Gadhafi's death resonates with Lockerbie relatives

October 23, 2011 - 3:40 PM
Libya Lockerbie Families

FILE - This Dec. 22, 1988 file photo shows Police and investigators look at what remains of the flight deck of Pan Am 103 on a field in Lockerbie, Scotland. Moammar Gadhafi’s death on Oct. 20, 2011, resonates with the families who had loved ones on the airliner who held Gadhafi responsible for sanctioning the 1988 bombing that killed 270 people. (AP Photo/File)

CHERRY HILL, N.J. (AP) — For decades, Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi was seen as an international villain, but for Susan Cohen he was a personal enemy, one she read up on daily for more than 20 years.

Her 20-year-old daughter was one of the 270 people — many of them New York and New Jersey residents — killed when Pam Am Flight 103 was blown out of the sky by a terrorist bomb over the Scottish town of Lockerbie on Dec. 21, 1988, allegedly at Gadhafi's behest.

"This was sort of like Dracula: Is Dracula really dead?" said Cohen, of Cape May Court House, N.J. "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."

She said she intended to celebrate his death with an expensive bottle of champagne.

Like the relatives of many of those killed on Flight 103, Cohen was an ordinary citizen who became an activist on Libya, terrorism, international law and diplomacy after the attack.

Some, like Cohen, even attended the trial in the Netherlands of Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, who was convicted as the mastermind of the attack. They were outraged in 2009 when he was released to Libya from British captivity in 2009 on humanitarian grounds as he was supposedly close to death — and have remained angry that he's still alive two years later.

To some of them, his return implied that Britain was siding more with Gadhafi than with the victims of the bombing. In London on Thursday, 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 Gadhafi's victims," he said. "We should also remember the many, many people who died at the hands of this brutal dictator and his regime."

Ali Aujali, the Libyan National Transitional Council's ambassador to the U.S., told CNN that he didn't think transitional leaders would want al-Megrahi returned to Scotland. "I saw the last photo of him. He is a very sick man," Aujali said.

Many families of the attack victims had longed for the dictator's downfall — or death, which at times seemed imminent during the uprising in Libya but took until Thursday to happen.

"I never thought I would see the day this man, this coward, would no longer be part of the world population," said Bert Ammerman, of River Vale, N.J., whose brother Tom died in the bombing. "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."

But the dictator's death does not close the book on the bombing for Kara Weipz, whose 20-year-old brother, Syracuse University student Richard Monetti, was one of its victims.

"Ultimately, the one thing I hope is he had evidence on him," said Weipz, who lives in Mount Laurel, N.J. "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."

Two weeks ago, Weipz and her father, Bob Monetti, of Cherry Hill, opened a nursery school using funds he received in Gadhafi's monetary settlement with the victims' families, a deal reached years after the bombing.

Monetti said Gadhafi's death doesn't bring justice. "There are a number of people who were involved in the bombing who have not been arrested or captured," he said.

Lisa Gibson, of Colorado Springs, Colo., lost her 20-year-old brother, Ken, in the bombing. She noted that Gadhafi could have stepped down when the Libyan unrest began.

"I think that it's kind of a bittersweet day to see him die in this way," she said. "I think it's unfortunate, but I do believe that at least now, the person that we believe is responsible for Lockerbie is dead and that person who's responsible for all the atrocities in Libya is dead."

Word of Gadhafi's demise was met joyously by members of Southern California's small and scattered Libyan-American community. Most have lives in the U.S. and will not return to Libya, but all have friends or relatives there.

"Every family that I know is happy. We were calling each other at 4:30 this morning ... congratulating each other," Idris Traina, 62, of Torrance, president of the Libyan-American Association of Southern California.

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Parry reported from Point Pleasant, N.J. Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Shawn Marsh and Larry Rosenthal in Trenton, N.J., Robert Jablon in Los Angeles, P. Solomon Banda in Colorado Springs, and David Stringer in London.