- June 2016
- May 2016
- January 2016
- November 2015
- October 2015
- December 2014
- May 2014
- April 2014
- March 2014
- January 2014
- December 2013
- November 2013
- October 2013
- September 2013
- July 2013
- March 2013
- December 2012
- October 2012
- September 2012
- August 2012
- July 2012
- June 2012
- May 2012
- April 2012
- March 2012
- February 2012
The following article appears in the current issue of Private Eye (no. 1421):
If former Scottish justice minister Kenny MacAskill believed his new book about the Lockerbie bombing would end the controversy surrounding the conviction of Libyan Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, he was wrong.
The Lockerbie Bombing: The Search for Justice, provides an intriguing insight into the double dealing of the US and UK governments, whose ‘deals in the desert’ with Colonel Gaddafi were agreed against the backdrop of Megrahi’s release ‘on compassionate grounds’. But in the book MacAskill demolishes a central pillar of the prosecution case against Megrahi, the only man convicted of the atrocity. He concludes that Megrahi did not, as claimed, buy the incriminating clothes used to pack the bomb suitcase from a Maltese shop – the direct link between Megrahi and the bomb.
He then renders the conviction doubly unsafe by revealing the contents of material which has been kept secret under a controversial public interest immunity (PII) certificate signed in 2008 by the then Foreign Secretary, David Miliband.
Then known only to originate from a foreign country, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) had identified the material as potentially important to Megrahi’s defence. The Crown’s failure to disclose it at Megrahi’s trial in 2000 was one of the commission’s grounds for granting the appeal. Under the PII, the commission could not reveal the contents, leading to accusations that the government was involved in a cover-up. (Eye 1205).
MacAskill, who signed Megrahi’s release back to Libya, now reveals that the document in question was a letter from the late King Hussein of Jordan to then prime minister John Major, blaming the atrocity on the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC). Eye readers will recall that members of the group were the original suspects. Some had been caught in Germany two months before Lockerbie, apparently preparing an airliner attack.
Bomb maker Marwan Khreesat later confessed to having built five bombs designed to detonate at altitude. Two were concealed within Toshiba radio-cassette players, one of which was never recovered. The Lockerbie bomb was also contained within a Toshiba radio cassette player – although a different model. Suspicions of PFLP-GC involvement were strengthened because Khreesat’s bombs were designed to detonate between 30 and 50 minutes after takeoff. The Lockerbie bomb on Pan Am flight 103 exploded 38 minutes after the airliner left Heathrow on 21 December 1988.
Despite admitting building aircraft bombs, Khreesat was freed by a German court a fortnight after his arrest and allowed to return to his native Jordan. He was later revealed to be an informant for the German and Jordanian
intelligence services, which added weight to King Hussein’s letter to prime minister Major.
MacAskill seeks to downplay the letter’s significance, saying it was sent soon after Lockerbie and before the police investigation switched focus from the PFLP-GC to Megrahi in 1990. This is not the case. It emerged during the appeal hearings that the letter was sent in 1996 – long after the investigation had changed tack.
In his book MacAskill thus underscores two of the six grounds which the SSCRC decided rendered the conviction unsafe. In an interview on Scottish television he even conceded it may ‘unsafe’, but said he was still convinced of Megrahi’s guilt. Not only is some of his reasoning based on untested assertions, untested evidence and in places on the discredited testimony of CIA supergrass Majid Giaka, but as a lawyer he should know that is not how the criminal justice system works.
The book has led to calls for a further appeal against conviction and for a far reaching inquiry. Police in Scotland are already investigating allegations of criminal misconduct made by the Justice for Megrahi campaign against some of those involved in the Libyan’s conviction – including allegations of withholding evidence from the defence. The book now raises questions about who else shared MacAskill’s doubts over the safety of elements of the case and for how long.
MacAskill may himself yet be in hot water over the breach of the PII certificate. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said it was still considering the contents of his book.
The following article by me appears in today’s Sunday Herald under the headline The unravelling of Kenny MacAskill … and the case against Megrahi.
It was supposed to be Scotland’s publishing event of the year, former justice secretary Kenny MacAskill’s long awaited account of his controversial decision to release the convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.
Serialised in the Murdoch press and endorsed by former First Minister Alex Salmond, ‘The Lockerbie Bombing’ looked set to enhance the reputations of MacAskill and the criminal justice system he served.
In the event, the book has made an even bigger splash than expected, but not in the way that he intended. By the time it was published last week, it had plunged the Megrahi case into chaos and left MacAskill looking rattled, if not a little foolish.
The book gives the inside track on the grubby international power play that surrounded his decision to allow the terminally ill Libyan to return home. But it goes much further, answering, according to its dust jacket, “how and why [the bombing] happened – and who was really responsible”. It is here, in his efforts to play sleuth, judge and jury, that MacAskill has come unstuck.
He argues that Megrahi was guilty – a significant player in a much larger plot. One of the book’s few genuine revelations, however, details a secret document which implicates the terror group the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) in the Lockerbie bombing carried out on December 21 1988.
