Response to Magnus Linklater’s latest Scottish Review Lockerbie article

The following article by Magnus Linklater appears in the latest issue of the Scottish Review under the headline We can be confident that the Scottish prosecutors got the right man. In it in he takes pot shots at Abdelbaset’s supporters and me in particular. My comments are in normal font.

In November I sat for an hour and a half in a film studio at the Barbican in London, watching, mesmerised, a film that traced the 21-year battle by the Sunday Times in the 1970s to get compensation for the victims of Thalidomide, and find out why such a terrible drug was ever sold. Pitted against the lawyers of a wealthy multi-million pound organisation determined to defen d its commercial property, it showed reporters and editors painstakingly following clues, testing evidence, turning into scientists to understand how drugs work, becoming lawyers so that they could challenge their opponents, befriending the families whose children had been born horribly damaged because of a drug that had first been tried out in the death camps of Nazi Germany. It was an exercise in investigation which few if any newspaper would contemplate taking on today.

Its hero was my old editor, Harry Evans, who was there at the showing, a bit bent at the age of 87, a bit less steady on his feet, but still eloquent on the subject of his campaign, and still angry at the monstrous injustice of a company that had used all its resources to prevent the truth coming out. Even now, 40 years after those events, he was still overcome with emotion at the cruelty of it all.

I learnt investigative journalism at Evans’s feet, but also from great Sunday Times reporters like Bruce Page, Phil Knightley, Godfrey Hogson, Murray Sayle and John Barry. They viewed it as an art, a science, and a discipline which required constant challenge. There were certain rules that had to be learnt. Never rely on evidence from a single source; never jump to conclusions; two facts, however firm, do not necessarily link up as final proof; always question the motives of a witness who is telling you things; set out with a theory, but be prepared to abandon it for a better one if the facts don’t stack up; remember, most stories come down to two simple propositions: ‘we name the guilty man’ or ‘arrow points to defective part’.

When, therefore, I first became interested in the Lockerbie story, this was my starting point. Because, another rule from those days was: if everyone seems to agree about a theory, it is probably worth challenging. Harry Evans did exactly that when he began a campaign on the Northern Echo to prove the innocence of Timothy Evans, who had been hanged for the murders at Ten Rillington Place; he succeeded by finally amassing the incontrovertible evidence that pointed to the wife-murderer, John Christie, and won Evans a posthumous pardon.

The consensus I wanted to question was, ironically, the reverse of that – to suggest a correct verdict rather than an unsafe one. Over the past 20 years or so, a long campaign has been waged by a variety of reporters, lawyers, and relatives, to demonstrate that the Scottish courts which convicted the Libyan, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, for his role in the Lockerbie bombing, were guilty of a miscarriage of justice; that Libya was never involved; that judges, counsel, police and intelligence agencies deliberately turned a blind eye to faulty or planted evidence; that the outcome of the biggest investigation ever handled in Scotland was a legal travesty that stands to this day as a stain on the reputation of the nation’s judicial system.

And most people seemed to agree. In the course of a session at the Edinburgh International Book Festival some years ago, one panel member, who argued the case, was asked whether it was his view that every judge and lawyer who had presided over the Lockerbie trial had knowingly participated in a miscarriage of justice. He said: yes it was; and the audience applauded.

I have never made this claim. My view is that the judges and everyone involved on the prosecution side believed they had got the right man.

At that stage a basic Sunday Times rule kicked in; if everyone agreed, then there was a strong possibility that they were wrong. At the very least it was worth a challenge. It was, after all, a pretty sensational accusation, and, if true, did indeed undermine one’s faith in Scottish justice. So, reluctantly, I began the task of tracking back the roots of the allegation. Reluctantly, because, although I had lived with the Lockerbie story for 25 years, there were an awful lot of false trails to follow, tedious in detail, murky in evidence, full of innuendo but lacking hard facts. 

I did think, however, that it was worth going back to basics, researching the original court documents, reading the investigation carried out by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) and talking to lawyers who had been involved in the case. It made a decent starting point. If they were all involved in a massive cover-up, it would at the very least be worth looking them in the eye and seeing if I could detect the guilt. 

All of this landed me with the unflattering description – ‘the Crown Office’s chief media cheerleader’ – given to me recently by John Ashton, who revived his case for the claimants in the Scottish Review. It reminded me of another Sunday Times rule: ‘if they go for you, you’re probably on the right lines’. 

I have called Mr Linklater the Crown Office’s chief media cheerleader because he has never raised concerns about the conduct of the Crown in the Megrahi case, in particular its withholding of important evidence, and because the Crown Office feeds him exclusives, which he has run uncritically.

What puzzled me was why, if the Libya connection was so patently false, no firm evidence had emerged in the course of the 27 years since the atrocity, to blow the Crown case out of the water – no witnesses coming out of the woodwork to nail the evidence, no deathbed confessions, above all, nothing that would convince a serious lawyer to re-open the case. There was no lack of allegation and conjecture, of course, but nothing that would stand up in court.

The evidence that knocks down the Libya connection, all of which would stand up in court, includes the fact that PT/35b could not have been from one of the timers supplied to Libya, the baggage evidence presented in Dr Morag Kerr’s book ‘Adequately Explained by Stupidity?’, which demonstrates that the bomb was loaded at Heathrow airport, and the evidence demonstrating that the Maltese clothes that ended up in the bomb suitcase were bought on a day on which Abdelbaset was not in Malta.

A deathbed confession unsupported by hard evidence would be of little use to either side. Nevertheless, Mr Linklater forgets the deathbed confession of PFLP-GC member Mobdi Goben, who said the group was responsible. He also omits that there were no deathbed confessions among the Libyans.

Without a Sunday Times insight team to spend a decade sifting the real evidence, all we were left with was an angry set of accusations.

Then, earlier this year, a piece of serious investigation did emerge, in the shape of a three-part TV documentary by Ken Dornstein, whose brother had died in the Lockerbie disaster. He had spent some 15 years patiently following leads, travelling to Libya, tracking down shadowy witnesses, interviewing agents. He looked carefully into the various conspiracy theories, but found nothing to lure him away from Libya. What he did discover was something that even the prosecution case had overlooked – clear evidence pointing to the identity of a dark-skinned Libyan bomb-maker, Abu Agila Mas’ud, a former intelligence officer, who had been in Malta with Megrahi in the weeks leading up to the Lockerbie bombing, and who was there to greet him on his return to Libya after being released from a Scottish prison. 

Dornstein traced him through a contact in Berlin, a former convicted terrorist, who identified Mas’ud as one of those involved in an attack on the La Belle nightclub in Berlin in April 1986. Dornstein showed his contact a picture of Mas’ud in a Libyan court-room, and then as a shadowy figure, seen in news footage, welcoming Megrahi, the only man convicted of the bombing, on his return to Tripoli in 2009. Dornstein’s contact was as certain as he could be that it was Abu Agila Mas’ud. And there was one other telling piece of evidence: the number of the passport Mas’ud had used in Berlin was the same as the one he had used two years later in Malta.

So here was a known bomb-maker, taking the trouble to go to the airport to greet a man who was convicted of the Lockerbie bombing. Circumstantial? You bet. But then, the circumstantial evidence against Megrahi is so telling that it is almost impossible to unpick. Mas’ud is now in a Libyan jail, convicted of (unrelated) bombing offences.
And here is a curious thing. In his SR article, Ashton writes: ‘We have always known that on the morning of the bombing Masud [sic] was on the same flight as Megrahi from Malta to Tripoli and that they had been on other flights together in the previous weeks’.

We have always known? I have checked back on three of Ashton’s books. In the first (‘Megrahi – You are my Jury’) there is one reference to an Abougela Masoud, who was said by a prosecution witness to have been on a Malta flight with Megrahi; but Ashton says the evidence was unreliable, because the witness ‘was lying in his teeth’. In the other two there is no reference to him at all. So, we may have always known, but we have not always been told. This is known in the lawyer’s trade as suppressio veri – omit any evidence that might undermine your story; in the Sunday Times rule-book that was a firing offence. 

This is a bad misrepresentation of the truth. Mr Linklater suggests I deliberately suppressed evidence that pointed to Abdelbaset’s guilt. I never said the evidence that Abdelbaset flew with Abouagela Masud was unreliable, I just didn’t consider it significant, because I was unaware when I wrote ‘Megrahi: You are my Jury’ (which was my second book, not my first) of Masud’s alleged link to the La Belle bombing. Had I known of it, I would have mentioned it, just as I mentioned (on p.21) the alleged role in La Belle of Abdelbaset’s relative and friend Said Rashid.

It is a bit rich for Mr Linklater to accuse me of suppressing evidence that is unhelpful to my case, given his failure to acknowledge that the Crown did exactly that.

For the record, my first book ‘Cover-up of Convenience’ was co-written, with my co-author Ian Ferguson covering the Lockerbie trial, which was when the evidence that Abdelbaset had travelled with Abouagela Masud emerged publicly. Had either of us been aware of the evidence and its potential significance we would have included it in the book. My third book ‘Scotland’s Shame’ was short and did not go in to the evidence in much detail.

I liked Dornstein’s approach to the investigation, and, to be fair, so did both Ashton, and the veteran campaigner Dr Jim Swire, though they disagree with his conclusions. Dornstein, in turn, respects Dr Swire, and got on well with him – Dornstein’s father too was a doctor. He is modest in his claims, describing his investigation as merely ‘a foot in the door’ in the search for truth. He never criticises those who take a different view, and indeed, sits down with Dr Swire and takes him through the evidence step by step. What, he asks Dr Swire, does he make of the fact that Megrahi was in Malta in the days leading up the bombing, in the company of a known bomb-maker? It is clear that Dr Swire is disconcerted. So would anyone be. 

