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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