MacAskill in his book identifies who sent the document and who received it – an act strictly forbidden by the law. As the Sunday Herald revealed last week, in publishing such details, MacAskill was in breach of a Whitehall gagging order and very likely, at least in the opinion of the Foreign Office, of the Official Secrets Act. The former Scottish Justice Secretary later admitted that he was ‘unsure’ whether he had broken the act.
MacAskill downplays the letter’s significance, claiming it was sent soon after Lockerbie, and before evidence had emerged to implicate Libya and Megrahi. This is one of the book’s many factual errors. At Megrahi’s second appeal it was revealed that the UK government had seen the letter in September 1996, five years after it had claimed that Lockerbie was a ‘Libyan operation from start to finish’.
Overshadowing these revelations, however, is a single sentence buried among the book’s 322 pages, which reads: “Clothes in the suitcase that carried the bomb were acquired in Malta, though not by Megrahi.”
Its significance rests on the reasoning of the three Law Lords who convicted Megrahi. They concluded that he had sent a bomb concealed within a suitcase on Air Malta flight KM180 from Malta to Frankfurt and that it was later transferred to Pan Am flight PA103 at Heathrow. The case was largely circumstantial, with only two points that directly incriminated Megrahi in the bombing. One was his presence at Malta’s Luqa airport when KM180 was loading and the other was the testimony of Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci that he resembled the man who bought the clothes packed in the suitcase.
The judgment was clear that the failure to explain how Megrahi had got the bomb on to KM180 was ‘a major difficulty for the Crown case’, however, it accepted that when taken together with other evidence – crucially Gauci’s – the inference that the bomb came from Malta was ‘irresistible.’
The most important link in the Crown case, Gauci’s evidence was also the weakest.
The clothes purchaser he described was much older and bigger than Megrahi and there is persuasive evidence that the purchase took place when Megrahi was not in Malta.
As the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission noted when it referred Megrahi’s conviction to the appeal court in 2007, the assumption that Megrahi was the clothes purchaser was critical. Without it, there was insufficient evidence to convict him.
By Monday evening MacAskill, had conceded in two TV interviews that Megrahi’s conviction was probably unsafe, a startling volte face, given that the Scottish government, which he served as justice minister, repeatedly stated that it did “not doubt the safety of the conviction.”
His concession was not lost on the Justice for Megrahi (JfM) campaign group, which believes the Libyan was wrongly convicted. By then they had written to Police Scotland’s Operation Sandwood team, which is investigating allegations of criminal misconduct made by JfM against some of the Crown servants responsible for the conviction.
JfM say MacAskill is an important and compellable witness, and that the police must establish the basis for his claim that Megrahi was not the clothes purchaser.
‘The weaknesses in the identification evidence were well known to the Scottish government when MacAskill, as Justice Secretary, was claiming that the conviction was safe,’ says JfM’s Iain McKie, a former police superintendent who spent 15 years battling the police and Crown Office to clear the name of his daughter Shirley McKie.
‘So what does Kenny know that we don’t that has caused him to change his mind? If any of it was previously secret, then the Crown Office has to explain why it wasn’t disclosed to the defence. Was Mr MacAskill aware of it when as government minister he was declaring the conviction safe and turning down JfM’s petition for an independent public inquiry? Was he in any way misleading or deceiving the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish people?’
There is a still more important question: is MacAskill saying publicly what the Crown is saying privately? ‘The book reads,’ says McKie, ‘as if the Megrahi-wasn’t-the-clothes-purchaser-but-was-guilty-anyway line has been fed to him.
“If it was the Crown doing that, then the consequences are immense, because they have a duty to report that to the court, in which case the conviction falls.’
Publicly the Crown Office is sticking to the line that Megrahi’s conviction is safe, but it must be dismayed by MacAskill’s statements, not least, his barely veiled criticism of the secret $2 million reward payment made to Gauci, which the Crown Office tacitly sanctioned.
MacAskill continues to insist that Megrahi was guilty, but his case is built largely on untested evidence and assertions, and he has sidestepped important exculpatory evidence that has emerged since Megrahi’s conviction. All rather surprising for a former defence lawyer.
This flags another intriguing question: how, given his legal background, could MacAskill have landed himself in such a mess? Did he not realise that revealing details of the document subject to a Whitehall gagging order might be illegal? And did he not foresee the consequences of conceding that Megrahi was not the clothes purchaser?
His book’s subtitle is ‘The Search for Justice’. Ironically, its unintended consequence may be to help achieve justice for Megrahi.
John Ashton is the author of ‘Megrahi: You are my Jury’ pub. Birlinn, 2011) and ‘Scotland’s Shame: Why Lockerbie Still Matters’ (Birlinn, 2013). From 2006 to 2009 he worked with Abdelbaset al-Megrahi’s legal team.
The following article, by Peter Swindon and me, was the lead in last Sunday’s Sunday Herald. It apeared under the headline Revealed: MacAskill may have breached Official Secrets Act over Lockerbie.
