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.
There are superficial similarities with the explosion of Pan Am 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.
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 has imposed sanctions on Tripoli for its failure to send two security officials to an international trial in The Hague over the Pan Am flight 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.
One theory for the bombing 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 in a Samsonite suitcase containing explosives.
The German detonator was traced to a batch of 100 sold to the Libyan government.Reuse content