lockerbie. Libyan Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi was found guilty of the Lockerbie bombing, the biggest single act of mass murder in British history. *... But co-defendant Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah was found not guilty of the bombing. Three Scottish judges delivered unanimous verdicts on the two men at the specially-constructed Scottish court at Camp Zeist in Holland. The two Libyans were accused of causing the Lockerbie disaster and the
A newsagent displaying the outcome of the Lockerbie trial

August 2003: Libya accepts blame for the bombing and agrees to compensate victims’ families.

March 2004: Then prime minister Tony Blair offers Colonel Muammar Gaddafi “the hand of friendship” following talks with the Libyan leader in a tent outside Tripoli. The UK and Libya go on to sign a memorandum of understanding, with a commitment to negotiate a prisoner transfer agreement (PTA).

British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi ahead of their talks in Tripoli. Mr Blair's visit follows Libya's agreement in December to dismantle its WMD programme and its acceptance of responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing and the murder of Wpc Yvonne Fletcher.
Tony Blair and Muammar Gaddafi in 2004

May 2007: Oil giant BP and the Libyan government sign an exploration and production sharing agreement.

June 2007: The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) recommends Megrahi is granted a second appeal against his conviction after the first, in 2002, was refused.

December 2007: It is revealed the UK government has decided not to exclude Megrahi from the PTA.

September 2008: Megrahi is diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer.

Aisha Al Megrahi, wife of the Lockerbie bomber Adbeldbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi with his son Khalid during a candle-lit vigil to highlight alleged miscarriages of justice outside the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh.
Megrahi’s wife and son during a candle-lit vigil outside Holyrood in 2008

May 2009: The Libyan government submits an application to the Scottish government for Megrahi’s transfer under the PTA, followed by an application for release on compassionate grounds.

August 2009: Then Scottish justice secretary Kenny MacAskill announces Megrahi is to be freed from Greenock Prison and returned to his home country on compassionate grounds. The UK and the US condemn the “hero’s welcome” given to Megrahi as he arrives in Tripoli to cheering crowds.

A convoy carrying Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi arrives at Glasgow Airport, for a plane bound for Tripoli, after he was released on compassionate grounds by Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill.
Megrahi arriving at Glasgow Airport in 2009 after being released from Greenock Prison on compassionate grounds

Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi climbs the steps of a plane at Glasgow Airport, bound for Tripoli, after he was released on compassionate grounds by Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill.
Megrahi leaving Glasgow for Tripoli

September 2009: Then UK justice secretary Jack Straw acknowledges the prospect of trade and oil deals with Libya was “a very big part” of his decision to include Megrahi in the PTA.

July 2011: Megrahi appears in a televised pro-government rally in Libya and says his conviction was the result of a “conspiracy”.

October 2011: Gaddafi, the deposed leader of Libya following an uprising, is killed by rebels.

May 2012: Megrahi dies at home in Tripoli aged 60.

December 2013: The UK, US and Libyan governments vow to cooperate to reveal “the full facts” of the bombing.

An aerial view showing part of the wreckage of Pan Am Flight 103 which is now kept in the corner of a salvage yard near Tattershall, Lincolnshire.
An aerial view of some of the plane wreckage recovered, which was kept in a Lincolnshire salvage yard

June 2014: Six members of Megrahi’s family join forces with 24 British relatives of those who died in the atrocity to seek another appeal against his conviction in the Scottish courts.

December 2014: Scotland’s then top prosecutor, lord advocate Frank Mulholland, reaffirms Megrahi’s guilt and pledges to track down his accomplices.

July 2015: Scottish judges rule relatives of the victims of the bombing should not be allowed to pursue an appeal on Megrahi’s behalf.

October 2015: Scottish prosecutors announce they want two Libyans they have identified as suspects to be interviewed by police.

July 2017: Megrahi’s family lodges a new bid to appeal against his conviction, five years after his death.

May 2018: The SCCRC says a full review of Megrahi’s case will be carried out to decide whether a fresh appeal against conviction can be made.

November 2018: A police investigation finds no evidence of criminality in relation to the handling of the Lockerbie investigation and prosecution.

March 2019: It’s revealed the Crown Office questioned retired Stasi agents over the bombing, examining the possible role of the East German intelligence service in the tragedy.

March 2020: The SCCRC rules a fresh appeal is to be allowed, and refers the case to the High Court of Justiciary.

June 2020: The appeal against the conviction of Megrahi is formally lodged at the High Court.

November 2020: A crowdfunder is launched to help pay for the appeal. It then begins at the High Court in Edinburgh, sitting as the Court of Appeal, and lasts three days.

December 2020: The US charges a “third conspirator” in connection with the Lockerbie bombing, on the 32nd anniversary of the atrocity.

January 2021: Judges reject both grounds of appeal, meaning Megrahi’s conviction stands.

December 2022: Third suspect – Libyan Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir al Marimi – is taken into US custody and appears at Washington DC federal courthouse accused of being the bombmaker.

Still of Abu Agila Mas’ud attached. Released by Alexandria Sheriff’s Office.
Credit: Alexandria Sheriff's Office.
Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir al Marimi. Pic: Alexandria Sheriff’s Office.

December 2023: Marimi remains in US custody awaiting trial.

A new Sky documentary tells the story of Britain’s deadliest terrorist atrocity.

Lockerbie is available to watch on Sky Documentaries and Now.


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