Former justice minister Kenny MacAskill has revealed details of a highly classified secret document which casts serious doubt on the safety of the conviction of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.However, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has said that the revelation, which will appear in MacAskill’s new book about the downing of Pan Am flight 103, ‘might’ constitute a breach of the Official Secrets Act.
It is understood the FCO only became aware that top secret details were disclosed in MacAskill’s book when the Sunday Herald contacted the UK government about the revelations. Officials are now believed to be seeking legal advice.
The person who discloses information is guilty of an offence if they do so “without lawful authority knowing, or having reasonable cause to believe, that it is protected against disclosure”.
In his book, ‘The Lockerbie Bombing: The Search for Justice’, which is due to be released on Thursday, MacAskill reveals details of a secret document which implicates the terror group the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) in the Lockerbie bombing carried out on December 21 1988.
The PFLP-GC were the original suspects in the investigation into the biggest terrorist atrocity ever to have been committed in mainland Britain, which claimed the lives of 270 people, including 11 Lockerbie residents.
However, by 1991 police and prosecutors were entirely focused on Libya and in 2001 Megrahi – who was a former Libyan intelligence officer – was convicted of the bombing and sentenced to life in prison.
He was released by MacAskill in August 2009 on compassionate grounds due to ill health and died of cancer two years and nine months later in Tripoli.
The significance of the document which implicates the PFLP-GC is played down by MacAskill in his book but it does suggest others may have been involved in the bombing.
The details of the document are covered by a strict Whitehall gagging order. The document in question was the subject of a legal wrangle during Megrahi’s second appeal against conviction.
The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) referred the case to the High Court on the basis that there may have been a miscarriage of justice.
That conclusion was reached after the SCCRC team that investigated Megrahi’s conviction discovered the existence of the document during their four-year probe which concluded in 2007.
Their 800-page report explains that their investigative team were allowed to access the document in Dumfries police station but they were prevented from removing the notes they made on it and the document itself.
The SCCRC was only able to access the document after signing up to a special agreement not to divulge the contents and was told by the Crown that “a conclusion was reached that the documents did not require to be disclosed in terms of the Crown’s obligations”.
When Megrahi’s defence team pushed for the recovery of the information the Lord Advocate took the view that it would be appropriate to disclose the document.
However, the Advocate General, representing the UK government, produced a public interest immunity (PII) certificate signed by then Foreign Secretary David Miliband, which blocked the disclosure on the grounds of national security.
A spokeswoman for the FCO confirmed that “the [PII] certificate is still active” and “if the material protected by the certificate were disclosed, it might constitute a breach of the Official Secrets Act.”
She added: “It would be for the publisher of the book to seek their own legal advice about any legal risks they are running.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “This is a matter for the publisher to advise upon.”
In 2012 the UK Government went to great lengths to prevent our sister paper The Herald revealing details of the document.
It threatened legal action to stop publication and asked the paper to sign up to a court-approved gagging order.
At that time only the Crown, UK Government and SCCRC team knew the contents of the closely guarded document.
The Herald did publish some details which implicated the PFLP-GC, and revealed that the document originated in Jordan.
MacAskill, however, has gone much further, naming key individuals who were party to the contents of the document, and the potential security ramifications of its release into the public domain.
The Sunday Herald has chosen – after consultation with our lawyers – not to publish the full details of the document despite knowing its contents.
Co-founder of campaigning organisation Lockerbie Truth, Dr Jim Swire, 80, whose daughter Flora was killed in the bombing, said the revelations confirmed his suspicions about the potential involvement of the PFLP-GC.
He said: “It’s exactly what the relatives of the victims have thought for many years. I hope that the book is published without interference. It may lead us to find ways of breaking through the refusal to look again at the evidence used to convict Megrahi.
“This sort of thing – pointing to official knowledge of the real perpetrators – could be absolutely crucial.”
A Crown Office spokesman said: “The Crown has had no involvement in the publication of the former Cabinet Secretary’s book and cannot therefore comment on its content ahead of publication.
“The suggestion that the PFLP-GC was responsible for the Lockerbie bombing was fully considered by the trial court following the incrimination of this terrorist group by Megrahi during his trial and does nothing to undermine the Crown’s case that Megrahi acted with others in the bombing of flight Pan Am 103.
“All material which met the Crown’s disclosure obligations in relation to the PFLP-GC was properly disclosed to the defence before the trial and this was confirmed by the SCCRC’s investigation.
“The court concluded that the conception, planning and execution of the plot which led to the bombing was of Libyan origin. The court was, of course, only dealing with evidence, not matters of opinion or conjecture.”
When asked about the possible breach of the PII certificate, Victoria Gilder, Publicity Director at Biteback, the publisher of MacAskill’s book, said: “Sorry, I can’t comment on that because I don’t know anything about it.
“The book is embargoed until next week…you’re not supposed to run anything. It’s embargoed until Monday.”
Last night a Foreign Office spokesman confirmed that the government department has not seen a copy of the book, but added: “We take the protection of material covered by Public Interest Immunity certificates extremely seriously.”