But the reason that Dornstein has, in my view, come closer to the truth than any other investigator, is because he has followed the evidence, tested it fairly, and never jumped to conclusions. He has tracked down real people and spoken to them. He has been to Libya and talked to witnesses. He has never overplayed his hand. 

Ken’s film does not address the evidence I refer to above and he has not offered an explanation for it. Neither, of course, has Mr Linklater.

He says that, as the cast-list of activists was assembled and identified, he began to get a grasp that these were real people rather than just names. By the time he was in a position to make his three-part documentary (which was aired in Britain on the PBS channel) he believed he could name the organiser of the plot, the bomb-maker, and the man who first ordered the bombing. 

The evidence that those implicated by the film (Said Rashid, Nassr Ashur, Ezzadin Hinshiri, et al) were involved in the plot remains thin.

‘You start to get a more visceral sense of who did what,’ he says. ‘When you put them in the picture you start to understand where Megrahi really fits in. It starts to seem as if you are looking at them through a keyhole, then you widen the aperture and the whole story starts to make a lot more sense.’

By contrast, Ashton and his supporters are still clinging to stories that have been tested and found wanting, thus breaking that Sunday Times rule about abandoning a theory when it doesn’t stand up. The connection to Palestinian rather than Libyan terrorists, which Ashton prefers, was examined in great detail by the SCCRC, which was looking specifically at possible grounds for appeal; it found that the evidence which was said to link them broke down at crucial points;

The SCCRC’s investigation of the PFLP-GC was essentially a paper exercise, which overlooked some important leads and evidence. The Commission was clearly not equipped to investigate international terrorism and its staff did not interview any of those originally implicated in the bombing or their associates.

suggestions that Heathrow Airport was where the bomb was loaded again have no concrete evidence to back them; an entire book has been written on the Heathrow connection, but nothing has emerged to give it the kind of validity which would stand up in court. 

The latter claim is bizarre. The claims in the book (Dr Kerr’s ‘Adequately Explained by Stupidity?’) are supported throughout by hard evidence.

And then there is the theory of the fake, or possibly planted timer fragment. This suggests that the fragment of bomb timer, found on the site, was different in critical respects from the one that pointed the forensic finger at Libya. It must therefore have been planted, tampered with, or substituted at some stage, possibly by the CIA. Ashton is convinced it is suspect evidence, but is reluctant to say who might have been responsible for introducing it.

The evidence demonstrates that the fragment did not originate from one of the timers supplied by Mebo to Libya amounts to proof. I am not convinced it is a plant, but it has some of the hallmarks of one. Neither Ken Dornstein nor Magnus Linklater has been able to explain the metallurgical difference between the fragment and the timers.

Dornstein, in his patient way, takes Edwin Bollier, the Swiss manufacturer, who supplied the timer to the Libyans, through his evidence, but finds he has told so many contradictory stories over time that nothing he says can be trusted. 

I agree that Mr Bollier cannot be trusted. The timer fragment evidence relies on hard scientific evidence and not, as Mr Linklater implies, on his claims.

The best analysis has been done by the SCCRC, which found nothing to undermine the clear link between the timer and the Libyans. Ashton and others say that the commission did an inadequate job.

The SCCRC demonstrably made a major cock-up on the timer fragment. Its supplementary report, which informed its conclusion that there was nothing to undermine the fragment’s provenance, demonstrates that it was unaware of the potential significance of the metallurgical differences between the fragment and the timers supplied to Libya.

But in my view the quality of its research was outstanding. It dissected most of the conspiracy theories and found them wanting. And it was even-handed, producing six grounds for possible appeal, including the questionable evidence provided by Tony Gauci, the man who owned the Maltese shop where the bomb clothes were bought. Whether those grounds would have been enough to reverse the original verdict is, at best, doubtful. 

For me, I like the famous Sherlock Holmes quote: ‘Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth’. It was quite a favourite of the Sunday Times team too. Here is Megrahi, in the company of a known Libyan bomb-maker, travelling to Malta in the days leading up to the bombing. Here is Megrahi, leaving immediately after the bomb is said to have been loaded, to return to Tripoli. Here are clothes, purchased in Malta, found wrapping the bomb fragments. Here is the same bomb-maker, welcoming Megrahi back to Libya on his release. And if, indeed, someone swapped that timer fragment in order to implicate Libya, how did that person know in advance that Megrahi would be in the right place at the right time to cop the charge?

The main planks of the prosecution case have been shown to be impossible: Abdelbaset could not have been the man whom Tony Gauci described buying the clothes; the timer fragment was not from the batch supplied to Libya by Mebo; and if, as Dr Kerr has demonstrated, the bomb was loaded at Heathrow, it could not have been despatched from Malta. That being the case, if we apply the old Sunday Times principles we have to seek an alternative explanation for why Megrahi came to be in the frame.

Would the Sunday Times Insight team have agreed? I wish I knew. It would probably have dug deeper, gone further, questioned the evidence, searched for the last telling detail. But my feeling is that in the long run it would have backed Dornstein rather than Ashton, preferring hard evidence to speculation.

Again, this is a bizarre claim. Megrahi: You are my Jury is built on hard evidence – much more than features in Ken’s films, and most of it from the Crown.

Of course we need more proof, and of course there are still mysteries to uncover. Lockerbie is unfinished business, and there are grieving families, desperate to know what lay behind it. With terrorism once again staining the civilised world, the search must go on for those who planned and carried out the attack. 

But I think we can be confident that Scottish prosecutors got the right man.

I beg to differ. As did, of course, the SCCRC.



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Private Eye on the SCCRC’s Lockerbie decision


The following article appears in the latest issue of Private Eye:

The recent decision of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) by the Scottish body that it would not be reviewing the case of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, has been met with dismay and incredulity by those who want to get to the truth behind the Lockerbie bombing.

The SCCRC said its decision that it a further investigation was “not in the interests of justice” was made with “some regret”. It blamed an inability to gain access to defence appeal papers and other materials – which has outraged those who say they could have been supplied.

Eye readers will remember that back in 2007, the SCCRC identified no less than six grounds for a possible miscarriage of justice, paving the way for Megrahi’s appeal in 2009. After endless delay by the Crown, the appeal was abandoned when the ailing Libyan returned to his country to die with his family. Since then other material has come to light, including new scientific evidence which shows – contrary to assertions made at Megahi’s trial – that a bomb timer fragment found at the crash site was no match for those known to have been supplied to Libya.

It was this evidence which raised more serious questions not only about Megrahi’s guilt but also over any part played by Libya, which last year prompted a number of the relatives of the 270 who perished in the 1988 blast – supported by members of Megrahi’s family – to launch a new SCCRC application. It was, they claimed, the “worst miscarriage of justice in British legal history”.

But this month commissioners said “a great deal of public money and time” was expended on its original review of Megrahi’s case only for the apeal to be abandonned and it was not convinced of the family’s willingness to co-operate with the new review or take the matter to appeal.

A John Ashton, Megrahi’s biographer, who worked with the defence team, accused the commission of incompetence: “If it had really wanted access to the appeal papers, it only needed to ask. Mr Megrahi had allowed me to keep a set of papers, which I was happy to share with the commission.”

Tony Kelly, Megrahi’s former solicitor, had also made it clear he was anxious to assist, and had requested the SCCRC set out the legal basis for the request, so he could meet his duties of confidentiality to a former client. That was not forthcoming.

The SCCRC decision was the second blow to the victims’ relatives. In summer the appeal court ruled that they did not have a “legitimate interest” in pursuing an appeal on Megrahi’s behalf.

Nevertheless Jim Swire, father of Flora who died in the terrorist atrocity, told the Eye they were still hopeful the demands for documentation would be met. They are also awaiting the findings of a police investigation into nine allegations of criminal conduct against the Scottish Crown Office and named individuals over the conduct of the Lockerbie investigation and the 2001 trial. Now aged 79, he remains as determined as ever expose the cover-ups and deceit (Eyes passim ad nauseum) which have denied everyone justice.



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New Lockerbie article for Consortium News

I have just had the following article published by Consortium News, under the headline Fresh Twists in the Lockerbie Case

On Oct. 15, Scotland’s prosecuting authority, the Crown Office, announced that two Libyan men are being treated as suspects in the 28-year-old Pan Am 103 bombing case. They were widely reported to be Abu Agila Masud, an alleged bomb-maker, and Abdullah Senussi, Muammar Gaddafi’s former security chief. Both were associates of the only person convicted of the bombing, Abelbaset al-Megrahi, who died in 2012.

The development came almost 15 years after Megrahi’s trial, but only two days after the broadcast by PBS Frontline of a three-part documentary My Brother’s Bomber. Trailed by a long article in the New Yorker, the film was made by Ken Dornstein, a former Frontline staffer whose older brother David was one of 270 who died when Pan Am 103 was destroyed over the Scottish town of Lockerbie on Dec. 21, 1988.

Libyan agent Ali al-Megrahi, who was convicted by a Scottish tribunal for the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. Megrahi, who always asserted his innocence, died in 2012.

Libyan agent Ali al-Megrahi, who was convicted by a Scottish tribunal for the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. Megrahi, who always asserted his innocence, died in 2012.

The documentary reveals that Masud was named by a German judge as the technical expert responsible for the 1986 bombing of the La Belle nightclub in Berlin. That attack, which killed three, including two U.S. servicemen, and injured many more, led to the U.S. air strikes on Libya, for which Libya allegedly took revenge with the bombing of Pan Am 103.

Megrahi flew with Masud from Malta to Libya on the morning of the Lockerbie bombing having, according to the prosecution, placed a suitcase containing a bomb on an Air Malta flight to Frankfurt. The unaccompanied suitcase was allegedly transferred to a feeder flight to London Heathrow and again at Heathrow on to Pan Am 103.

