19 March 2006

Victims sue Gadaffi over IRA bombs


American court case targets Libya for supplying explosives that killed or maimed thousands

Henry McDonald, Ireland editor
Sunday March 19, 2006
The Observer

Victims of IRA atrocities are to sue the Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gadaffi and his government in what their lawyers say is the largest ever civil action involving terrorism in the UK.

Survivors of the attacks and relatives of those killed, from the UK and abroad, are seeking millions of pounds in compensation and an apology from Libya through courts in the United States. They claim that for more than three decades Libya supplied war materials that left their relatives dead or themselves scarred, physically and psychologically, for life.

Michelle Williamson, 40, whose parents Gillian and George were killed by the 1993 bomb in a fish shop in Belfast's Shankill Road, said: 'Libya can't wash its hands of responsibility. It's like the pub owner who knowingly supplies drink to a customer knowing he or she is going to drive home drunk. If that driver kills someone, the person who plied him or her with drink bears some responsibility.'

American Mark McDonald, 55, an oceanographer from Colorado, was peppered with shrapnel by an IRA bomb outside Harrods in west London in 1983. He spent 10 weeks in hospital and still has fragments lodged in his body. 'I see this action as part of making the world safer because it might make other states thinking of sponsoring terrorism think again,' he said.

The civil action, to be launched next month, is similar to that being pursued by relatives of victims of the 9/11 terror attacks in the US against rich Saudis accused of financing al-Qaeda.

Lawyers for the IRA victims say papers will be filed in New York or Washington DC for a 'spearhead group' of around 20 plaintiffs. Victims' groups hope hundreds more people from Northern Ireland, Britain, the US and beyond will join the class action, which targets Libya and named individuals associated with the regime's policy of sponsoring Irish terrorists. Lawyers say up to 6,000 people were killed or injured with Libyan supplied guns and explosives.

Among the individuals accused are Gadaffi himself and Nasser Ali Ashour, who in the mid-Eighties was third in command of Libyan intelligence and allegedly liaised directly with republican leaders including the South Armagh smuggler and former IRA chief of staff, Thomas 'Slab' Murphy. Gadaffi sent five huge arms shipments, - enough to supply at least two infantry battalions - to the IRA in the Eighties. Stung by Margaret Thatcher's logistical support for US air strikes against Libya, the Libyan leader authorised the smuggling operation that gave the IRA enough guns and explosives to wage war against Britain well into the 21st century.

Jason McCue, who is heading the case for the London-based legal firm H20, said: 'Libya sponsored the IRA. The IRA utilised their help to foster their terrorist campaign. Innocent people who got caught up in that campaign suffered dreadful losses. Libya wants in from the cold. They want to normalise into international commerce and society. They have to put their terrorist past behind them. But like anyone else they are accountable for their past actions. They need to settle their dues. This action is one avenue down which they can address such matters.

'Libya has paid compensation to the victims of Lockerbie. It is now being sued for sponsoring Middle East terrorism. It is time they addressed the IRA victims because it beggars belief that Libya has never even apologised to those victims.'

McCue and his team will use two separate American laws to pursue both the Libyan state and leading members of its ruling apparatus. As only US citizens can file claims against other nations, Americans caught up in IRA attacks will sue under the 1996 Foreign Sovereignty Immunity Act. British citizens will sue individuals through the Torture Victims Protection Act 1991. The case will be fought on a no win, no fee basis.

Semtex from Libya provided the main element of bombs such as the one that exploded on the Shankill Road in 1993, and small quantities of the colourless explosive also acted as 'boosters' for larger devices that devastated parts of London in the early Nineties. H20 is hoping victims of bombings such as those at Canary Wharf and in Manchester will join the class action in America.

A spokesman for the Libyan embassy in London said yesterday that the consul was unavailable for comment.

Case history

Michael Clarke, an American, was serving at the US naval base on Lough Foyle in Northern Ireland as a communications officer in the early Seventies. He was caught up in five terror attacks in Derry from 1971 to 1973. He returned to settle in the city five years ago and is now doing youth work for the Church of Ireland.

'The worst was the explosion at a bank on Strand Road in late 1973,' he said. 'I only avoided being killed because I walked back down the road to encourage a couple of friends of mine to hurry up and join us.

'I remember seeing this shop blowing up, the glass shattering everywhere, this huge bang. By that time I was already close to being a total wreck after the other attacks, including being caught in crossfire during an Army-IRA gun battle.

'After the bomb on Strand Road, though, I couldn't sleep. I was drinking heavily. I was getting angry all the time. I had lost many friends.

'Over the years the effect on my physical and mental health was slow burning. I was still on trauma courses right up to 1998.

'It even affected my desire to study for the ministry in the Presbyterian Church. I had to give that up because of all my problems. Many people like myself have been traumatised by being caught up in the violence. This legal action is one way to draw a line under the past.

'I hope others caught in the Troubles will join this action. I know of several cases involving young US servicemen.'

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