Clinton Did Not Raise Lockerbie Case in ‘Brief’ Meeting With Libyan Foreign Minister

By Patrick Goodenough | September 22, 2010 | 6:21 AM EDT

President Obama meets Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi at the G8 summit in L’Aquila, Italy on July 9, 2009. Gaddafi attended as chairman of the African Union. (AP Photo)

( – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held a 30-minute meeting with her Libyan counterpart in New York on Tuesday, but she did not bring up the case of Lockerbie bombing convict Abdel Baset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi.

State Department spokesman Philip Crowley confirmed on Tuesday evening that Clinton did not mention Megrahi during what he described as “a relatively brief meeting” with Foreign Minister Mussa Kussa.

Instead, the meeting, held in Clinton’s hotel on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, dealt with the situation in Sudan, the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and Libya’s “desire for broader relations,” he told reporters.

Until his appointment as foreign minister last year, Kussa (also transliterated as Kusa or Koussa) was head of the Libyan intelligence agency, a position he held since 1994, six years after the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Before that, according to published reports, Kussa was suspected of involvement in terror activity – including complicity in at least one airline bombing.

Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence agent, was found guilt in 2001 of murdering 270 people in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

He was sentenced to life imprisonment but Scottish authorities freed him in August 2009 “on compassionate grounds” after medical reports indicated he was dying of cancer. Megrahi is still alive, and a political storm erupted over the summer over allegations that his release was linked to lucrative oil deals in Libya.

In this photo taken Thursday, Aug. 20, 2009, Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, left, arrives in Tripoli, Libya, accompanied by Muammar Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam. (AP Photo, File)

At the time of Megrahi’s homecoming the Obama administration, which had urged against his release, appealed to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to ensure his reception was a low-key affair.

“Clearly, what happens when he returns to Libya will have an influence on the future direction of our [bilateral] relationship,” Crowley said at the time.

Megrahi received what was widely described as a “hero’s welcome” in Tripoli.

When Gaddafi attended the U.N. General Assembly a month later, Clinton and U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice pointedly vacated their seats in the chamber as he prepared to address the gathering.

But two months later, when Clinton met with Kussa for the first time – at a conference both attended in Morocco – the Lockerbie-Megrahi affair “did not come up,” Crowley said on November 3.

Neither did it come up at Tuesday’s meeting between the two in New York.

Asked whether this meant the U.S. government had “moved past the Megrahi issue,” Crowley told reporters that Libya was well aware of the U.S. concerns.

“We remain very unhappy that he is in Libya. We think he should still be in a Scottish prison. But that said, we had important interests to discuss with Libya,” he added, citing the Mideast peace talks and Sudan.

“So the Secretary did listen as the Libyans expressed their desire for broader relations, and we’ll continue to work with Libya on that.”

‘The most dangerous man in the world’

Kussa’s appointment last year as Gaddafi’s top diplomat was not without controversy. Back in 1980, he headed the Libyan diplomatic mission in London, but was expelled after reportedly threatening to kill British-based exiled opponents of the regime.

According to published accounts, Kussa played an important role in Libyan terrorism.

An 1992 Defense & Foreign Affairs’ Strategic Policy article on the various camps in the Libyan power structure listed Kussa among “the extremists,” and called him a “master of international terrorism, officially responsible for the Export of the Revolution.”

In his 1992 book Target America and the West, U.S. terror researcher Yossef Bodansky described Kussa as “a senior intelligence official who became Libya’s Vice Foreign Minister in charge of the Office for the Export of the Revolution.”

Bodansky said Kussa was put in charge of a project launched in 1986 to escalate terrorism in Western Europe and the U.S.

One year after Lockerbie. Libya was implicated in another terrorist atrocity, the bombing of a French airliner, UTA flight 772, over Niger in 1989.

In 1991, a respected French investigative judge issued arrest warrants for several Libyans suspected of involvement in the attack, which had cost 170 lives.

Judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere also asked Interpol to seek for questioning two additional Libyan officials, although no charges were brought against them. One was Kussa.

(A French court later sentenced six Libyans in absentia to life imprisonment for the UTA bombing. One of the six is Gaddafi’s brother-in-law.)

In a 2004 speech Yoram Schveitzer, a terror expert at Tel Aviv University’s Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, said that Kussa, during the 1980s, “used to lead the deployment of terror by Libya.”

In a January 2004 Washington Post article, former U.S. Senator and Democratic presidential hopeful Gary Hart wrote about having been approached by Libyan officials while in Europe in 1992.

Hart described spending two days in Tripoli, during which he was asked about the likelihood of a deal involving the handover of Megrahi and another Lockerbie bombing suspect in return for the lifting of U.N. sanctions.

Afterwards, Hart wrote, he had discussed the episode with a friend, Italian Foreign Minister Gianni De Michelis.

“I particularly asked about a tall, Westernized Libyan who then had the title of deputy foreign minister and who had been my constant escort in Tripoli. Gianni said: ‘This is Mussa Kusa. He is the most dangerous man in the world.’”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow