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Fri August 21, 2009
Explosives expert 'blows a fuse' on bomber release
By Charles Compton
Frankfort, KY – Thursday's release of the only person convicted in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 outrages explosives expert Tom Thurman. In 1988, Thurman was among the Americans in Lockerbie, Scotland to investigate the bombing. The Kentuckian says freeing Abdel Baset al-Megrahi is "a travesty." Kentucky Public Radio's Charles Compton has more Tom Thurman spent Christmas Eve, 1988 hiking the picturesque hills of Scotland. However, the scene was not reminiscent of a Christmas card. A few days earlier, on December 21st, a Boeing 747 exploded 31-thousand feet above Lockerbie.
Thurman: "That's where the wing had hit the ground, exploded, killing people on the ground, creating a huge firestorm, a lot of houses were burned. Looked like it had been actually a bombing raid, from an airplane, dropping bombs and destroying part of the city."
As an FBI explosives expert, Thurman was among the investigators sent to Scotland by the National Transportation Safety Board. He spent two days hiking the crash site because every available aircraft was at work transporting the bodies of 270 people
Thurman: "You may look in a field, and let's say, there's only a row of seats laying in the field. That's it. That's all that you could see in one look until you walk over the next little hill and there's some more debris, and then you walk over the next hill and there's a little bit more debris until you get to a high, a plateau and then you can see a line of debris. Not a lot. Just a piece here, a piece there, a piece there."
Investigators were collecting wreckage. Thurman says debris was spread out of 845 square miles. Eventually, they gathered enough to reconstruct the jetliner. The recovered debris proved decisive.
Within a few days, Thurman was presented with a piece of wreckage which showed all the earmarks of a bomb.
Thurman: "On the 24th, that was in fact determined, and it was a piece of metal. And, say okay, where did this piece of metal come from? In the beginning of working back. It was determined that piece of metal came from a baggage container a baggage pod that was in the belly of the plane."
Through the reconstruction, they pinpointed explosion's source. The bomb was inside luggage which originated on the Mediterranean island of Malta. They even found fragments of pants which investigators traced to a clothing store on Malta. It was a salesman there named Tony who identified the purchaser as Abdel Baset al-Megrahi.
Thurman: "Tony says, and I'll paraphrase, I remember someone coming in here and I'm certain that he bought this type of pants. And it appeared to me that he was just buying clothes to fill a suitcase and that was his exact words."
Megrahi was an intelligence officer working for the Libyan government. In the end, he was the only person convicted in the murders of 270 people. In a diplomatic deal with Libya, he was extradited along with an alleged accomplice who was not convicted. In Thurman's opinion, it was clearly state-sponsored terrorism and he's frustrated many culprits escaped justice.
As for Megrahi, he may be dying of prostate cancer, but, Thurman strongly feels he still belongs in jail. Mostly, though, he sympathizes with the people who lost loved ones in the terror attack .
Thurman: "I can't even imagine the anguish that they're going through on this day. And I am sure that they're reliving today, the day that they were told that their loved ones were dead. It's starting all over again."
With Megrahi now home in Libya. As for the survivors, Thurman says there is no longer closure there is no moving on.