The Sunday Herald repeatedly contacted MacAskill but he did not respond to a request for comment, and his publisher indicated that he is unable to comment until the book embargo is lifted on Monday.
Kenny MacAskill’s book The Lockerbie Bombing: The Search for Justice today begins its serialisation in The Sunday Times. The book’s blurb casts the author as sleuth, claiming he “answers how and why [the bombing] happened – and who was really responsible.” Unfortunately, however, today’s extract merely recycles others’ assertions and, worse still, contains numerous factual errors, distortions and speculative claims. Anyone who claimed Megrahi’s innocence based on so many unsupported claims would, of course, be branded a conspiracy theorist, but that is exactly what Mr MacAskill is. It is clear that his account relies heavily on Crown sources, which may account for his failure to mention key exculpatory evidence.
The book does, however, make one major concession, in the following line: “Clothes in the suitcase that carried the bomb were acquired in Malta, though not by Megrahi.”
As anyone familiar with the case knows, the guilty verdict against Megrahi was reliant upon the claim that he bought the clothes. Without it, the conviction falls.
The extract follows in italics, interspersed with my comments.
It was accepted Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi hadn’t acted alone. He didn’t do it for his own cause or personal benefit. He was a relatively senior Libyan agent but still junior in rank to Abdullah Senussi, head of Libyan intelligence and brother-in-law of Colonel Muammar Gadaffi; senior minister Moussa Koussa; and ultimately Gadaffi. If he had acted, it would have been on their authority and under their direction. This was state-sponsored terrorism. It’s not just the evidence before the court that implicated Libya. Gadaffi himself accepted culpability by the Libyan regime. That wasn’t just the signing of the UN treaty or the payment of compensation to victims. In an interview with the Washington Times in July 2003, he accepted his country’s guilt for the downing of Pan Am flight 103.
He explained it had originally been an Iranian retaliatory terrorist attack for the downing by the US Navy of a peaceful Iran Air Airbus on its daily run across the Strait of Hormuz, stating: “Nobody in our part of the world believed the US government when it said it was an accidental occurrence. So the Iranians subcontracted part of the job to a Syrian intelligence service, which in turn asked the Libyan Mukhabarat to handle part of the assignment. That is the way these things were planned in those days.”
Omission 1. The quote by Gadaffi continued: “If we had initiated the plot, we would have made sure the accusing finger was pointed in the other direction and we would have picked Cyprus, not Malta, where some of the organization was done. The others picked Malta presumably to frame us.” Whether read in full or part, the quote is far from being an unambiguous admission of responsibility.” The quoted Washington Times article, was the only occasion in the 20 years between the Lockerbie indictment in 1991 and his death 20 years later in which Gadaffi allegedly confessed to the bombing. The claim has to be taken with a pinch of salt, not least because the article’s author, Arnaud de Borchgrave, was a right-wing fanatic, who was unashamedly close to the CIA. More importantly, on numerous other occasions, the Libyan government denied involvement in the bombing. Libya formally accepted responsibility for the bombing and paid compensation in 2004, but the government made clear that it did so in order to rid the country of the UN sanctions that had crippled its economy for many years. None of these facts Kenny acknowledges.
Nor was it just the Gadaffi regime that accepted Libyan responsibility for it. Following the fall of the regime, the National Transitional Council (NTC) stated publicly that Gadaffi had personally ordered it. In February 2011, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, who had been justice minister under Gadaffi, had defected and been appointed head of the NTC. He told a Swedish newspaper “Gadaffi gave the order about Lockerbie”, and said that he had proof that Gadaffi had personally ordered Megrahi to commit the crime.
Omission 2. Jalil never provided proof. When pushed by BBC Newsnight to reveal what evidence he had, the best he could offer was that the Gadaffi regime had paid Megrahi’s legal fees. He later claimed that the Swedish newspaper had misquoted him.
Discussions since, between law enforcement and the new Libyan authorities and prosecutors, have confirmed that involvement. It fitted the actions of the regime over the 40 years of Gadaffi’s rule. Murder and terror were part of his regime’s very DNA.
Omission 3. The post-revolutionary government had a vested interest in playing up the Gadaffi regime’s involvement in terrorism, however, no documentary evidence has emerged publicly from the old regime to confirm its role in Lockerbie
Lockerbie was just one of many terrorist actions that the Libyan regime under Gadaffi carried out. But Gadaffi was not alone. He had his acolytes and aides. While Gadaffi might sign it off, others would do the dirty work. One of the principal players was Abdullah Senussi. He was not only head of internal intelligence but close to Gadaffi. He was pivotal. Indeed, he was convicted in absentia of involvement in the bombing of the UTA airliner in Niger the year after Lockerbie. He was a man with few compunctions and little mercy. He had authorised the brutal slaying of 1,200 prisoners at Abu Selim prison in 1996. Others over many years were to suffer because of him, as his ruthless prosecution of dissidents showed. He was a friend of Megrahi’s and no actions by Megrahi would have been without his orders or consent.