Megrahi denied knowing Masud, yet the two men were on other flights in the run-up to Lockerbie and, according to the film, Masud was in the car that met him on his return to Libya in 2009, following his release from prison in Scotland.

Before I comment, a declaration of interest. I worked for Megrahi for three years as a researcher and following his return to Libya, and, at his request, wrote his biography. I was also a paid consultant during the early stages of Ken Dornstein’s production and, although I disagree with his conclusions, am on good terms with him.

There is no doubt that Libya supported terrorist groups and that at least one Libyan, Musbah Eter, who was an official at the Libyan People’s Bureau in East Berlin, was involved in the La Belle bombing. Eter was convicted for his role following a confession in which he implicated his co-accused, Palestinian Yassar Chraidi, Lebanese-born German Ali Chanaa (both of whom worked at the People’s Bureau) and Chaana’s wife Verana.

He implicated a number of others, including Masud, whom he described as a bomb technician. Masud was never apprehended for the bombing and when German prosecutor Dethlev Mehlis went to Libya to interview witnesses all denied his existence — as did the Libyan witnesses in the Lockerbie case.

Less Straightforward

There is also no doubt that the La Belle case is far less straightforward than portrayed in the film. At the time of the bombing, the Reagan administration was involved in a large, secret and dirty war against Libya. From the time Reagan took office in 1981 his government exaggerated the country’s role in terrorism, which it claimed — falsely — was central to a Soviet-directed global conspiracy against the West.

At the same time, the Reagan administration downplayed the role of equally active terrorist states Syria and Iran. There were two reasons for this: firstly, those countries held far greater strategic power in the Middle East than Libya; and secondly, their militant proxies held U.S. hostages in Lebanon. The hostages’ safe return was an obsession that led the administration into the Iran-Contra scandal.

Under the direction of CIA’s rabidly neocon director, William Casey, the Agency launched a massive covert campaign against Libya, aimed at toppling Gaddafi. It was run from the National Security Council by the same people who ran the Iran-Contra operation, including Oliver North.

Disinformation was central to the campaign. In 1981, the CIA put out a false story that Gaddafi has sent a hit squad to the U.S. to assassinate Reagan. The White House played along using an unmarked car to drive Reagan while decoy limousines were used to dupe the non-existent gunmen.

By the mid-1980s, the White House hardliners were hungry for an excuse to attack Libya and NSC staff drew up plans to provoke Libya in to a response that would provide the excuse they needed. Naval exercises were conducted off the Libyan coast in which Libyan vessels were hit and territorial water repeatedly violated.

Gaddafi appeared not to take the bait. Then, on April 5, 1986, came the La Belle bombing. The White House soon announced that it had irrefutable evidence of Libya’s involvement. Nine days later came the air strikes against Libya, which came within a whisker of killing Gaddafi.

The “irrefutable evidence” was intercepts of incriminatory messages sent between the Libyan government and the East Berlin People’s Bureau. Libyan intelligence traffic was normally processed and evaluated by a group known as G-6 at the National Security Agency, before being forwarded elsewhere.

An investigation by Seymour Hersh for the New York Times established that the La Belle intercepts were never sent to G-6. An NSA official told him “The G-6 section branch and division chiefs didn’t know why it was taken from them. They were bureaucratically cut out and so they screamed and yelled.”

Another explained, “There is no doubt that if you send raw data to the White House, that constitutes misuse because there’s nobody there who’s capable of interpreting it. . . . You screw it up every time when you do it –– and especially when the raw traffic is translated into English from a language such as Arabic, that’s not commonly known.”

The eventual prosecution of Eter and his three co-accused was reliant upon Eter’s confession and corroborating material from the files of the former East German security service, the Stasi. (Chaana also confessed but his evidence was not considered as important and Eter’s.) The Stasi had a number of informants within Berlin’s Arab communities, including Chaana, and kept a close watch on the East Berlin Libyan People’s Bureau.


During the 1980s, Berlin was a pit of Cold War double-dealing. The Stasi files indicate that among the Arab communities survival and personal advancement often trumped loyalty to any particular cause. The information relayed to the Stasi by its Arab informants might be cast iron, but against this background it’s also possible that they were recycling each other’s inventions.

The East Berlin Libyan People’s Bureau, in particular, hosted numerous personal rivalries and little mutual trust. Eter was one of the more interesting vipers in the nest. According to the Stasi and a 1998 investigation by the German TV channel ZDF, he was a CIA asset. ZDF discovered that, at the time he made his confession in 1996, he was running a CIA front company in Malta.

The year before La Belle he was named as a suspect in the assassination in West Germany of a Libyan dissident called Jibril el-Dinali. (Der Spiegel reported at the time that dissidents believed that the German federal police, the BKA, had supplied their secret addresses to Libyan officials in return for intelligence about the German terrorist group the Red Army Faction, which had received Libyan support.)

Eter is Ken Dornstein’s key witness and will be central to any prosecution of Masud and Senussi. According to the film, since Dornstein made contact, he has told the FBI that Masud and Megrahi were pivotal to the Lockerbie plot. He claims that Masud told him personally that he was responsible for both the Lockerbie and La Belle bombings.

Unfortunately for anyone tasked with prosecuting at a trial of the new suspects, the CIA connection and his murderous past leave Eter with a credibility problem. So too does the fact that he waited 19 years after confessing to talk about Lockerbie.

Other Stasi informants involved in the case had a relationship with the CIA, as did some of those originally implicated in the bombing. One was a close associate of Chraidi’s, Mahmoud Abu Jaber, who with his brother Mohamed ran a freelance Palestinian terrorist cell that was mistrusted by other Palestinians.

The Stasi learned that the CIA knew that Mahmoud Abu Jaber and another cell member, Khaled Shatta, were involved in the bombing. They mixed regularly with the Chraidi and the other defendants and hours before the attack they travelled to West Berlin. They were watched by the Stasi and KGB, both of which concluded that they were working for Western intelligence.

One declassified KGB document suggested that Mahmoud Abu Jaber was a CIA agent provocateur, who was used to create a case against Libya. Group member Mahmoud Amayiri, who was both Shatta’s brother and Mahmoud Abu Jaber’s right-hand man, confirmed to ZDF through his Norwegian lawyer that he had been working for Mossad. He had fled Germany for Norway in 1990, following the issuing of an arrest warrant, which was later dropped.

The idea that some of the La Belle plotters were western agents provocateur is not far-fetched. A 1997 investigation by British Channel 4 TV’s Dispatches series revealed that the CIA-funded anti-Gaddafi terrorist group Al-Burkan was involved in the 1984 murder of police officer Yvonne Fletcher, who was killed when staff at the London Libya People’s Bureau opened fire on a crowd of anti-Gaddafi demonstrators.

A member of a Berlin criminal gang connected to Al-Burkan described transporting the murder weapon to London and handing it over to an Al-Burkan member. The program uncovered evidence that the fatal shot was fired from a building adjacent to the People’s Bureau used by the UK intelligence services. It also claimed that Al Burkan had moles within the People’s Bureau.

Reluctant Cooperation

The U.S. government was reluctant to share its intelligence about La Belle with the Germans and it was not until 1996 that it did. It appeared to be convincing and included transcripts of intercepted messages, allegedly between Tripoli and the East Berlin Libyan People’s Bureau. Among other things, these suggested that senior Libyan intelligence official Said Rashid, a friend and relative of Megrahi’s, coordinated the attack.

The U.S. government may well have believed the intercepts to be genuine, but, according to former Mossad agent Victor Ostrovsky, they were an elaborate hoax. In his 1994 memoir, The Other Side of Deception, he claimed that the messages were in fact part of a Mossad disinformation operation codenamed Trojan.

Ostrovsky said that a few weeks before the bombing Israeli commandos secretly installed special communications equipment in an apartment near Colonel Gaddafi’s headquarters, which was subsequently used to broadcast phony terrorist orders. Neither German prosecutor Mehlis, nor the FBI, contacted Ostrovsky about his claims.

While none of this rules out Libyan sponsorship of La Belle, it does flash a warning that we should treat the official account with caution.

An even thicker fog surrounds Lockerbie. The CIA’s campaign against Libya did not end with the 1986 raids, indeed a few months after them President Reagan signed a secret National Security Decision Directive, which, according to a leak to Watergate journalist Bob Woodward, ordered “covert, diplomatic and economic steps designed to . . . bring about a change of leadership in Libya.”

In view of what we now know about Lockerbie, it’s not outlandish to suggest that those covert steps may have included manipulating the investigation behind the backs of the police and prosecutors.

Declassified U.S. intelligence documents state as fact that the bombing was not Gaddafi’s revenge for the 1986 raids, but was rather Iran’s for the U.S. Navy’s accidental shoot-down of Iran Air flight 655 over the Arabian Gulf, which killed 290 people six months before Lockerbie.

According to the documents, the Iranians contracted out the job to the Syrian-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine — General Command, which had a track record of blowing up aircraft. One document, from 1991, stated, without naming the PFLP-GC, that the Iranian interior minister Ali Akbar Mohtashemi paid the bombers $10 million.

Former CIA agent Robert Baer has provided some of the details of the Iranian/PFLP-GC plot and another, Richard Fuisz, revealed in a court deposition that he was told by numerous senior Syrian officials closely connected to the PFLP-GC that the group carried out the attack.

Two months before Lockerbie members of the group were arrested in Germany, including bomb-maker Marwan Kreesat, who had made the bombs used in previous attacks. He admitted building bombs into Toshiba BomBeat radio cassette players — the same brand that housed the Lockerbie bomb —and said the group was planning to strike a western airliner. Other members of the group and at least one of his bombs evaded detection.

