According to Italian media reports, confidential documents found in the archives of the Libyan secret service after the fall of Tripoli, which are now in the hands of Human Rights Watch, prove what led to the downing of an Itavia Dc-9 over the Mediterranean island of Ustica on 27 June 1980.
Eighty-one people on board the flight, which had been en route from Bologna to Palermo, died.
As has long been suspected, the cache of papers confirms that a missile had hit the plane after it was mistaken for a plane carrying then Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
According to the papers, two French jets first attacked the airplane and then engaged in a duel with a solitary Mig fighter aircraft, carrying the Jamahiriya insignia and thought to be accompanying Col Gaddafi, until they forced it to crash into the mountainous region of La Sila in southern Italy.
Colonel Gaddafi, informed in time of the attack, escaped to Malta where he landed in his Tupolev, according to the documents. It would seem, from the secret service papers found, that Gaddafi was informed by the Italian secret service (SISMI) that he was about to be attacked, and had sought refuge in Malta.
The Italian authorities sealed off the area where the Mig crashed and a journalist and a photographer, who tried to get the story at the time, were arrested and kept for hours by the police until they surrendered what they had documented.
Later on, the Libyan authorities claimed the Mig pilot had been on a training flight and must have lost his way. His corpse, which had already been buried, was exhumed; an autopsy was carried out and the corpse was later repatriated to Libya.
A few days later, on 7 July 1980, a bomb destroyed the offices of the Libyan Arab Airlines in Freedom Square in Valletta and there was also an arson attempt on the Libyan Cultural Institute in Palace Square at that time.
According to a book by French journalist and historian Henri Weill, the bomb and arson attacks were carried out by the French secret service, the SDECE, as was an attack on a Libyan naval vessel in Genoa.
Then, less than a month later, on 2 August 1980, an enormous bomb destroyed most of the Bologna train station and 80 people were killed. Responsibility for that terrorist attack has never been ascertained with any certainty.
Just this week an Italian court ordered the government to pay €100 million in civil damages to the relatives of the 81 people killed in the 1980 aircraft disaster, which still remains one of Italy’s most enduring mysteries, at least until the documents discovered this week have been thoroughly studied.
The Italian government said on Tuesday that it would appeal the decision of the Palermo civil tribunal, which on Monday held Italy’s transport and defence ministries liable for having failed to guarantee the security of the flight.
Among other previous theories behind the crash are that there was a bomb on board or that the airliner might have been accidentally caught in the crossfire of a military aerial dogfight.
Attorney Daniele Osnato, who along with a handful of lawyers represented about 80 relatives of the victims, said justice had finally been done.
In addition to determining that the ministries responsible had failed to protect the flight, he said, the tribunal also concluded they were responsible for concealing the truth and destroying evidence.
Another aerial dogfight theory had once been given credence by Judge Rosario Priore, who had originally indicted the generals responsible. Judge Priore had theorised that a missile from a US jet fighter or from another Nato plane accidentally hit the Italian domestic jetliner while trying to shoot down a Libyan plane.
French, US and Nato officials have long denied any military activity in the skies that night.