CAMP ZEIST, Netherlands, Jan. 31 -- Experts were surprised by the split verdict Wednesday in the trial of the two Libyans accused of the 1988 bombing of Pan American Flight 103, which exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people.
Three Scottish judges sitting in Camp Zeist, The Netherlands, issued a guilty verdict against Abdel Basset al-Megrahi but dismissed charges against Al-Amin Khalifa Fahima, who free to return home to Libya. Al-Megrahi faces life imprisonment in a Scottish prison. He has two weeks to appeal the decision and sentence.
In Washington, a senior FBI official made it clear the agency will continue to search for others involved in the crime.
"The FBI investigation is certainly not over," said Neil Gallagher, chief if the FBI's national security division. "We will continue to pursue this investigation until we find out the full and complete story."
"Nothing that I've seen or heard suggests that anyone believes Megrahi was acting by himself, and that this was not what it appears to be -- a terrorist operation directed by the Libyan External Security Organization," he said.
Gallagher was in charge of the FBI's counter-terrorism program when Pan Am Flight 103 was ripped apart by a bomb concealed in a radio cassette recorder. He said the bureau wants to interview Megrahi, but it is unclear if agents would be allowed to do so.
"I have mixed emotions," Gallagher added. "There's a sense of accomplishment" that the investigation by Scottish police and the FBI led to the indictments and a conviction. "At the same time, I have a sense of inadequacy, because as I looked at the family membersyou're left with the realization that 270 were unnecessarily murdered."
In the trial that began on May 3 last year, the two Libyans were accused of planting a bomb inside a suitcase, then smuggling it onto a flight from the Mediterranean island of Malta to Frankfurt, Germany. From there, the suitcase was tagged to transfer to London, where it joined Pan Am Flight 103.
Most experts had been predicting a verdict of "not proven," the Scottish legal version of insufficient evidence. Instead, the court convicted one and not the other.
One Washington-based European diplomat familiar with the case called the sentence "a Solomonic decision," meaning that the judges seemed to be following King Solomon's example in trying to be even-handed. But another observer said the verdict seemed to have political overtones.
Watching the proceedings via satellite were many relatives of those killed in the terror attack. Special television viewing rooms had been set up in Dumfries, Scotland; London, New York and Washington. The U.S. Office for the Victims of Crime paid for the televised links to New York and Washington.
Technical problems kept them from hearing the sound of the verdicts as they were announced, and they had to wait for a telephone call from the Netherlands to learn that one man will serve a minimum of 20 years and a maximum of life.
Reactions were mixed.
Carole Johnson of Greensburg, Pa., lost her 21-year-old daughter Beth Ann Johnson -- returning from a semester abroad at Regents College in London -- in the bombing.
"We are not too hopeful for help from our government. The only reason we had a trial was the persistence of the families," she told WCBS-AM radio in New York, reflecting the frustration that has dogged many of the victim's families. "Watching this trial unfold just added to our feeling that the government was not interested. They want to have that oil flowing again, (and) 189 dead Americans are expendable."
Daniel Cohen, who lost his only child, 20-year-old Theodora, a student at Syracuse University in New York, watched the verdict on television in his living room in New Jersey. He and his wife, Susan, moved from their Port Jervis, N.Y., house to escape the memories of the home where their daughter had grown up.
"I thought I was prepared for anything, but I'm more overcome than I thought I would be," he said. "Even this verdict points the finger in the right place. I am tremendously relieved. It's what I wanted. Both would have been better, but the important thing is that the Libyan government has been indicted in this thing.
"Thank God, the whole thing didn't end in nothing," Cohen told WCBS-AM. "But nothing can replace the loss of a child, and this chapter in my life will never be closed."
Thirty-five other Syracuse University students who had attended a semester abroad were returning to the United States on the ill-fated flight.
The trial, the largest in Scottish legal history, has also been the most costly -- estimated at nearly $88 million. An appeal could cost another $3 million per month. The court heard 84 days of evidence from 230 witnesses, resulting in 10,232 pages of court transcripts covering more than 3 million words.
Among those testifying was a Libyan defector who testified that al-Megrahi had worked for Libyan intelligence, and that Fahima was an official of Libyan Airlines in Malta.
Some observers said al-Meghrahi's intelligence background implicated the Libyan government in the bombing by association, but the Gadhafi regime has always denied complicity.
In an interview with CNN, Jack Flynn, whose son was one of the victims of the bombing, said he was happy with the verdict because of the amount of evidence against Megrahi; he said the case against Fhimah was not as decisive.
"I have spent the last nine months going to the trial every day, gathering and looking at all the evidence. I felt Megrahi was definitely, both of them were involved, we had the evidence to convict Megrahi. Thank God the judges agreed with me."
Flynn recounted the evidence against Megrahi, pointing out that the accused bought the timer used on the bomb, and clothes placed in the suitcase that carried the device. Flynn pointed out that Megrahi was a major in the Libyan intelligence agency.
There were screams in the court Wednesday and Jim Swire, leader of a British Lockerbie families' group, was carried out after collapsing moments after the verdicts; he returned soon afterward. Fhimah bowed briefly to the judges as the verdict was read and then was led out of the courtroom.
In Tripoli, a spokesman for Libya's foreign ministry said the Libyan government respected the decision. Court sources said the verdict meant that Fhimah was free to leave the Netherlands, where he was taken along with Megrahi as part of a deal brokered between the United Nations and Libya.
However, supporters of the victims' families said the two men could face further legal action, including civil action in the United States. Campaign groups welcomed the verdict, but pointed out that the convicted Libyan was possibly the lowest link in a chain of command leading up to Gadhafi.
The White House, in a statement shortly after the verdict was announced, hailed the court's decision, but said the Libyan government must accept responsibility and compensate the victims' families.
"The United States and the United Kingdom have made clear to the government of Libya that the delivery of a verdict against the suspects in the Pan Am 103 trial does not in itself signify an end to U.N. sanctions against Libya," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "U.N. Security Council resolutions call on Libya to satisfy certain requirements, including compensation to the victims' families and the acceptance of responsibility for this act of terrorism, before U.N. sanctions will be removed.
"The government of Libya has not yet satisfied these requirements," he said.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair also said he expected Libya to pay financial compensation to the victims' families as a result of the judgment.
"You can't replace your child," Flynn added. "What I'm really looking for at this point in time is that our government tries to make sure that terrorist nations don't do these kinds of things, especially to Americans, because there an awful lot of hatred against American other parts of the world. God knows for what reason.
"We've got to somehow stop these countries and these terrorists from doing these types of things. And I hope that we take some action to make sure that Libya and any other terrorist country never does anything like this again."
Libya, which said it had "cooperated effectively" in the investigations and trial, called for the removal of U.S. and U.N. sanctions imposed in 1989, when the Gadhafi regime was refusing to hand over the two suspects for trial.
U.N. sanctions, including a ban on commercial flights in and out of Libya, were suspended a year ago. Observers said it would require a Security Council vote to re-impose them, and that appeared unlikely. But the United States' sanctions were still in force, banning U.S. companies from doing business in Libya and barring travel by Americans to that country.
"Certainly, the conviction today shows that the Free World is not going to accept terrorism, that we recognize the impact on the unfortunate victims of terrorism," FBI official Gallagher said.
"I looked into the eyes of the victims' families today ... The United States government will pursue these acts until we know the complete story and we bring to justice all those responsible. We'll stay with it until we find out everyone who was involved and bring those responsible to justice."