A Strange Warning

Less than three weeks before the bombing, the State Department’s Office of Diplomatic Security (ODS) warned that unnamed radical Palestinians in Europe were planning to target Pan Am. The warning came three days before the better known and entirely separate warning received by the U.S. embassy in Helsinki that an attack on Pan Am was imminent.

Whereas the Helsinki warning was written off as a hoax, the ODS warning, which was not revealed until seven years after the bombing, has never been adequately explained.

The key evidence that led the investigators away from Iran and PFLP-GC towards Libya was a small piece of circuit board known as PT/35(b), found within a blast-damaged piece of a Maltese-made shirt. The prosecution case at Megrahi’s trial was that it matched boards made to order for Swiss company Mebo by its supplier Thüring.

Crucially Mebo used the boards in timers called MST-13s, which it had designed and built 20 for the Libyan intelligence service. Megrahi was a partner in a Libyan company that rented part of Mebo’s Zurich offices.

Well before Lockerbie, the CIA had an MST-13 timer that had been seized in Togo in 1986 and photos of the one seized in Senegal in 1988. Prosecution statements by a CIA technical expert, disclosed six years after Megrahi’s conviction, revealed that the Agency was also aware before Lockerbie that the timers had been made by Mebo and supplied to Libya.

The Agency had a backchannel to Mebo boss Edwin Bollier via the Swiss police, so it’s likely that it knew of Megrahi’s connection to Mebo via his company ABH. (The Stasi, who had a relationship with Bollier from at least the early 1970s, were convinced by the late 1980s that he was a direct CIA asset.)

The story of the PT/35(b) fragment is ridden with evidential anomalies. Megrahi’s trial team highlighted a number of discrepancies concerning the fragment, including the fact that the handwritten description on the police label attached to the piece of shirt had been surreptitiously changed from “Cloth” to “Debris.”

There were numerous other discrepancies not raised at trial. These included German documents that reported that the Scottish police had told the German federal police that PT/35(b) had been found in January 1990, seven months after it was officially found.

In his memoir Scotbom: Evidence and the Lockerbie Investigation, the head of the FBI’s Lockerbie investigation, Richard Marquise, revealed that he and his Scottish counterpart, Stuart Henderson, speculated that the fragment was a CIA plant. They dismissed the suggestion on the grounds that “Neither of us believed the CIA or any government official would do such a thing.”

However, Marquise also revealed that their Swiss police counterpart suspected it was a plant. This is especially interesting in view of a claim made in an affidavit by Mebo technician Ulrich Lumpert, who designed the boards and produced prototypes, that a year before the Lockerbie investigators had linked PT/35(b) to Mebo the Swiss police visited him and took with them a prototype board.

Shortly before Megrahi’s trial, the Scottish prosecutors received information from witnesses in the U.S. suggesting that an electronics company in Florida had made replica MST-13s for the CIA, but the lead was not properly investigated.

A Miscarriage of Justice

Documents unearthed by Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) — the statutory body that investigates alleged miscarriages of justice in Scotland — highlighted more anomalies. They included a police memo stating that PT/35(b) had been tested for explosive residues and found to be negative, which contradicted the court testimony of the Crown’s forensic experts, who said that no such tests had been done.

As Frontline’s documentary, My Brother’s Bomber, points out, the SCCRC investigated Bollier’s claim that the fragment was fabricated and found it to be baseless. However, the film fails to mention that both the SCCRC and Bollier missed the most important discrepancy concerning PT/35(b), which only emerged during preparations for Megrahi’s second appeal in 2009.

Metallurgical analysis showed that the fragment’s copper circuitry was plated with pure tin, whereas the boards made by Thüring, which were used in the timers supplied to Libya, were plated with a tin-lead alloy. Crown scientists had speculated that the explosion had changed the plating, but tests commissioned for the appeal disproved the theory. The work demonstrated beyond doubt that the Lockerbie fragment was not, as the court had accepted, a match for the Libyan MST-13s.

Other important forensic items had a dubious provenance. Among them was a collection of small charred circuit board fragments that apparently originated from a Toshiba BomBeat RT-SF16 radio cassette player.

A large proportion of the global production total of the model had been bought by the Libyan General Electrical Company, which was run by Said Rashid. The fragments appeared to be compelling evidence of Libyan involvement in the bombing, but, like PT/35(b), their origin is questionable. They were discovered by an air accident investigator within a folded piece of aluminum from the luggage container that housed the bomb suitcase.

Giving evidence at Megrahi’s trial, the investigator could not suggest how the blast could have caused the fragments to become trapped within the aluminum. He was sure that the fold had not occurred at the time of the explosion, which suggested that someone had placed the fragments within the aluminum after the blast.

Also of great importance to the prosecution case was a fragment of brown checked trousers containing a sewn-in label of a Maltese manufacturer called Yorkie. The item led the police to a shop in Malta called Mary’s House, where the proprietor, Tony Gauci, recalled selling a bundle of clothes — including brown checked trousers and other items found among the Lockerbie debris — to an oddly behaved Libyan a few weeks before the bombing.

Two years later, Gauci picked out Megrahi from a photo line-up, although he was considerably younger, smaller and lighter skinned than the man described by Gauci.

When the trouser fragment was first examined, the Yorkie label was seen by neither the forensic examiner nor the police officer present despite being easily visible. When questioned about it by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, both said they could not have missed it, which suggested that the label appeared after the examination.

The CIA not only knew before Lockerbie that Mebo had supplied MST-13 timers to Libya, they also knew that Megrahi regularly travelled to Malta, that he was related to Said Rashid and others high up within Libyan intelligence and security, and that Rashid was the head of the Libyan General Electrical Company. Much of this knowledge it attempted to conceal.

No Dissident

According to the former deputy chief of the U.S. State Department’s counterterrorism division, the Diplomatic Security Service, Fred Burton, a CIA official told him before New Year in 1988 that the bomb was in a Maltese-originating brown Samsonite.

Burton is no Lockerbie dissident — he believes Megrahi and Libya were guilty — but, if true, his indiscretions throw a big wrench into the prosecution narrative, which held that the evidence to support the claim was uncovered by the police well in to 1989.

A number of rescue volunteers have described to me arriving in Lockerbie within two hours of the bombing to find a group of American agents already present. According to the official narrative, this never happened and the first U.S. government staff only arrived three hours later.

Police officers reported concerns that Americans had unsupervised access to the crash site and a British helicopter crew member told me that the day after the bombing his crew ferried CIA agents around the site.

Some potentially significant forensic items found at the crash site disappeared, among them an AA battery with a piece of wire soldered to one of its terminals. German police photographs of the PFLP-GC’s Toshiba bomb showed that it incorporated AA batteries with wires soldered to their terminals.

Anyone raising these evidential anomalies gets branded a conspiracy theorist by the supporters of the official narrative, yet that narrative and the one newly minted by My Brother’s Bomber are themselves elaborate conspiracy theories.

When the theories and counter-theories are cast aside in favor of hard facts, the official narrative is no longer tenable. Not only did PT/35(b) not originate from one of the timers supplied to Libya, but Megrahi was clearly not the man who bought the clothes for the bomb suitcase and that purchase took place when he was not in Malta. New analysis of the baggage evidence demonstrates that the bomb suitcase originated from London Heathrow, rather than Malta.

Perhaps the hardest fact of all for the defenders of Megrahi’s conviction — which has barely been reported in all the coverage generated by My Brother’s Bomber — is that in 2007 the conviction was referred back to the appeal court by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission on no fewer than six grounds.

One of these was that the trial court judgment, delivered by three of Scotland’s most senior judges, was unreasonable. Four of the other grounds concerned non-disclosure by the prosecution of important evidence.

The terminally ill Megrahi abandoned the appeal in the belief that it would aid his application for compassionate release from prison. Sadly, the commission this month rejected an application by family members and relatives of some of the British victims of Pan Am 103 for a further review of the conviction.

It may be that the only way to re-test the evidence against Megrahi will be a trial of the two newly announced suspects. If that happens, don’t hold your breath for a guilty verdict.




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Taylor & Kelly press release about the SCCRC announcement on the Megrahi case

Abdelbaset’s former solicitors, Taylor & Kelly, have today released the following press statement in response to the SCCRC’s announcement that it has rejected the application for it to review his case:

It is with some surprise that we learn today that the Commission have come to the view that papers have not been forthcoming from us as Mr Megrahi’s appeal representatives. As soon as a request was made from the commission we asked to be advised of the basis of the request – the power of the commission to ask for access to material. Despite making clear that we were anxious to assist, we have not as yet been told of the Commission’s authority to have access to amongst other things private communications. As solicitors we cannot deliver up papers in our possession simply upon request, even to a body such as the Commission.

No indication was given to us until today that the Commission were interested in the part of our actings relating to Mr Megrahi’s appeal being abandoned.

The Commission have very wide powers indeed. They could have made application to the Court for access to materials. In any such application, they would clearly have been required to state the basis of the request, and the basis for any court to order us as solicitors to have to part with confidential papers. We prefaced that in communications with them and asked them to provide authority for any application. We remain in the dark on this important point.

As solicitors we are bound by professional obligations which are the subject of regulation by the Law Society of Scotland. In the event that we have in some way not met our professional obligations the Law Society could have been consulted.

As it was, at the conclusion of our actings in this case we sought and obtained our own legal advice about the custody of the papers.

No further enquiry was made of our solicitors individually or any others who formed part of the legal team. The Commission in its previous consideration of Mr Megrahi’s case interviewed each member of Mr Megrahi’s team about decisions made in the course of the trial.   If focus had centred on the abandonment of the appeal then that could have been pursued by seeking to interview those involved in that aspect of the case.



