UTA Flight 772
UTA Flight 772 of the French airline Union des Transports Aériens was a scheduled flight operating from Brazzaville in the Republic of Congo, via N'Djamena in Chad, to Paris CDG airport in France.
On Tuesday, 19 September 1989 the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 aircraft registered N54629 took off from N'Djamena International Airport at 13:13. Forty six minutes later, at its cruising altitude of 30,000 ft, an explosion caused UTA Flight 772 to break up over the Sahara Desert near the towns of Bilma and Ténéré in Niger. All 155 passengers and 15 crew members died.
On the flight deck were Captain Georges Raveneau, as instructor; First Officer Jean-Pierre Hennequin in training; safety pilot Michel Crézé; and Flight Engineer Alain Bricout. In the cabin were Pursers Jean-Pierre Baschung and Michele Vasseur, along with Flight Attendants Alain Blanc, Laurence de Boery-Penon, Martine Brette, Anne Claisse, Nicole Deblicker, Ethery Lenoble, Gael Lugagne, Veronique Marella, Jean-Pierre Mauboussin.
Among the killed passengers was Bonnie Pugh, wife of the American ambassador to Chad at the time, Robert L. Pugh.
Chadian Planning Minister Mahamat Soumahila was also aboard, bound for the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund in Washington.
The victims came from 18 different countries, the majority being French or Congolese nationals: 54 French, 48 nationals of Republic of Congo, 25 Chadians, 9 Italians, 7 Americans, 5 Cameroonians, 4 Britons, 3 nationals of Zaire (Democratic Republic of the Congo), 3 Canadians, 2 Central Africans, 2 Malians, 2 Swiss, 1 Algerian, 1 Bolivian, 1 Belgian, 1 Greek, 1 Moroccan and 1 Senegalese.
After the plane was bombed, Leonardo Leonardi, a spokesperson for the Italian Embassy in Paris, said that the embassy believed that six Italians were on the flight. A spokesperson of the Capucin religious order said that two members of the order were on board the aircraft.
An investigation commission of the ICAO[Note 1] determined that a bomb placed in a container in location 13-R in the forward cargo hold caused the destruction of the aircraft. The commission suggested that the most plausible hypothesis was for the bomb to have been inside the baggage loaded at Brazzaville airport. Initial speculation over which groups might have been responsible for destroying UTA Flight 772 centered upon Islamic Jihad, who were quick to claim responsibility for the attack, and the "Secret Chadian Resistance" rebel group, which opposed president Hissen Habré. Five years previously, on 10 March 1984, a bomb destroyed another UTA aircraft from Brazzaville shortly after the DC-8 had landed at N'Djamena airport. There were no fatalities on that occasion and those responsible were never identified.
Wreckage of the aircraft was sent to France for forensic examination, where traces of the explosive PETN (Penthrite) were found in the forward cargo hold. Pieces of a dark grey Samsonite suitcase covered in a layer of PETN convinced the investigators that this was the source of the explosion. It had been loaded in Brazzaville.
Trial in absentia
The investigators obtained a confession from one of the alleged terrorists, a Congolese opposition figure, who had helped recruit a fellow dissident to smuggle the bomb onto the aircraft. This confession led to charges being brought against six Libyans. French Juge Jean-Louis Bruguière identified them, as follows:
- Abdullah al-Senussi, brother-in-law of Muammar Gaddafi, and deputy head of Libyan intelligence;
- Abdullah Elazragh, Counsellor at the Libyan embassy in Brazzaville;
- Ibrahim Naeli and Arbas Musbah, explosives experts in the Libyan secret service;
- Issa Shibani, the secret agent who purchased the timer that allegedly triggered the bomb; and,
- Abdelsalam Hammouda, Senussi's right-hand man, who was said to have coordinated the attack.
In 1999, the six Libyans were put on trial in the Paris Assize Court for the bombing of UTA Flight 772. Because Gaddafi would not allow their extradition to France, the six were tried in absentia and were convicted.
The motive usually attributed to Libya for the UTA Flight 772 bombing is that of revenge against the French for supporting Chad against the expansionist projects of Libya toward Chad. Libya was understood to have considered this French support as "neo-colonialist".
The Chadian–Libyan conflict (1978–1987) ended in disaster for Libya following the defeat at the Battle of Maaten al-Sarra in the 1987 Toyota War. Muammar Gaddafi was forced to accede to a ceasefire ending his dreams of African and Arab dominance. Gaddafi blamed the defeat on French and U.S. "aggression against Libya".
