They are charged with murdering 170 passengers and crew, including four Britons, on UTA flight UT 772 from Brazzaville to Paris on 19 September 1989. Prosecutors say Libya orchestrated the attack as part of its territorial war with French-backed Chad in the Seventies and Eighties. But hostilities were nearly settled at the time.
There are superficial similarities with the explosion of PanAm 103 over Lockerbie the previous December, an attack also blamed on Libya.
But there are many differences in the techniques and organisation of the bombings. The French authorities appear to have established aclearer Libyan connection with the UTA explosion than have international investigators in the Lockerbie case.
Charles Norrie, 47, whose brother Tony died on the French plane, said yesterday: "For the Libyans to be involved in both, you'd have to believe that, at almost exactly the same time, they had two different kinds of explosives, two different kinds of detonators, two different sets of personnel, almost two different secret services." Mr Norrie, a civil party in the case with access to all court documents, says he is convinced the French judicial investigation has correctly identified the culprits. He believes a much less complete case exists against Libya for the Lockerbie bombing.
But the United Nations hasimposed sanctions on Tripoli for its failure to send two security officials to an international trial in The Hague over the PanAm 103 bombing, and for refusing to send the six UT 772 accused to the Paris trial.
The UTA six include Abdallah Senoussi, deputy head of the Libyan external security service, and brother-in-law of Colonel Gaddafi. He is accused of organising the plot to destroy the French plane, for motives which remain unclear.
One theory is that the Libyan secret services believed, wrongly, that a political opponent was aboard. An investigation by France's leading anti-terrorist judge, Jean-Louis Bruguiere, has pointed to Apollinaire Mangatany, a Congolese dissident manipulated by Libya, as the possibly unwitting carrier of the bomb that destroyed the UTA DC10.
Prosecutors say two Libyan agents gave him a Samsonite suitcase containing explosives, either not telling him its contents, or promising he could leave the aircraft at a stopover before the bomb was due to explode.
The German detonator was traced to a batch of 100 sold to the Libyan government. The suitcase was the same type presented to French authorities by Tripoli in a clumsy attempt to prove Libyan dissidents planted the bomb.
Paris saw this as proof that the Libyan security services had suitcases of the kind that exploded over Chad.Reuse content