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The SCCRC say they couldn’t get access to Megrahi’s appeal papers – so why didn’t they ask me for them?


The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission has today announced that it has rejected the application made by various UK Lockerbie victims’ relatives and members of the Megrahi family for a review of Abdelbaset’s conviction on the grounds that “it is not in the interests of justice”.

The accompanying statement contains the following:

The Commission also had to consider the circumstances surrounding the abandonment of Mr Megrahi’s previous appeal. To enable it to do so it was imperative that the Commission be provided with the defence appeal papers. After a period of 14 months, and despite various requests having been made of the Megrahi family and of the late Mr Megrahi’s previous solicitors, Messrs Taylor and Kelly, these have not been forthcoming… 

 [Quote by SCCRC Jean Couper:]

“It is extremely frustrating that the relevant papers, which the Commission believes are currently with the late Mr Megrahi’s solicitors, Messrs Taylor and Kelly, and with the Megrahi family, have not been forthcoming despite repeated requests from the Commission. Therefore, and with some regret, we have decided to end the current review…”

…The Commission has written to the late Mr Megrahi`s solicitors and to his family requesting access to the defence papers in order to allow it to consider the circumstances surrounding the abandonment of Mr Megrahi’s second appeal. No papers were forthcoming despite repeated requests.

Abdelbaset gave me access to all of the defence appeal papers, and I still have them, yet no one from the SCCRC approached me for them. Had they done so, I would have happily handed them over. I also reported on Abdelbaset’s reason for abandoning his appeal in Megrahi: You are my Jury.

The application to the SCCRC stated, in schedule 3, the following:

The circumstances in which Abdelbaset al-Megrahi came to abandon his second appeal are set out in Chapter 14 (pages 346 to 365) and Appendix 4 (pages 420 to 425) of John Ashton’s Megrahi: You are my Jury — The Lockerbie Evidence (Birlinn, Edinburgh, 2012, ISBN-13 978 1 78027 015 9) and (much more briefly) on page 119 of John Ashton’s Scotland’s Shame: Why Lockerbie Still Matters (Birlinn, Edinburgh, 2013, ISBN-13 978 1 78027 167 5) to which the Commission is respectfully referred.

Having been diagnosed as suffering from terminal prostate cancer, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was desperate to achieve his repatriation to Libya so that he could die surrounded by his family. In these circumstances he applied for compassionate release on 24 July 2009. The Libyan Government had already submitted an application for prisoner transfer on 5 May 2009. Abandonment of Megrahi’s appeal was not a requirement for compassionate release, but it was a requirement for prisoner transfer; and the Cabinet Secretary for Justice intimated that, although prisoner transfer had been applied for more than two months before application was made for compassionate release, both applications would be dealt with by him simultaneously (see eg Accordingly, if both routes to repatriation were to remain open to him, Megrahi had to abandon his appeal.

In a press release issued through his solicitor, Tony Kelly, a short time after his return to Libya, Megrahi stated: “I have returned to Tripoli with my unjust conviction still in place. As a result of the abandonment of my appeal I have been deprived of the opportunity to clear my name through the formal appeal process. I have vowed to continue my attempts to clear my name. I will do everything in my power to persuade the public, and in particular the Scottish public, of my innocence.” (see Until the end of his life, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi continued to protest his innocence of the crime of which he had been convicted: see eg

In view of this, the SCCRC cannot have been unaware of my involvement in the case, so why did they not contact me?




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Scottish Review article on the latest Lockerbie claims


The Scottish Review has just published the following article by me about the the coverage of Ken Dornstein’s film My Brother’s Bomber.

Lockerbie is back in the news. On 15 October the Crown Office announced that the lord advocate and the US attorney general have agreed that two Libyan men should be treated as suspects. They have been named as Abu Agila Masud, an alleged bomb-maker whose identity was until now a mystery, and Abdullah Senussi, Colonel Gaddafi’s former security chief. Both men are currently in prison in Libya.

The announcement was prompted by the recent broadcast by the American PBS channel’s ‘Frontline’ series of a three-part documentary, ‘My Brother’s Bomber’, made by Ken Dornstein, who lost his brother David in the attack. Trailed by a long feature in the New Yorker, it suggests that the Libyan man convicted of the bombing, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, was guilty and that he acted with Masud.

The film has provided the much-derided Crown case against Megrahi with the only significant boost it has had since he was convicted almost 15 years ago. That case, accepted by the three Scottish law lords who tried him, went as follows. Two weeks before the bombing, on 7 December 1988, he bought a selection of clothes from a shop in Malta called Mary’s House. On 21 December 1988, while travelling on a false passport he placed an unaccompanied brown Samsonite suitcase on board Air Malta flight KM180 from Malta to Frankfurt.

The suitcase contained the clothes and a bomb, and was labelled for New York on PA103. At Frankfurt it transferred to Pan Am feeder flight PA103A to London Heathrow, and at Heathrow to PA103. The bomb was allegedly built in to a Toshiba BomBeat brand RT-SF16 radio cassette player. A large percentage of the global total of this model had been imported by the Libyan General Electrical Company, which was run by Megrahi’s friend and relative Said Rashid, who was a senior figure in Libyan intelligence service, the JSO. More importantly, it was said to have been detonated by a timing device known as an MST-13, which had been designed and built to order for the JSO by a small Swiss company called Mebo, whose Zurich offices were shared by a Libyan company called ABH, in which Megrahi was a partner.

Before I go further, I should declare an interest. I worked for three years as a researcher for Megrahi, helping his lawyers prepare for his appeal against conviction, and following his return to Libya, at his request, I wrote his biography ‘Megrahi: You are my Jury’. I was also a paid consultant during the early stages of the film’s production in which capacity I was interviewed on camera (although the interview doesn’t appear in the film) and provided Ken with numerous documents. Although he and I hold very different views about the case, I like and respect him.

He has a profound need for clear answers about who killed his brother. He always believed that Megrahi was guilty and that he had acted on behalf of the Libyan state. He used the opportunity opened by the Libyan revolution to pursue the other alleged state players.

He accepts that the evidence suggesting Megrahi was the clothes purchaser was flawed. Not only was he very much younger, smaller and lighter-skinned than the man described by the shopkeeper, Tony Gauci, but the evidence also suggested that the purchase date was not, as the crown alleged, 7 December 1988, but two weeks earlier, when Megrahi was not in Malta. Ken considers that these weaknesses in the Crown case are relatively insignificant when set again the other evidence that he has unearthed, the most important of which concerns Abu Agila Masud.

We have always known that on the morning of the bombing Masud was on the same flight as Megrahi from Malta to Tripoli and that they had been on other flights together in the previous weeks. Megrahi denied knowing him, as did the Libyans interviewed by Lockerbie investigators prior to Megrahi’s trial. The film reveals that, according to a German court judgment, Masud was the technical mastermind behind the 1986 bombing of La Belle nightclub in Berlin. That attack prompted US air strikes on Libya, which in turn, according to the official Lockerbie narrative, prompted Libya to bomb Pan Am 103. Furthermore, the film suggests, Masud was in the car that greeted Megrahi at the airport on his return to Libya in 2009. Then, earlier this year, a Libyan court convicted him of making booby-trapped car bombs during the 2011 revolution.

The film also focuses on another alleged plotter, Said Rashid, who greeted Megrahi on the steps of the aircraft on his arrival home. Ken got access to Rashid’s abandoned house, where he found diaries in which he had described Malta as a launch pad for terrorism against the west. Malta, of course, was where the Libyans allegedly launched the Lockerbie bomb.

Megrahi was always open about his close relationship with Rashid and other notorious senior security figures, including the newly named suspect Abdallah Senussi, who, like Rashid, was a relation. ‘Megrahi: You are my Jury’ made clear that both Rashid and Senussi were allegedly involved in terrorism – in Rashid’s case the La Belle bombing.

The evidence that Ken has assembled is substantial and I do not dismiss it out of hand, but, for reasons set out below, I believe the conclusions he has built upon it are unsustainable.

His film has prompted an avalanche of media coverage, almost all of it uncritical. The Crown Office’s chief media cheerleader, Times columnist Magnus Linklater, has even declared that ‘[it] is time to extinguish the last embers of controversy that have heated the Lockerbie case for so long’.

Anything that places Lockerbie back in the spotlight is to be welcomed. Unfortunately, however, the coverage of the film is more notable for what it omits than what it reveals.

The first significant omission is a consideration of the evidence from Libya and of Megrahi’s behaviour. At the start of the Libyan revolution four years ago, the former justice minister Mustafa Abdel Jalil claimed to have proof that Colonel Gaddafi ordered the bombing. Since then nothing has emerged publicly from the country’s security archives to implicate the Gaddafi regime and Megrahi in the bombing. Jalil later claimed he had been misquoted and the best he could offer by the way of evidence was the fact that the regime had paid Megrahi’s legal bills. Said Rashid’s papers implicated Rashid in terrorism, but there was nothing new and substantial to demonstrate that he had a role in Lockerbie.

The only genuine document to emerge from the ruins of the old regime that speaks directly to the suspects’ private views on the case is a letter by Megrahi to Senussi, reported on by the Wall Street Journal, in which he protested his innocence. (The WSJ speculated that he might have expected the prison staff to check his mail, but that didn’t happen, as he was free to hand over correspondence to the Libyan consulate staff who frequently visited him.)

Megrahi continued to plead his innocence following his return to Libya in 2009. By then there was nothing for him to lose in admitting his guilt, yet he wouldn’t and he spent much of his remaining time cooperating with me in writing his biography – hardly the actions of a guilty man. The Gaddafi regime also had nothing to lose. In 2004 it made a formal admission of responsibility and paid compensation for the bombing, but only because it was obliged to do so in order to free itself of crippling UN sanctions, which had been imposed under US and UK sponsored Security Council resolutions passed in the early 90s. It never made an unambiguous admission of guilt.