The Paris court awarded the families of the UTA victims sums ranging from €3,000 to €30,000 depending on their relationship to the dead. Not content with this award, the French relatives' group "Les Familles du DC10 d'UTA" signed an agreement on 9 January 2004 with the Gaddafi International Foundation for Charity Associations accepting a compensation payment of $170 million United States dollars, or $1 million for each of the 170 UTA victims. By 2007-05, it was reported that 95% of this compensation money had been distributed. However, the families of the seven American victims refused to accept their $1 million USD awards and pursued the Libyan government through a federal court in Washington DC. On 19 September 2006, the court was asked to rule that the Libyan government and six of its agents were guilty of the 19 September 1989 destruction of UTA Flight 772. Damages of more than $2 billion USD were claimed for the loss of life and the destruction of the DC-10 jet.
In April 2007, D.C. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy found Libya directly responsible for the bombing and presided over a three day bench trial from 13 August 2007 to 15 August 2007. On 15 January 2008, Judge Kennedy issued an order awarding $6 billion USD in damages to the families and owners of the airliner. Libya has appealed this decision.
In October 2008 Libya paid $1.5 billion into a fund which will be used to compensate relatives of the
- Lockerbie bombing victims with the remaining 20%;
- American victims of the 1986 Berlin discotheque bombing;
- American victims of the 1989 UTA Flight 772 bombing; and,
- Libyan victims of the 1986 US bombing of Tripoli and Benghazi.
As a result, U.S. President George W Bush signed an executive order restoring the Libyan government's immunity from terror-related lawsuits and dismissing all of the pending compensation cases in the U.S. 
Fabricating false evidence
In Manipulations Africaines (African Manipulations), published in February 2001, Pierre Péan investigated the sabotage of UTA Flight 772. He alleged that evidence pointed to Iran and Syria (acting through the Hezbollah movement), but that due to political context (notably the Gulf War), France and the United States tried to put the blame on Libya. He accuses Juge Jean-Louis Bruguière of deliberately neglecting proof of Lebanon, Syria and Iran being involved to pursue only the Libyan trail. He also accused Thomas Thurman, a Federal Bureau of Investigation political operative, of fabricating false evidence against Libya in the sabotage of both Pan Am Flight 103 and UTA Flight 772.
Defector claims Libya responsible
On July 18, 2011, former Libyan foreign minister Abdel Rahman Shalgham, who had defected from the Libyan government in March at the beginning of what would become the 2011 Libyan civil war, told al-Hayat that the Libyan government was responsible for the bombing of UTA Flight 772. He stated "The Libyan security services blew up the plane. They believed that opposition leader Mohammed al-Megrief was on board, but after the plane was blown up, it was found that he was not on the plane." He also claimed that “The Lockerbie operation was more complex ... the role of states and organisations has been discussed, and while the Libyan services were implicated, I do not think it was a purely Libyan operation.”
In 2007 a memorial was created in the desert by Les Familles de l’Attentat du DC-10 d’UTA, an association of the victims’ families. The memorial is constructed of black rock in the shape of the DC10 airplane inside a compass. The memorial is visible in satellite imagery on Google Earth.
- The ICAO is a United Nations agency that does not routinely investigate aircraft accidents, however Korean Air Lines Flight 007 in 1983 set the precedent.
- "Court Awards US Victims More Than $6 Billion for 1989 Libyan Terrorist Bombing of French Airliner That Killed 170 People Over African Desert." PR Newswire. 15 January 2008. Retrieved on 3 June 2009.
- "Plane with 171 aboard explodes." New Straits Times. Thursday 21 September 1989. Retrieved from Google News (1 of 24) on 27 April 2011.
- UTA Flight 772: Aviation Safety Network report
- UTA DC-8: Aviation Safety Network report
- Les preuves trafiquées du terrorisme libyen by Pierre Péan (Le Monde diplomatique)
- The French military role in Chad
- Greenwald, John (1987-09-21). "Disputes Raiders of the Armed Toyotas". TIME magazine.
- "Les Familles du DC10 d'UTA"
- Over $160 million of Libyan compensation distributed
- "Compensation claim by American relatives"
- "U.S. court orders Libya to pay $6 billion for bombing". Reuters. 16 January 2007. Retrieved 18 January 2007.
- Memorandum, Robert Pugh, et al. v. Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Civ. Action No. 02-2026-HHK (D.D.C. 15 January 2007)
- "U.S. judge orders Libya to pay billions to plane victims", Houston Chronicle, 17 January 2008
- "Libya compensates terror victims". BBC News. 31 October 2008. Retrieved 1 November 2008.
- Les preuves trafiquées du terrorisme libyen
- Pierre Péan (2001). "African Manipulations: Tainted Evidence of Libyan Terrorism". Retrieved 2009-01-24.
- "Ex-foreign minister says Libya behind 1989 airline attack". Al Arabiya. Monday, 18 July 2011.
- "Les Familles de l’Attentat du DC-10 d’UTA". Retrieved 16 June 2009.
- "UTA Flight 772 memorial". Google Sightseeing. Retrieved 16 June 2009.
- "UTA Flight 772 Memorial from Google Earth". DigitalGlobe. Retrieved 17 May 2013.