The Libyan Connection

November 15, 1991

President Reagan bombed Libya in 1986 on less solid evidence of state-sponsored terrorism than the Justice Department and Scottish police have gathered in a remarkably tenacious joint investigation of the monstrous bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 with 270 deaths over Lockerbie, Scotland, on Dec. 21, 1988.

A station chief and ranking officer of Libyan intelligence have been indicted in the U.S. and charged in Britain, with a detailed account provided of how they did it. The British have handed warrants for their arrest to Libyan diplomats in New York. This comes two weeks after a French investigating magistrate accused four Libyans, including two very senior government officials, in the related bombing of a French airliner over the Sahara with 170 deaths on Sept. 19, 1989.

Under American law of dubious international legality, the U.S. gives itself authority to kidnap persons so charged. On occasion it has done so, though it admits no authority of other sovereignties to do the same in the U.S. So the stage is set for tense confrontation between the U.S. and Libya.

If the 1986 U.S. bombing of Tripoli was meant to deter Libya's Muammar el Kadafi from further terrorism, the indictment suggests it was counter-productive. Rather, it created in him a thirst for revenge. A diplomatic and economic stranglehold is what is called for now. The accusations in the two airliner atrocities come as Libya is working out of its long isolation in the Arab world. Giving up its mass murderers to justice should be the price for readmission to the community of nations.

International terrorism is actually diminishing. Sanctuary for terrorists is vanishing. The Soviet Union and its former satellites no longer provide training, sanctuary or funding. Czechoslovakia has taken Semtex, the undetectable plastic explosive used in the two airliner destructions, off the market. Former Arab financing sources have dried up. Libya, Syria and Iran remain suspect governments, and of them only Syria is working to get back in the good graces of Western governments it previously had scorned.

Scottish and U.S. authorities insist that their investigation of the Lockerbie atrocity is not completed. Already the British, French and American fingers are pointing at Mr. Kadafi. The world is becoming less hospitable to terrorism and its perpetrators. The proper recourse for Washington now is not to bomb Tripoli again but to maintain relentless pressure on the dictator to disgorge the fugitives for justice. Libya is a pariah state until he does so.

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