Megrahi didn’t act like a terrorist when he was in Malta. Although he travelled on a coded passport under a false name, he went to visit his co-accused Lamin Fhimah’s Maltese business partner, whom he had never met before, and introduced himself under his real name. He then stayed the night at the Holiday Inn, rather than at one of the island’s Libyan-owned hotels, despite having stayed there for two nights only a fortnight earlier under his own name. He kept the passport for 11 years until he went to The Netherlands to stand trial and handed it over to the prosecution; again, not what one would expect of a terrorist.

Megrahi told a number of lies, not least, it seems, about his relationship with Masud, but lies do not prove guilt. Truth telling is a luxury of liberal democracies. In countries like Gaddafi’s Libya it can be fatal.

A second omission is the strong evidence that points away from Megrahi and Libya. Unlike the Libyans, the original suspects in the bombing, the Syrian-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), had a track record of bombing aircraft. Moreover, they made bombs into Toshiba BomBeat radio cassette players, the same brand – although a different model – that was used to destroy Pan Am 103. According to their bomb-maker Marwan Khreesat, who was arrested in Germany with other members of the group two months before Lockerbie in an operation code-named Autumn Leaves, his fellow arrestee Hafez Dalkamoni had come to Germany to coordinate an attack on a western airline and had shown a particular interest in Pan Am. 

The German cell also had a link to Malta through the Swedish-based terrorist Mohamed Abu Talb, some of whose associates had visited Dalkamoni and Khreesat’s German apartment two weeks before the Autumn Leaves raids, and who himself visited Malta around the same time. 

There have been suggestions that the PFLP-GC and the Libyans somehow joined forces and that the Libyans were responsible for the plot’s final execution. This would make sense if the Autumn Leaves arrests had halted the PFLP-GC’s operation. However, other evidence suggests that it continued. Khreesat told the German police that other members of the group had evaded arrest, including one called Abu Elias, who, Khreesat gleaned, was to have an important role in the planned attack. Another PFLP-GC member called Mobdi Goben, who led the group’s Yugoslavian cell and was visited by members of the German cell shortly before their arrest, later claimed that the bombing had been coordinated by Abu Elias. 

Further evidence that the PFLP-GC’s plot remained active after the Autumn Leaves raids came in a warning circulated by the US State Department’s bureau of diplomatic security three weeks before Lockerbie (and a few days before the better known and allegedly hoax Helsinki warning). It stated that a group of radical Palestinians in Europe was planning to target Pan Am, adding ‘Timeframe is present’. 

A number of declassified US intelligence documents have stated as fact that the bombing was commissioned from the PFLP-GC by Iran in revenge for the accidental shoot-down of Iran Air flight 655 by US battlecruiser the USS Vincennes six months earlier. Former CIA agent Robert Baer revealed specific details of the Iranian/PFLP-GC attack, which he said came from a number of reliable sources. Another, Richard Fuisz, revealed in a court deposition that he was told by numerous senior Syrian officials who were close to PFLP-GC leader Ahmed Jibril that the group was behind the bombing. 
None of this rules out Libyan involvement in the attack: Libya backed the PFLP-GC and may well have provided logistical and material support to the bombers. This scenario was one that neither the Lockerbie prosecutors nor the Libyans themselves would wish explored. 

A third omission is the evidence suggesting that the La Belle bombing was not a straightforward act of Libyan terrorism. Three of the four people convicted of the bombing worked at the Libyan People’s Bureau in East Berlin: Palestinian Yassar Chraidi, Lebanese-born German Ali Chanaa and Libyan Musbah Eter. Eter confessed to his role in the bombing in 1996 and became the key prosecution witness (Chanaa also confessed but his evidence was not relied upon by the prosecution). Also central to the case were files from the former East Germany security service, the Stasi, which documented information provided by its network of informers within Berlin’s Arab community.

The files appeared to corroborate Eter’s claim that Masud was a bomb technician and indicated that he was in Berlin around the time of the bombing. The Libyan witnesses in the Lockerbie case all denied knowledge of Masud. Also important to the case were intercepts of incriminatory messages supposedly sent between the Libyan government and the East Berlin People’s Bureau. Said Rashid was identified as the main voice behind the instructions from Tripoli. Ostensibly, all this was convincing evidence of Masud’s and Libya’s guilt. But other evidence suggests the bombing had some very murky undercurrents.

The Stasi files suggested that the staff of the East Berlin Libyan People’s Bureau were far from being a close band of Gaddafi loyalists. Most startlingly, they showed that Musbah Eter had a long-standing relationship with the CIA. A 1998 investigation by the German TV channel ZDF alleged that, at the time of his confession in 1996, he was running a CIA front company in Malta.

Some of the Stasi’s Arab informants also had a relationship with the CIA. So too did a number of non-Libyans, whom the Stasi files implicated in the wider La Belle plot, but who escaped justice. One key informant, Mahmoud Abu Jaber, and his brother Mohamed, both of whom were both close to Chraidi, ran a freelance Palestinian terrorist cell that was mistrusted by other Palestinians. The Stasi learned that the CIA knew that Mahmoud and another cell member, Khaled Shatta, were involved in the bombing. In the months prior to the attack the cell lived in East Berlin and met the defendants almost daily. Hours before the attack they travelled to West Berlin. Their movements were monitored by both the Stasi and the Soviet intelligence service, the KGB, who concluded that they were working for Western intelligence. A declassified KGB document indicated that Jaber was suspected of being an agent provocateur, who was being used by the CIA to concoct a case against Libya. The KGB reported that, two days before the bombing, he told his CIA contacts that it would cost $30,000, rather than the previously quoted amount, $80,000. Another member of the group admitted to ZDF that he was a Mossad asset.

All this is important in the light of the widely reported and well documented fact that throughout the Reagan presidency the CIA ran a massive covert campaign against Libya. In the run up to the La Belle attack, the US navy conducted aggressive exercises off the coast of Libya, which were clearly designed to provoke a Libyan military response, although none came. The bombing gave the White House hawks the excuse they craved to strike. 

When the US released the incriminatory intercepts to the German authorities a decade after the attack they appeared to be genuine. However, according to former Mossad agent Victor Ostrovsky the Americans were duped by a Mossad, who broadcast phony messages from Tripoli. Neither the La Belle prosecutor Detlev Mehlis nor the FBI bothered to interview Ostrovsky about his claims. 

To be clear, I do not claim that Libya, Said Rashid and Abouagela Masud were not involved in La Belle – I would not be surprised if they were – I merely caution against taking a black and white view of the case.

The fourth major omission in the recent media coverage is the evidence that demonstrates that the Lockerbie bomb did not originate in Malta. To remind you, Megrahi’s conviction rested on the belief that he had managed to smuggle a bomb contained in an unaccompanied suitcase on board Air Malta flight KM180 from Malta to Frankfurt and that this case had been transferred to Pan Am feeder flight PA103A to Heathrow, where it was transferred to PA103. The claim relied upon two documents from Frankfurt airport, which, according to the Crown, demonstrated that an unaccounted-for suitcase had been transferred from KM180 to PA103A.

However, that claim in turn relied upon a number of shaky inferences about the documents and the surrounding events at Frankfurt (which are documented in ‘Megrahi: You are my Jury’ and, more exhaustively, in Dr Morag Kerr’s book, ‘Adequately Explained by Stupidity?’).

Megrahi’s conviction depended upon two still more unlikely assumptions. The first was that he had struck very lucky. Forensic evidence suggested that the bomb’s position within luggage container AVE4041 was such that it was as close as it could be to the skin of the aircraft and that had it been any further away it would not have penetrated the skin and caused the plane to disintegrate. 

The second was that he had managed to circumvent Air Malta’s baggage loading procedures. Unlike Pan Am’s these were unusually strict; they required the head loader to physically count all the bags to make sure the total tallied with the number checked in. To ensure that he had done so, he was not told this number, but instead had to report the total to the flight’s ramp dispatcher, who would check it against the checked-in total. KM180’s records showed that the numbers had matched. The police investigation established that all these bags had made it onto the flight and been collected by their owners, which ruled out the possibility that Megrahi or an accomplice had managed to swap the bomb suitcase for a check-in bag prior to the head loader’s count.

The only witness from any of the three airports investigated by the police who could recall seeing a brown Samsonite case of the type that contained the bomb was a Pan Am loader at Heathrow called John Bedford. On the day of the bombing he was based in the so-called interline shed, which processed bags transferred from other flights, but not those from PA103A from Frankfurt, which allegedly carried the suitcase from Malta.

When interviewed by the police he remembered clearly that it was lying flat in the luggage container AVE4041 in the approximate position that the explosion later took place. He said he noticed it when he returned from his tea break at around 16.45 and that a colleague, Sulkash Kamboj, had told him that he had placed it there. (Kamboj subsequently had no recollection of doing so and there is no suggestion that he was part of the bomb plot.) 

Crucially, Bedford went off duty before PA103A arrived from Frankfurt, so the suitcase he saw could not have originated from that flight and could therefore not have been a rogue suitcase from the Air Malta flight KM180. Equally crucially, he and the two other loaders who saw AVE4041 were sure that, by the time it was taken to PA103A to be topped up with baggage from Frankfurt, the base of the container was covered by a single layer of baggage, which consisted of at least five cases standing vertically along the back and two lying flat at the front.

These details were important because two police memos uncovered during preparations for Megrahi’s second appeal showed that only six legitimate interline bags would have been loaded into AVE4041, none of which matched that described by Bedford. Clearly then, the Bedford suitcase was rogue and, to the best of his recollection, it matched the one that contained the bomb.

