Lockerbie trial delayed after surfacing of "sensitive" evidence

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The Independent Online

In a mysterious twist in the Lockerbie bombing trial, prosecutors sought an unexpected adjournment Monday to investigate new evidence of "considerable sensitivity."

In a mysterious twist in the Lockerbie bombing trial, prosecutors sought an unexpected adjournment Monday to investigate new evidence of "considerable sensitivity."

Scottish judges at the special court in the Netherlands agreed to postpone hearings until Oct. 17 after hearing four witnesses on Tuesday. Monday's session was then abruptly adjourned for the day.

"On the afternoon of Wednesday Oct. 4 the Crown (prosecution) received certain information from a country - not the United States - which is relevant to the evidence in this case," prosecutor Colin Boyd told the court.

The information was of such a sensitive nature, Boyd added, that proceedings could not continue until further inquiries were conducted.

"The matters raised by this information are of some complexity and considerable sensitivity. They relate not to the Crown case but to the defense case," he added.

Two alleged Libyan intelligence agents who were based in Malta are on trial for putting an explosives-packed suitcase on board an Air Malta flight tagged for transfer to Pan Am Flight 103 at Frankfurt, Germany. The suitcase exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, on Dec. 21, 1988, killing 270 people on board and on the ground.

The defendants, Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, have pleaded innocent. The defense has said Palestinian terrorist groups were responsible for the blast, not Libyan intelligence.

The fourth delay since hearings began comes at a crucial point of the trial. An Egyptian-born Palestinian serving a life sentence for bombing U.S. and Jewish targets in Europe, Mohammed Abu Talb, had been expected to testify Monday when the prosecution made the surprise request for an adjournment.

Abu Talb, who will now testify after Oct. 17, was an early suspect in the investigations, before the focus shifted to Libya. The defense hopes he will support its assertion of Palestinian responsibility.

Abu Talb, who was brought from his prison in Sweden to testify, has denied involvement. He had been expected to be the last major witness called by the prosecution before it winds up its case.

It was unclear which country had provided the new information or if it is directly related to Abu Talb's testimony.

Boyd said the after reviewing the data Thursday "certain inquiries were carried out at a very senior level." Those inquiries will take considerable time to complete, he said.