Libya bombing resounds for Lockerbie kin

Still in pain, some see no end to bloody cycle

Jeannine Boulanger, with a photo of her daughter Nicole, who died on the 1988 flight that exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland. Jeannine Boulanger, with a photo of her daughter Nicole, who died on the 1988 flight that exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland. (Yoon S. Byun/ Globe Staff)
By Farah Stockman
Globe Staff / March 22, 2011

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WASHINGTON — Sometimes, the television images of US planes attacking the defenses of Libyan leader Moammar Khadafy give Jeannine Boulanger a feeling of satisfaction. At other moments, she feels dread.

Boulanger, of Shrewsbury, holds Khadafy personally responsible for the death of her 21-year-old daughter, a college student on the Pan American Airways flight that exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. Few Americans would welcome the news of Khadafy’s demise more than she.

But she also has paid dearly for the tit-for-tat violence that the United States and Libya have carried out against each other for decades, and fears that the US attack on Libya will spark another cycle of revenge.

“I’m feeling reasonably sure that there will be some retaliation for this,’’ she said. “The mentality seems to be an eye for an eye.’’

Libyan agents bombed the Pan Am 103 flight, killing all 259 people on board and 11 others on the ground, in apparent retaliation for President Reagan’s decision to attack Khadafy’s compound in Tripoli in 1986, which killed about 100 Libyans, including Khadafy’s baby daughter.

That US attack, in turn, had been retaliation for the bombing of a disco in Germany that killed two American servicemen. Libyan secret service agents planted the bomb in the German disco as revenge for the US sinking of a Libyan patrol boat two weeks earlier, a German court found.

And now the conflict has reached a new stage.

Eleanor Bright of Dover, whose husband died in the Pan Am explosion and crash, says she doesn’t know how to stop the cycle of violence.

“I don’t think you can,’’ she said. “I think Khadafy is either crazy or he is so arrogant that he really believes his people love him. He is not going to go anywhere.’’

Seeing Khadafy’s face on the news every night has been a surreal experience for Bright, who was widowed at age 32, when her son was only 1 year old. Her husband, a manager with Boston-based Bain & Co., was traveling home for Christmas from a business meeting in London. In an instant, he was gone.

Khadafy “changed my life, he changed my son’s life, in a way that cannot be fixed,’’ Bright said. “And when I see that he treats his own countrymen — using them as human shields, saying he will use every last bullet to squash this rebellion — it’s like, ‘Well, of course.’ It’s not really surprising to me. In a weird way, it may almost be a little bit of a vindication because I have felt that this man is a terrorist and a murderer and evil, and now the whole world is beginning to see the truth.’’

Members of the close-knit group of Pan Am families follow the news as if their fate is inextricably linked to the Libyan regime.

“It’s definitely personal,’’ said John Cory of Mystic, Conn., whose son was killed on the Pan Am flight. “It brings everything back again. We need to get rid of this man. He murdered my son. I want to see him put down.’’

Since the explosion, the Pan Am families, who started a nonprofit group to support one another and push for justice, have attended so many meetings and anniversaries together that they have forged a special bond. When Cory and his wife, Doris, had to move to Massachusetts for work, they moved to Shrewsbury, a half mile from the Boulangers. Meanwhile, Bright and another widow who lost her husband on the Pan Am flight have spent so many summer vacations together that their two sons are often mistaken for brothers.

Since 1988, the families have turned their private grief into a public crusade for sanctions against Libya and for better airline safety. They lived through two trials of suspected perpetrators — one acquittal and one conviction. They watched on television in 2009 as Scottish authorities released convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, on the grounds that he had terminal cancer. They traded shocked e-mails and phone calls when Megrahi received a hero’s welcome back in Libya, and outraged messages when they read news reports about how he is still alive in Libya, living in luxury.

In recent years, Khadafy tried to repair his image by accepting responsibility for the Lockerbie attack, even paying about $2.7 billion in compensation to victims’ families, and renouncing nuclear weapons. Some of the families hoped he had changed, paving the way for a brighter future for Libya. But the wave of violence against protesters has dashed those hopes, they said.

“We know what a bad person he is. He is a murderer,’’ John Cory said. “If he is not removed, he can make all kinds of promises, but he won’t deliver. Time will go by and he will slowly get back at all the people who spoke out against him by murdering them and we may or may not know he is doing it.’’

Cory said that bombing Libya but leaving Khadafy in power will only invite another attack, like the one that killed his son back in 1988.

“We just threw some bombs at a building and then walked away. What does that accomplish?’’ he said, of Reagan’s 1986 bombing of Tripoli. “My personal opinion is that we should finish the job. . . . At this point, I don’t think it’s responsible to turn back.’’

Cory did not have detailed views about what should happen if Libya descends into a prolonged civil war, except that the United States should not send ground troops.

“The Libyan people should determine their own future,’’ he said, “and that’s not possible when he is in power.’’

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