Further evidence that the bomb was planted at Heathrow has been unearthed and compiled in an exhaustive investigation by researcher Dr Morag Kerr in her book ‘Adequately Explained by Stupidity?’. Taken together, the Heathrow evidence is far more convincing evidence of the bomb’s origin than the fact that Megrahi and Abouagela Masud left Malta together on the morning of the bombing.

The final important omission is the evidence that destroys the Crown’s central claim that the Lockerbie bomb contained an MST-13 timer from a batch supplied by the Swiss company Mebo to Libya. The claim relied upon a fragment of circuit board known as PT/35(b), which was found within the Lockerbie debris. According to the Crown, it matched the boards used in the Libyan batch, which had been made for Mebo by another Swiss company, Thüring. However, there was a crucial difference, which was not revealed to the trial court: PT/35(b)’s copper circuitry was plated with pure tin, whereas the boards in the timers supplied to Libya were plated with a tin-lead alloy. In 2008 Thüring’s production director confirmed to Megrahi’s lawyers that the company had only every used tin-lead alloy plating. It meant that the fragment could not have been from one of the MST-13s supplied to Libya. 

As well as omitting such vital evidence, the media coverage surrounding ‘My Brother’s Bomber’ has swerved an urgent question: given that Abu Agila Masud apparently linked the La Belle attack and Lockerbie, why did the Lockerbie investigators never make anything of the fact? It’s clear from the statements of Scottish police officers that Masud was a prime suspect from 1991 onwards. In 1997 he was named in the indictment against the La Belle accused. Had the Lockerbie prosecutors known of the link, they should have used it to bolster the weak circumstantial case that they had assembled against Megrahi and his co-accused, Lamin Fhimah. The fact that they did not looks like a major cock up, which the announcement of the pursuit of the two new suspects has effectively concealed. The Crown Office claims that there is now a ‘proper basis’ in Scots law to treat the two men as suspects, implying that there wasn’t previously. In fact, such a basis has existed since 1991.

The initiative has already descended into farce. The Crown Office has discussed getting access to the suspects with the internationally recognised government in Tobruk, which is powerless to help, because they are being held by the rival government in Tripoli. That government is willing to allow the Crown Office to interview the suspects, but has heard nothing from them. As leading Libya observer Jason Pack has observed, given the very delicate political situation in the country, which the UN is attempting to resolve by brokering the formation of a national unity government, the Crown Office’s announcement seems ‘particularly ill-timed and naïve’.

I can believe that the police and FBI failed to be sufficiently curious about La Belle, but find it hard to believe that the CIA missed the Masud link with Lockerbie. In the official narrative, the two bombings were umbilically linked. The CIA of all people should therefore have been alert to the possibility that there were common players between the two attacks. They could not have been unaware that Masud had been implicated in La Belle if the man who implicated him, Musbah Eter, was one of their own.

Why, then, was it not until 19 years after Eter named Masud, and 18 years after he was named in the La Belle indictment, that the Lockerbie connection was made? And why did it fall to one of the Lockerbie victims’ relatives to make the connection? Clearly the Libyans kept silent about Masud because they knew that the La Belle connection, whether genuine or not, would damage Megrahi and Fhimah’s prospects at trial, but why the apparent silence from the CIA?

We are unlikely to get answers to these and the many other questions that cloud Lockerbie. We should applaud Ken Dornstein for adding some pieces to the jigsaw. He has seen a picture that he finds convincing, but when I look at the other pieces, I am equally sure he is wrong and that, if we ever get to see the complete picture, the part he has illuminated may prove to be peripheral.

We must nevertheless hope that Masud and Senussi are handed over to the Scottish authorities, unlikely as that prospect may currently seem. The case urgently needs reopening and a trial of the two men may be the best way of achieving it. Should there be one, the prosecution would have to re-run most of the discredited case that convicted Megrahi, and the defence would be armed with vital exculpatory evidence that the Crown previously withheld. The result, I predict, would be a deepening rather than an answering of Lockerbie’s mysteries. 



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Private Eye reports on the latest Lockerbie claims


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.



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More Lockerbie errors by Magnus Linklater

The following article by Magnus Linklater appears in the Scottish edition of The Times under the headline Lockerbie evidence points firmly in the direction of Libya. Unfortunately, as is so often the case with Mr Linklater’s writing on Lockerbie, it contains numerous distortions and factual errors.

The article is in italics, interspersed with my comments.


It is time to extinguish the last embers of controversy that have heated the Lockerbie case for so long. For more than two decades critics have argued that Scottish police got the wrong man and that the prosecution of Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi was — perhaps deliberately — a botched job.

Yet last week, after a long and dogged investigation, the Crown Office announced that it had identified two further suspects, and was asking the government in Tripoli to allow it access to them in prison.

The investigation of the two new suspects was done primarily by Ken Dornstein. The key fact that Ken uncovered (that Megrahi’s alleged associate Abu Agila Mas’ud was a suspect in the La Belle Disco bombing) was missed by the Crown Office for 18 years.

It may not succeed — Libya is in chaos at the moment — but it is clear that enough prima facie evidence has now emerged to perhaps home in on those who planned and helped execute a terrorist attack that killed 270 innocent people 27 years ago.

I agree that there is a prima facie case against Mas’ud, just as there was against Megrahi, and I hope he can be brought to trial. However, the case against him will rely on much of the discredited evidence that convicted Megrahi.

Those who have argued down the years that this line of inquiry is misguided, and that Libya was not responsible, have some hard questions to answer.

No one that I know of has argued that the Crown should not pursue lines of inquiry that point to Libya. Our criticism of the Crown is that it has failed to pursue exculpatory evidence.

Why would the Crown Office still be spending public money and using scarce resources to shore up a case that is — as its critics claim — fundamentally flawed?

One reason might be that, it is a way of keeping at bay the tide of scandal that surrounds Megrahi’s prosecution. Another question, which Mr Linklater fails to ask, is: why is the Crown not using its resources to consider the evidence that points away from Libya, such as the forensic evidence, that shows that the fragment of circuit board PT/35b did not, as the Crown alleged at trial, originate from a timer supplied to Libya by the Swiss company Mebo?

The central accusations that have sustained the conspiracy theorists is that evidence was manipulated by the CIA to accuse Libya rather than Syria or Iran; that information was withheld from defence lawyers representing al-Megrahi, the only man convicted of the bombing; and that Scottish judges presided over what they call “the worst miscarriage of justice in British legal history”.

Wrong. The central allegation, which is in the realm of fact, not conspiracy, is that the Crown withheld exculpatory evidence. We also believe that it was a terrible miscarriage of justice, for which the judges must share the blame. On this point, Mr Linklater fails to report that the SCCRC ruled that the trial court judgment was unreasonable.

Ever since, they argue, the Scottish judicial system has connived in an attempt to prevent the truth coming out. Allowing al-Megrahi back to Libya on condition that he dropped his appeal was part of the strategy.

Wrong. It has never been seriously suggested by Megrahi’s mainstream supporters that the Scottish judicial system pressured Megrahi to drop his appeal. The pressure was purely political and came from the Scottish Government and/or the Libyan government.

Why, then, should that same legal process be obstinately nurturing a case that it must, by now, have conceded is wrong-headed? Perhaps, as one of its accusers has alleged, the explanation is sheer stupidity. Or, as another claims, it is desperately trying to cover its tracks by pursuing an empty investigation.

But perhaps it is simply following the evidence, and doing what every family of every Lockerbie victim wants it to, which is trying to get at the truth. The hard facts are that every countertheory, and every alternative thread of evidence, has been examined to distraction, and has led nowhere.

Wrong. The counter evidence relating to PT/35b (and much else) has not been pursued.

The time has come for those who cling to them to accept that the evidence points firmly in the direction of Libya rather than the myriad of misty theories and unsupported allegations on which their case has rested.

Wrong. The primary claims of Megrahi’s supporters are supported by a wealth of hard evidence, the great majority of which was gathered by the Scottish police.


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What Megrahi told Senussi about Lockerbie

As everyone who follows the Lockerbie knows, two new suspects have been named: alleged bomb-maker Abu Agila Mas’ud and former Libyan security chief Abdullah Senussi. In truth, neither name is new, both have been suspects for almost 25 years. (I mistakenly said in a BBC interview on 15 October that both were named in the indictment against Abdelbaset al-Megrahi and Lamin Fhimah, which was issued in November 1991. They were not. Rather Senussi was named in a US State Department fact sheet that accompanied the indictment and Scottish police statements show that Mas’ud became a suspect in early 1991.)

It seems that the Crown Office’s decision to announce that it is pursuing new suspects is a response to Ken Dornstein’s film My Brother’s Bomber, which has just been broadcast as a three-part series on PBS Frontline in the US.

I have written about the substantial flaws in the case against Mas’ud here and shall be writing more.

As far as I know, there is no significant new evidence to implicate Senussi. The case against him would appear to rest on the fact that he was one of Gaddafi’s most powerful thugs and was a friend and relative of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi’s. In view of the two men’s closeness, the private communications between them should be a focus for the Lockerbie investigation. I don’t know how much evidence of this survived the Libyan revolution, but one letter certainly did. It was reported by the Wall Street Journal on 30 August 2011, shortly after the fall of Tripoli, under the headline In Letter to Tripoli, Bomber States His Case. The salient extracts follow:

Convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi maintained his innocence in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 throughout his trial and appeals—and did so in a private letter to Libya’s intelligence chief, discovered on Monday in intelligence headquarters in Tripoli.

