The following article appears in the latest edition of Private Eye, published today.
The announcement earlier this month that the Scottish police are pursuing two new Libyan suspects over the Lockerbie bombing appeared, at first glimpse to be a vindication of the highly controversial conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi: both men were associates of his.
Indeed one of them, Abu Agila Masud, had on at least three occasions travelled on the same flights as Megrahi – including the morning of December 21, prior to the blast on board Pan Am 103. The pair flew out of Malta, where the prosecution claimed the bomb originated.
Further evidence from a Libyan informant and the files of the former East German security service, the Stasi, suggested that Masud was also the technical expert responsible for a bomb used in the La Belle disco in Berlin April 1986, two years before Lockerbie, which killed three people, including two US servicemen.
Masud is now in a Tripoli prison, convicted of building car bombs during Libya’s revolution. The other named suspect, Abdullah Senussi, appears to be in the frame for no better reason than he was the former Libyan security chief and a relative by marriage of Megrahi’s.
Perhaps embarrassingly for the police and the Crown Office, the “breakthrough” came not from them, but through the painstaking efforts of a relative of a Lockerbie victim. American Ken Dornstein, whose brother was one of the 270 who perished in the blast, made a three-part documentary My Brother’s Bomber, recently broadcast by America’s PBS Frontline series.
In fact neither name is new to the Lockerbie investigation. Senussi was named in a US State Department fact sheet that accompanied Megrahi’s indictment and Scottish police statements show that Masud became a suspect in early 1991, but it was apparently decided that there was not enough evidence against him.
What Dornstein spotted was that although Megrahi had always denied knowing Masud, he was seen greeting Megrahi on his return to Libya, when he was released early on compassionate grounds.
The documentary provided a strong circumstantial case against Masud But so much of any case against him must rely upon the same flawed evidence that persuaded the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission – and others before them – to conclude Megrahi may have been wrongly convicted (Eyes passim ad nauseam). That included the dodgy claim that the bomb began its journey from Malta via Frankfurt, when there was compelling evidence that it was loaded at Heathrow. Not to mention the supposed forensic evidence linking the bomb to the Libyans. New testing of a tiny fragment of circuit board, showed it was no match for timing devices known to have been bought by Libya.
Then there is a further problem: the main witness implicating Masud in the German disco bombing is a Libyan Musbah Eter, who German media later found out was working for the CIA. Now, 20 years later, Eter is claiming that both Megrahi and Masud are also responsible for the Lockerbie bombing. Quite why he kept quiet for so long remains a mystery.
Tellingly, perhaps, the Crown Office and Scottish police have failed to follow up the new scientific evidence, preferring instead to concentrate on leads that bolster the original conviction. Hardly surprising then, that some of the bereaved families like Jim Swire, father of Flora, remain sceptical that they will ever learn the truth.