Others, too, would have had to have been in the know and given instructions or provided assistance. Koussa was also a very close confidante of the Libyan leader. He later became head of external security in 1994 until 2009 when he became foreign minister. At the time of the Lockerbie bombing, he headed up an organisation known as the World Centre to promote the Libyan regime’s views but which was viewed in the West as the source of training and funding for revolutionary groups. However, though Libya was pivotal, it was not alone. As a former senior police officer once said to me, it was a coalition of the willing. So what happened?
The atmosphere between the West and Middle Eastern states including Iran, Libya and client organisations was poisonous by the summer of 1998 [NB: in fact 1988]. When in July of that year the USS Vincennes brought down an Iranian plane flying across the Strait of Hormuz, killing all aboard, it grew significantly more venomous. The United States neither sought to atone nor apologise for it. That caused anger and outrage not just in Iran but in the wider Muslim and Arab world. The bitterness and hostility was longstanding and the belief of an eye for an eye existed on all sides. It resulted in Iran putting up a bounty of $10m to bring down an American airliner as revenge. That was confirmed by security and Pentagon sources as well as in the Middle East. Iran put up the money, but who would do it? Enter the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine — General Command (PFLP-GC). They had the capacity and the will to do it, as past atrocities confirmed. Their leader Ahmed Jibril has been identified by several sources as pivotal to the atrocity. The PFLP-GC would be assisted by others. That too was normal. Hence, Gadaffi’s mention of the Syrian security services’ initial involvement. Carrying out such actions involved many states and organisations working together and sharing skills and expertise. The Libyans were used to co-operating with other groups either to promote or support terrorism. The PFLP-GC was to carry it out, supported in the shadows by both the Syrian and Libyan security services.
Unsupported speculation 1. Nice theory, shame about the lack of hard evidence.
They set to work on their planning to perpetrate it, acquiring flight timetables and even Pan Am luggage labels for the aircraft. Radio cassettes and timers were acquired for the bomb. The western intelligence services knew that something was brewing and were on their guard and on high alert. A plane was being targeted and terrorists intent on carrying it out were on the loose.
There was considerable fear and alarm. In October of that year, good work by the German police saw a significant PFLP-GC cell detained and broken near Frankfurt in Germany. But that success did not stop the alarm bells ringing. They’d stopped one cell, but there would be others out there, willing and eager to carry on where the others had failed. The PFLP-GC, though, was badly incapacitated and looked for help.
Omission 4. There is good reason to believe that the October German police raids did not incapacitate the PFLP-GC. The bomb maker Marwan Khreesat implicated another member, Abu Elias, who arrived in Germany shortly before the arrests and was never caught. So too did the leader of the group’s Yugoslavian cell, Mobdi Goben. Just three weeks before Lockerbie the US State Department’s Office of Diplomatic Security warned that a radical Palestinian group was active in Europe and was planning to target Pan Am.
That call was answered by the Libyans, who already knew of the plans. They were already involved in the supply of timers and other support. The Libyans picked it up from there. They had experience in bombings in the past and working with the PFLP-GC. They’d already have been sighted on the plan. It was now reaching a new and deadly stage. Malta was to be the setting for it.
Unsupported speculation 2. The claim that the Libyans picked up where the PFLP-GC left off is a neat theory, but where is the hard evidence to support it?
Clothes in the suitcase that carried the bomb were acquired in Malta, though not by Megrahi. But if Megrahi didn’t buy the clothes, he was certainly involved. He had held a senior post in the Libyan security service (JSO) as head of airline security, which mirrored his job with Libyan Arab Airlines (LAA) with a similar title. Even when he left the airline job he retained the accreditation and no doubt the security service post. He had close links and personal friendships with senior officers and also with Abdullah Senussi, who was head of operations at that time for the JSO. A member he undoubtedly was and, given his important job, a relatively senior one. He had after all been identified by Edwin Bollier, owner of the timer manufacturer MEBO, as being at test explosions of the timers in Libya.
Wrong 1. Bollier in fact said that Megrahi was not present at the desert tests.
He had also been involved in the purchase of radio receivers for the military from MEBO the year before and been involved in the procurement of an antenna for the head of the JSO. That had taken place after he’d left his role with the airline in January 1987 and when Megrahi himself suggested his links with the JSO had ceased.
Selective use of facts 2. Megrahi never denied denied that he was involved in procuring equipment for the Libyan authorities and that the company ABH – in which he was a partner and which rented office space from MEBO in Zurich – was a vehicle for such procurement
Yet the evidence shows that the antennas were ordered in November 1987 and it was Megrahi who conducted the transaction with MEBO for the security service. He was the conduit for much of the trade between MEBO and the JSO, showing a level of trust and involvement that would not be afforded a simple middleman. He was still an agent and he would obey orders when instructed, whatever they were.
Omission 5. There is ample documentary evidence that ABH was involved in a lot of straightforward and non-sinister trading activities on behalf of the Libyan authorities, including Libyan Arab Airlines.
And so it was to be. Megrahi flew in to Malta with the suitcase that was to transport the bomb.
Wrong 2. Records from the Air Malta flight that Megrahi took show that he checked in no luggage. The Lockerbie suitcase was too big to have been cabin baggage.