“I am an innocent man,” Mr. Megrahi wrote to Abdullah al-Senussi, a powerful official who was regarded as one of Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s closest aides, in a letter found by The Wall Street Journal. The letter, in blue ink on a piece of ordinary binder paper, was apparently written while Mr. Megrahi was serving a life sentence in the U.K…

The letter to Mr. Senussi was found in a steel, four-drawer filing cabinet in the intelligence chief’s office in Tripoli. The cabinet had been forced open, apparently by rebels who shot holes in the lock. The office lay in shambles, but many of Mr. Senussi’s personal papers appeared untouched. There was no way to immediately confirm the authenticity of the letter…

It is unclear why he would have had reason to profess his innocence to Mr. Senussi, who was in a position to already know details about the bombing. It is possible that the inmate expected Scottish prison officials to read his letter before delivering it to the Libyan government.

Mr. Megrahi insisted he was innocent throughout his original trial and subsequent appeals. Even after his conviction, mystery and unanswered questions about who else may have been involved have surrounded the case.

In the letter, addressed to “My dear brother Abdullah,” Mr. Megrahi blamed his conviction on “fraudulent information that was relayed to investigators by Libyan collaborators.”

He blamed “the immoral British and American investigators” who he writes “knew there was foul play and irregularities in the investigation of the 1980s.”

He described in detail his latest legal maneuvering, focusing on the testimony by a Maltese clothes merchant that was critical to his conviction. The Maltese clothes merchant in question testified that Mr. Megrahi had purchased clothes from him that were later found in the suitcase that contained the bomb that brought down Flight 103.

“You my brother know very well that they were making false claims against me and that I didn’t buy any clothes at all from any store owner in Malta,” Mr. Megrahi wrote to Mr. Senussi.

Although the WSJ was unable to verify the authenticity of the letter, it was almost certainly genuine. It reflected what Megrahi told everyone who knew him and the idea that someone would have planted a fake is nonsensical. The speculation that Megrahi expected the prison authorities to read his mail is incorrect, as he was free to pass letters directly to his lawyers and the Libyan consular staff who regularly visited him.

Let’s hope the Lockerbie investigators have asked the Wall Street Journal’s reporters for a copy of the letter.


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Response to PBS Frontline ‘My Brother’s Bomber’

The following article appears in today’s Sunday Herald under the headline ‘Linking Megrahi to a new Lockerbie bombing suspect won’t work … he was innocent and his conviction is a stain on Scottish justice’.  It is my first response to the claims made in Ken Dornstein’s three-part documentary My Brother’s Bomber, which is currently being broadcast on PBS Frontline in the US. The series was trailed in this New Yorker article two weeks ago.

Fifteen years ago, three Scottish law lords found Abdelbaset al-Megrahi guilty of the Lockerbie bombing. For many observers, including the majority of the relatives of the attack’s 270 victims, it was an unsatisfactory verdict. Megrahi’s co-accused, Lamin Fhimah, had been acquitted and there seemed little prospect of Megrahi’s alleged Libyan superiors being brought to trial.

For others, myself included, it was unsatisfactory for another reason –– the case against Megrahi was simply not credible. It relied on the claim that he had bought the clothes that were packed into the bomb suitcase from a shop in Malta. The shopkeeper consistently described a clothes buyer who looked nothing like Megrahi, and the evidence suggested that the purchase took place when he was not on the island.

In 2007 the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission referred the case back to the appeal court on no fewer than six grounds, among them that the trial court judgment was unreasonable. The terminally ill Megrahi abandoned the appeal two years later in order to aid his application for compassionate release, but the prosecution’s narrative has been on a life-support machine ever since.

Now it has been breathed new life by a three-part documentary for the US Public Broadcasting Service’s Frontline series. Trailed by a lengthy article in the New Yorker, the film suggests that Megrahi was, after all, involved in the bombing as an accomplice to a man called Abu Agila Mas’ud. I was a paid consultant during the early stages of the film’s production, but I disagree with its conclusions.

It reveals that Mas’ud was named by a German judge as the technician responsible for the bomb that destroyed the La Belle nightclub in Berlin two-and-a-half-years before Lockerbie, killing three people, including two American servicemen. That attack prompted US air raids on Libya ten days later, for which Lockerbie was supposedly revenge.

Megrahi was on the same flight as Mas’ud on at least three occasions prior to Lockerbie, including on the morning of the bombing when they flew from Malta to Libya. It was in Malta that Megrahi was alleged to have put the bomb onto an Air Malta flight to Frankfurt, which was supposedly transferred to a feeder flight to Heathrow and again at Heathrow to Pan Am 103. Megrahi and numerous other Libyan witnesses denied knowing Mas’ud, but the film suggests that Mas’ud was in the car that greeted Megrahi on his return to Libya. Earlier this year a Libyan court convicted Mas’ud of making booby-trapped car bombs during the country’s 2011 revolution.

So far, so convincing. Clearly there is a prima facie case against Mas’ud, just as there was against Megrahi. Now that his whereabouts are known, we must hope that he can be brought to trial and the new evidence tested in a Scottish court.

However, if that happens, the prosecution will face far greater difficulties than they did in trying Megrahi. The first is the lack of proof of Mas’ud’s involvement in the La Belle bombing. The main witness to implicate him, Libyan Musbah Eter, who was himself convicted of the bombing, was an extremely tricky customer. A 1998 German TV investigation revealed him to be an asset of the US Central Intelligence Agency — a crucial detail in light of the fact that, at the time of La Belle, the CIA was running a massive covert campaign against Libya in which disinformation was central.

Eter has reportedly now implicated both Mas’ud and Megrahi in the Lockerbie bombing and claims to have heard Mas’ud speak of travelling to Malta to prepare for the attack. It’s easy to imagine what a defence advocate would do with him in cross-examination. “Why did you wait 20 years before volunteering this information Mr Eter?” would be the obvious opening question.

The La Belle prosecution also relied on information held in the archives of the former East German security service, the Stasi. While these files showed that some of the Stasi’s Arab informants corroborated Eter’s account, they also revealed that non-Libyan terrorists were involved in the plot, some of whom were also believed to be connected to the CIA. One of them even claimed to the German TV producers that he had a relationship with the CIA’s close ally, the Israeli intelligence service, Mossad.

The US government claimed that intercepted messages sent to and from Libya’s East Berlin Embassy around the time of the bombing proved Libyan involvement. However, former Mossad agent Victor Ostrovsky claimed in his 1994 memoir The Other Side of Deception that the intercepted messages had in fact been broadcast by an undercover Mossad team in Libya. Mossad never denied the claim, but the German prosecutor responsible for the La Belle case never interviewed Ostrovsky.

Proving the Lockerbie bomb came from Malta would present the Crown with an even bigger problem. The claim relies on documentary evidence from Frankfurt airport that appeared to show that a rogue bag had been transferred from an incoming Air Malta flight to the feeder flight to Heathrow. Megrahi’s prosecutors claimed the bag was further transferred at Heathrow to PA103, but there is no proof that it was. Furthermore, the trial heard that Air Malta employed unusually strict baggage procedures that required the head loader to physically count the hold luggage to ensure the total matched the number checked in. Documents from the flight to Frankfurt on to which the Libyans supposedly smuggled the bomb, showed that the number tallied with the number of legitimate check-in bags. More worryingly for the Crown, since Megrahi’s trial a meticulous investigation by Scottish researcher Dr Morag Kerr has effectively proved that the bomb originated from Heathrow.

The forensic case against Libya is also in tatters. Central to it was a fragment of circuit board, allegedly from the bomb’s timer, which was said at trial to match circuit boards used in timers supplied to Libya. Evidence uncovered shortly before Megrahi’s return to Libya in 2009 showed that it did not in fact match — there was a crucial metallurgical difference that ruled out the fragment originating from one of the Libyan timers.

The dire security situation in Libya would probably make it impossible for prosecutors to gather evidence there. Even if the county was stable, it would likely be a fruitless mission, as nothing has emerged publicly to suggest that Libya was behind the bombing. At the start of the revolution in 2011 the former justice minister Mustafa Abdel Jalil told the Swedish newspaper Expressen that he had proof that Colonel Gaddafi was behind the bombing, but the best he could offer by way of evidence was the fact that the government had funded Megrahi’s legal case. He later claimed that Expressen had misquoted him.

The most persuasive aspect of Frontline’s case against Mas’ud is the denial by Megrahi and other Libyans of his existence. Clearly they calculated that it would be damaging to Megrahi and Fhimah’s prospects if they were to be linked to a man named as a bomb-maker in the indictment against those accused of the La Belle bombing. However, lies do not prove guilt. In fear-governed societies like Gaddafi’s Libya they are the lingua franca.

If Mas’ud received a fair trail for the Lockerbie bombing on the basis of Frontline’s evidence, then he could not be convicted. However, in view of Megrahi’s experience, that’s a big ‘if’, because, as we now know, vital exculpatory evidence was withheld from the defence and the court was misled on a number of key points. The scandal has been worsened by the Scottish government’s refusal to order an inquiry in to the Crown’s conduct. The refusal prompted the Justice for Megrahi campaign group to make formal allegations of criminal misconduct against various Crown officials. No sooner had the allegations been made, than the Crown Office issued a statement declaring them to be “defamatory and entirely unfounded”. Unfortunately for the Crown Office, Police Scotland took them very seriously. Proving criminal intent will be a tall order, but the fact that a major investigation, known as Operation Sandwood, has been running for over 18 months seems to run contrary to claims that the allegations are baseless.

The fear is that the Frontline film’s claims will provide the Crown Office with a smokescreen, from behind which it can brief that Megrahi was guilty all along and that its failures were therefore immaterial. They were anything but and, until it is held to account for them, they will remain a terrible stain on Scottish justice.


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