Many of the victims’ relatives expressed cautious optimism about the interviews, which took place Thursday.
“I can’t imagine he’s going to implicate himself in the bombing, but he could give definitive evidence that Gaddafi is behind Lockerbie,” said Brian Flynn, a New York resident whose 21-year-old brother, J.P., was one of the victims.
“I think he is a potent source of information,” said Jim Swire, a British doctor who lost his 24-year-old daughter, Flora, in the attack. “But we should be extremely careful to interpret what he says,” said Swire, noting that Britain has repeatedly insisted that Kusa has not been offered immunity from prosecution.
Kusa, who was Libya’s intelligence chief for 15 years before becoming foreign minister in 2009, is the most senior official to defect from the Gaddafi regime since Libya’s uprising began in February. He has not been seen publicly since he arrived in Britain last week but reportedly is at a safe house.
Kusa is said to have played a vital role in the repatriation of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the only person convicted on charges relating to the Lockerbie bombing. Megrahi was released from a Scottish prison in 2009 on compassionate grounds after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
No one has ever claimed to have authorized the attack, and conspiracy theories abound about who is responsible for the attack. The case remains open despite Megrahi’s conviction.
Jim Murdoch, a professor of public law at the University of Glasgow, said Scottish investigators will also be trying to uncover the nature of Kusa’s relationship with Megrahi and “the extent to which there is some form of criminal responsibility tied in with all of that.”
It is “improbable but not impossible” that Kusa could be convicted in a new trial, Murdoch said. “If he were to confess, the prosecution would still have to produce other evidence before a conviction is possible.”
Analysts say that Kusa probably also has vital intelligence about other atrocities committed by Libya before it began repairing relations with the West in 2003.
Downplaying any revelations that might emerge, Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam told the BBC on Tuesday that Kusa was “sick and old” and prone to inventing “funny” stories about Lockerbie in hopes of securing immunity.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary described Kusa as “my channel of communication to the regime” in recent weeks, and he was reportedly instrumental in negotiations with Tony Blair’s government when Libya publicly disclosed and dismantled its weapons of mass destruction.
Others paint Kusa as an icy operator with blood on his hands. Labor Party members of Parliament have asked that he be questioned over arms shipments to the Irish Republican Army and the murder of British police constable Yvonne Fletcher, who was shot dead outside the Libyan Embassy in 1984.
Kusa was expelled from Britain in 1980 after telling a Times of London reporter that he approved of the Gaddafi government’s plans to kill Libyan dissidents. The Daily Mail greeted Kusa’s defection last week with the headline: “Up to his eyeballs in murder. . . Gaddafi’s fingernail-puller-in-chief.”
On Monday, the United States lifted financial sanctions on Kusa in a bid to encourage others to abandon the Gaddafi regime, and British officials are seeking to do the same.
Legal experts say that Kusa has a case for asylum in Britain as long as Gaddafi remains in power but that his refugee status would not prevent his extradition to other countries to stand trial. In France, the families of the victims of a 1989 bombing of a French plane over Niger have called for Kusa to be brought to Paris for questioning.
If interviews with current or defected Libyan officials help to zero in on who authorized the Lockerbie bombing, it will be a significant breakthrough for a case that has beguiled investigators for nearly 23 years.
“If a book was written on Lockerbie, every chapter would have a ‘on the one hand, on the other hand,’ . . . every chapter would throw up obfuscation,” said Murdoch, the Scottish law professor. “But we may possibly, at long last, have some answers sitting somewhere in England.”