He travelled on a false passport that he only used once that year; and which he’d never use again.
Omission 6. Megrahi kept the passport and handed it over to the prosecution shortly before his trial – hardly the actions of a guilty man.
He had used it in 1987 for a trip to Nigeria where on one leg of the trip he had been on the same plane as another senior JSO official, Nassr Ashur, who had also been present at the testing of air detonation bombs. Though the use of such passports was not uncommon in Libya to avoid sanctions, their use was restricted. Moreover, he was unable to give any explanation for his journey. While a court of law does not oblige an accused to testify, the court of public opinion most certainly does. Even in his own biography professing his innocence he simply says he can’t recall why he went. It seems entirely incredible that anyone would fly to a foreign country for one night only, using a false passport and have no idea or recollection why they had done so.
Wrong 3. Megrahi in fact gave a full explanation in his biography as to why he went and also provided a possible explanation for his use of the false passport. The explanation went as follows:
“[Lamin Fhimah] told me he was thinking of travelling to Malta on 20 December to finalise the company paperwork and invited me over to see its offices and meet his business partner Vincent Vassallo. I accepted the invitation, partly because I also wanted to buy some more things for the house, in particular carpets.
On 20 December Lamin called me at my office to tell me he was definitely travelling to Malta that afternoon. We arranged to meet at Tripoli Airport and take an Air Malta flight, which departed at around 16.30, and I booked to fly home on the first LAA flight the following morning. I didn’t want to be away for more than a night, because there was work to do on the Paris to Dakar Rally, and on the evening of the 21st my sister was having a party to celebrate the birth of her daughter a week earlier.
Rather than travelling on my own passport, I used the coded one in the name Khalifa Abdusamad. I honestly can’t remember the precise reason for doing so, as it wasn’t of great importance at the time, but the most likely one is that I didn’t want my wife to know I was in Malta. Although it was only an overnight trip, I knew she wouldn’t be happy, as I’d just been away for ten days and, more importantly, Malta had a bad reputation among Libyan wives as a place of low moral standards, where men were easily led astray. I may therefore have told her that I was visiting a friend on the other side of Tripoli and intended to spend the night there. If so, then to prevent her suspecting my true destination, I would have left my regular passport at home. She had no idea about the coded passport, which I always kept at my office. I was supposed to use it only for business purposes, but I had occasionally taken it on my personal travels, for example when I went to Mecca for the Umrah pilgrimage, for no other reason than that it was the closest to hand.
Another possibility is that my regular passport was with my Lib- yan bank. At the time Libyans were allowed to take only 500 US dollars out of the country annually, and any remaining amount could not be carried over to the following year. It may be that, since return- ing from Prague, I had lodged the passport with my bank in order to guarantee my remaining allocation before the year end.
It was also possible that I chose my coded passport in order to secure hard currency, as it contained a stamp, dated 22 June 1988, that entitled me to an additional allowance of $1,000, providing I could demonstrate that I had travelled abroad before the year end. Libyans often made short trips to neighbouring countries in order to get the necessary foreign entry stamp in their passports.”
Omission 7. Kenny omits to mention a possible explanation for Megrahi’s presence in Malta, the fact that he had an affair with a Maltese woman.
Finally, and no doubt the reason he chose not to give evidence, he had lied in previous public comments on his actions. In an interview with the TV reporter Pierre Salinger in November 1991, he had denied being involved with Libyan intelligence, which he clearly was; refuted suggestions that he knew or was involved in the acquisition of timers, which he had been; and in particular denied being in Malta on December 20 and 21 under a false passport, during which time he had been staying at the Holiday Inn Hotel, which he did.
Omission 8. Megrahi gave a reasonable explanation for lying to Pierre Salinger, namely the fact that he was concerned that if he confirmed the more suspicious elements of the prosecution case it would provide the US with an excuse to bomb Libya, as it had five years earlier.
All quite damning. But there was more. The suitcase was a Samsonite model, sold heavily in the Middle East market. Megrahi had been to Malta the month before, which was probably preparatory for the scheme and involved discussions on the logistics of clothes, the suitcase and the bomb equipment. He may even have brought the timers in with him. He would meet with others in the embassy to discuss and build on plans already developed by the PFLP-GC — hence the interlining with a flight through Frankfurt in Germany.
Unsupported speculation 3. This is pure theorising.
Though Megrahi had been involved in the acquisition of timers, and even witnessed their use in tests in Libya, he would not be the bomb maker.
Wrong 4. There is no evidence he was involved in the acquisition of timers and no witness claimed that he was. As stated above, Megrahi did not witness the tests.
Omission 9. Kenny fails to mention the forensic evidence, which emerged in 2009, that proves that the fragment of circuit board found among the Lockerbie debris could not have originated from a Libyan timer.
That would have been prepared in the Libyan People’s Bureau as appears to have occurred in other terrorist incidents, such as the La Belle bombing in Berlin in 1986. Megrahi had arrived at Malta’s Luqa Airport on December 20 at about 5.30pm, accompanied by Lamin Fhimah, a JSO agent who had been the LAA manager for Malta based at the airport.
Wrong 5. There is no evidence that Fhimah was a JSO agent.
Fhimah had only gone back to Tripoli from Malta on December 18 to be briefed; and, as the Crown suggested at the trial, to assist Megrahi back through security at the airport. Fhimah’s familiarity with the airport as well as contacts would be crucial.
Having deposited the case that night at the bureau, Megrahi would get it back loaded with both the clothes and the bomb secreted in a Toshiba radio cassette player.
Unsupported speculation 4. Again, this is totally speculative.
Supergrass Abdul Majid, who had been the assistant manager for LAA at Luqa airport at the time assisting Fhimah and himself a Libyan agent, stated that he’d seen both Megrahi and Fhimah arrive at the airport from a Tripoli flight, accompanied by two others, one of whom was another Libyan agent, Abu Agila Mas’ud, described as a technician.
Omission 10. Abdul Majid [Giaka] was discredited at Megrahi’s trial. He claimed, three years after the event, when desperate for asylum in the US, that Megrahi and Fhimah brought a Samsonite suitcase to Malta on 20 December, despite the fact that the flight records showed that they had no checked in luggage.
Mas’ud remains a mysterious individual who was clearly a JSO agent. He was never allowed to be interviewed by the defence. Requests were made to meet and interview him but he had been spirited back to Libya and kept out of sight. When in 1999 investigators had gone to Libya to question government ministers, the officials refused to confirm or deny that Mas’ud existed.
There was good reason for the early suspicions of the investigators that point to Mas’ud as the man who primed the bomb that was placed on board Pan Am flight 103. Research shows him as being implicated in the La Belle bombing in Berlin. He had gone to the city and stayed in a nearby hotel. He had travelled on the same passport later used by him to go to Malta with Megrahi a few years later when the Lockerbie bomb was placed. A Libyan convicted of the bombing, Musbah Eter, told US investigators that Mas’ud and Megrahi were involved in Lockerbie, and that he heard Mas’ud speak of travelling to Malta to prepare the attack.
As the Gadaffi regime fell, information on Mas’ud surfaced through diligent research by an American film-maker and investigations by Human Rights Watch. They located him languishing in a Libyan prison cell and awaiting trial for bomb making. Not, though, for a trial about the devastation wrecked on Pan Am 103 or the town of Lockerbie, but for using remote-detonated explosive devices to booby-trap the cars of Libyan opposition members in 2011, after revolution broke out. He has since been sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment and is incarcerated in the cells once inhabited by Gadaffi’s and his henchmen’s victims.
Omission 11. As I have written at length elsewhere, eg here and here, the story of La Belle, Mas’ud and Eter is vastly more complicated than presented by Kenny and is far from probative of Libyan involvement in Lockerbie, let alone Megrahi’s.
So the bomb was prepared and primed, but it still needed to be placed on board the Air Malta flight. Megrahi arrived at the time of the loading of the Air Malta flight to Frankfurt. His flight to Tripoli saw check-in open at 8.50am and close at 9.50am. The Air Malta fight to Frankfurt opened at 8.15am and closed at 9.15am. Megrahi was checked in early by a lady at an Air Malta desk dealing with flights to Cairo. It was an adjacent desk to the LAA ones. That check-in had opened at 8.35am and was due to close at 9.35am. Megrahi was checked on to the LAA flight sixth. According to the airline clerk, that would have been early on. That assistance at different airline counters was normal and was simply done to ease congestion. However, in particular, it was for passengers travelling without luggage. Megrahi was going back without any suitcase, which was why she checked him in. That, also, was never clarified by him. Not only was the purpose of his trip never answered but why he landed with a bag and travelled back without one remained unexplained.
Wrong 6. He didn’t land with a bag (see above).
But he had first visited the LAA offices. There he met Fhimah and the suitcase was handed over. The case Megrahi had brought with him was not going back with him, but was being placed on board the Air Malta flight bound for Frankfurt, primed with the bomb that would detonate aboard the JFK flight from Heathrow. Megrahi’s work was done; it was now for others to take over.
Unsupported speculation 5. At the risk of sounding like a stuck record, this is pure theory.
How was the bomb placed aboard? The case Megrahi brought with him would be tagged and placed for loading but not on the flight he was going on. Luggage labels for Air Malta were available. Fhimah had made a note to obtain them. His diary, that had been referred to in court, had noted on the page for December 15 to “take tags from Air Malta”. It had also been subsequently marked “OK” but in a different colour. It had also narrated: “Take/collect tags from the airport (Abdulbaset/Abdussalam).” “Tags” had been written in English and the rest in Arabic.
Omission 12. Fhimah left his diary in his Maltese office for over two years, which does not suggest he had anything to hide. He also told his Maltese business partner, Vincent Vassallo, that he was happy for it to be handed to the Scottish police. There is evidence that LAA regularly had to borrow tags from Air Malta.
The court accepted that but felt unable to draw the inference that it was to allow for an interlined bag to be placed on board; and accordingly that there was sufficient evidence for a conviction of Fhimah. However, they were certainly highly suspicious actions and led to the conclusion that Megrahi took the case to the airport, but it was Fhimah who would get it airside and beyond security. After all, he had flown out to Libya to accompany Megrahi back with the case and had made notes to prepare for that, including obtaining Air Malta tags. He had security passes, but more importantly a detailed knowledge of the airport and its layout which Megrahi did not have. It was labelled for Air Malta, to be routed on to Pan Am through Frankfurt and Heathrow and to New York with the tags Fhimah’s diary had referred to. The bag was placed in the system going airside without going through the formal check-in desks. It will probably never be known just how the security measures were breached, but no doubt that was why the plot involved those with accreditation, access and knowledge of the airport. If anyone would know how to do it, then Fhimah would.
Unsupported speculation 6. Stuck record again.
The bag that Megrahi had brought in was placed on to the Air Malta flight to be transferred at Frankfurt for the fateful rendezvous in Heathrow. The records show that an unaccompanied bag was unloaded at Frankfurt from the Air Malta flight, yet the records from Luqa do not disclose that piece of unaccompanied luggage being loaded.
Omission 13. The records from Luqa and Air Malta’s unusually tight baggage procedures are very strong evidence that an unaccompanied bag was not ingested at Luqa.
There is no suggestion, though, that the Frankfurt airport authorities are mistaken.
Wrong 7: The Frankfurt airport authorities never claimed that an unaccompanied case transited through the airport, rather this was an inference drawn by the police. Furthermore there are plenty of reasons why the Frankfurt records could have been inaccurate.
Omission 14. The German federal police, the BKA, stated explicitly that there was no evidence to support the inference.
It was accepted by both the FAI and the court at Camp Zeist that it had been on that flight from Malta. It was thereafter routed with other unaccompanied baggage to be placed in a container; and thus on board Pan Am 103. As it was an interlined bag, it was subject only to X-ray rather than a physical check; nor would there be an administrative match to a passenger before being loaded and going straight through airport procedures. It, thereafter, went through the system all the way to Heathrow and onto the JFK-bound flight. At Heathrow the Frankfurt bags were placed on a container that was the seat of the bomb. That container, AVE 4041, had the interlined bags, including the Samsonite suitcase and others from Frankfurt. The links were clearly there. Pan Am 103 was doomed, and the bomb that would be detonated over Lockerbie had been primed and placed aboard in Malta.
Omission 15. Kenny completely omits the very powerful and so far uncontested case assembled by Dr Morag Kerr that the bomb was ingested at Heathrow.
There are aspects of the bombing that remain a mystery to this day. Given the nature of those involved and the passage of time, that’s understandable. Moreover, given the death of many and the lying low of others, it’s probable it will remain that way for ever. There are also aspects of the case that could not be sustained in a court of law with the high standard of proof beyond reasonable doubt required and specific rules on evidence needed. There are equally aspects of the case that may not have seen a criminal conviction sustained on appeal. But this account of how the bombing was carried out and by whom is based on information gathered meticulously by police and prosecutors from the US, Scotland and elsewhere. It’s also founded on intelligence and sources not available for a court or that have only come to light thereafter.
Omission 16. Intelligence sources have been peddling the case set out by Kenny, that the Libyans took over from the PFLP-GC, since at least 1990.
Finally, it’s also predicated on the words of the leader of Libya himself, Muammar Gadaffi, and those who replaced him when the regime fell.
The suggestions of conspiracies by others known or unknown are fanciful. The protestations of innocence by Megrahi are equally so, though his role was a very limited one. He was but a cog in a very much larger wheel, acting under orders from those far more senior than him. The triumvirate of Gadaffi, Senussi and Koussa were all involved, as would have been others in senior positions in the Libyan regime. This, after all, went right to the heart of the state, not simply to a JSO agent carrying a suitcase with a bomb.
Libya did it, Megrahi was part of it and other states and terrorist organisations also played their part. It was in revenge for the downing of the Iran Air flight by a US naval ship. It was, therefore, a coalition of the willing that brought down Pan Am 103.
Thanking their lucky stars
The Lockerbie bombing almost claimed the lives of several celebrities who had been among those scheduled to fly on Pan Am flight 103. Punk star Johnny Rotten had booked but missed the flight.
The Four Tops had been on a European tour and were heading back to the US for Christmas — but a delayed recording session and oversleeping meant they never even made it to the airport. For once, their hectic schedules worked in their favour.
Furthermore,the Swedish tennis star and former world No 1 Mats Wilander and the American Sex and the City star Kim Cattrall had made earlier reservations but did not proceed further.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 http://lockerbiecase.blogspot.com/2009/07/megrahi-deadline-will-be-missed.html). 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 http://lockerbiecase.blogspot.com/2009/09/press-release-regarding-publication-of.html). 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 http://lockerbiecase.blogspot.com/2011/12/these-are-my-last-words-i-am-innocent.html.
In view of this, the SCCRC cannot have been unaware of my involvement in the case, so why did they not contact me?