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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Twelve reasons to take Magnus Linklater’s Lockerbie articles with a pinch of seasonal salt

Christmas come but once a year and when it does we can be sure that Magnus Linklater will produce an error-strewn article for the Scottish edition of The Times echoing the proclamations of the Lord Advocate that Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was justly convicted, and that the Crown and its representatives have acted with complete propriety throughout. And so it was yesterday.

Mr Linklater’s well-worn trick is to brand Abdelbaset’s supporters as conspiracy theorists who allege that the Crown officials, police, trial judges, governments and intelligence services hatched a grand plot to frame Megrahi and Libya and shift the blame from the original suspects. Having erected this straw man, he slays him with a barrage of half-truths, omissions and non-sequiturs, then cites his death as irrefutable evidence that Abdelbaset was guilty.

Below in italics are extracts from Mr Linklater’s latest articles, each of which is followed by my rebuttal.

  1. A review of the Lockerbie bombing case by Scottish investigators has concluded that there is “not a shred of evidence” to support claims that Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was wrongly convicted.

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, who, I think it’s safe to assume, are rather more independent than the investigators cited by Mr Linklater, found no fewer than six grounds for believing that the conviction may have been unsafe.

  1. Ever since Megrahi was convicted in 2001 there have been allegations that evidence was manipulated to implicate Libya, steering suspicion away from Middle Eastern states.

The central allegations of Abdelbaset’s supporters are not that there evidence was manipulated in order to shift the focus of the investigation away from the real culprits. Rather they are: a) that the evidence against him didn’t stand up; and b) that the Crown withheld crucial exculpatory evidence. Both claims were supported by the SCCRC’s review.

  1. Scottish prosecutors have been accused of deliberately ignoring evidence that the bomb was put aboard Pan Am Flight 103 at Heathrow rather than at Malta, and that the timer fragment, the principal piece of forensic evidence against Libya, was planted or altered.

Wrong again. The central point about the Heathrow evidence was that it was not properly explored at trial while the central points about the fragment are a) that the Crown’s crucial claim that it matched timers supplied to Libya by Mebo can be proven forensically to be false; and b) the Crown failed to disclose evidence that the scientist who spoke to the match had overseen tests that demonstrated a clear disparity between the fragment and those timers. The fragment may, or may not have been planted. There is no evidence that it was altered and, to the best of my knowledge, the only figure of significance to claim that it was is the frequently unreliable Edwin Bollier of Mebo.

  1. Last night Frank Mulholland, QC, the Lord Advocate, said: “During the 26-year-long inquiry not one Crown Office investigator or prosecutor has raised a concern about the evidence in this case . . . our focus remains on the evidence, and not on speculation and supposition.”

The Lord Advocate and Mr Linklater are ignoring the fact that a number of police officers have privately raised concerns about the evidence.

  1. Evidence on the bomb itself, and the crucial timer fragment that linked the attack to Libya, found three weeks after Pan Am 103 exploded, have undermined the conspiracy theory.

Not true: according to the prosecution, the fragment was not found three weeks after the bombing, but five months later, on 12 May 1989.

  1. Critics say the fragment was either planted at the site, exchanged later for another, or was tampered with to show a link to Libya that was never there.

Again, this misrepresents the case made by Abdelbaset’s supporters, which is that: a) the fragment did not, as the Crown claimed, match the timers supplied to Libya by Mebo; and b) the Crown withheld key evidence. In the face of these facts, the provenance of the fragment is secondary. Whilst, when the numerous anomalies surrounding its provenance (all of which Mr Linklater ignores) are taken in to consideration, it is not unreasonable to conclude that it was planted, the case for Abdelbaset does not, as Mr Linklater implies, rely upon that claim. To reiterate, the allegation that the fragment was tampered with or exchanged is Mr Bollier’s alone.

  1. Police are adamant, however, that the fragment was under supervision. They point out that the evidence would have to have been planted within 23 days, requiring knowledge of all the evidence to come — including Megrahi, whose existence was then unknown.

If there was a deliberate plot to frame Libya for the bombing, it would almost certainly have been led by the CIA and the Scottish authorities would not have known about it. Furthermore, it would have begun soon after the bombing. An unnamed US intelligence official briefed the Sunday Telegraph as early as January 1989 that the Libyans were involved. It would have been relatively simple for them to plant evidence early on in the investigation behind the backs of the police. Mr Megrahi’s existence was unknown to the police, but declassified CIA cables revealed at trial show he was known to the CIA well before Lockerbie.

  1. Set against the speculation are facts that have never been disproved: the presence of Megrahi in Malta, carrying a false passport, on the day the prosecution says the bomb went on board flight KM180 to Frankfurt; Fhimah arriving with him; and their subsequent telephone conversations.

None of these facts are disputed and Abdelbaset never sought to disprove them. As Mr Linklater well knows, it is their interpretation that is disputed.

  1. Critics have argued that, because there is no direct evidence to show that the bomb was inserted at Luqa airport in Malta, the more likely theory is that it was loaded on at Heathrow.

A broken padlock found on a security gate during a critical period on the night before the bombing is said to be persuasive evidence that this is when the bomb was inserted into the system.

However, sources close to the investigation are now adamant that the timetable of events is against it. The security gap was between 22.05 on December 20, 1988, and 00.30 on December 21 , when Raymond Manly, a security guard, found the broken padlock. Another 13½ hours were to go by before the loading of a container with luggage for Pan Am 103 began. It would have been difficult, if not impossible, for a suspect bag to remain undetected and there is no evidence to show that it did.

The claim that the bomb originated from Heathrow does not rely on the claim that the bombers were responsible for the break-in. Both I and Dr Morag Kerr, who has done more research than anyone on Heathrow, believe that the break-in may be entirely coincidental. The key point about the break-in is that – like so much other evidence of potential use to the defence – it was not disclosed to Abdelbaset’s trial lawyers.

10. Yet there is another aspect of the case that makes the counter-theory even harder to sustain. Most critics claim that the investigation was “directed” to Libya and away from Palestinian terrorists to suit western interests in the Gulf war. For this to make sense, any corruption of the evidence would have had to take place after Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990.

Most informed critics don’t claim that the investigation was steered towards Libya in order to serve Western interests in the Gulf war. We merely believe that the Gulf war provided an additional motive. To reiterate, we do not believe that that motive was share by the police and prosecutors who, for all their alleged faults, sincerely believed they had got the right people

11. Set against all that speculation are hard facts that have never been disproved: the remarkable importation by a Libyan company in the period leading up to December 1988 of 29,700 models of the RTSF16 Toshiba cassette recorder.

The boss of the Electric General Company, which imported the goods, was later identified as Said Rashid, al-Megrahi’s associate who was senior to him in Libyan intelligence.

There is nothing remarkable in an electrical company importing electrical goods. The RT-SF16 model had been in production since October 1985 and in the three years from then until October 1988, only 11 per cent of total global production was supplied to Libya. Furthermore, many of the remainder were sold elsewhere in the Middle East, including in countries in which the original suspects in the bombing, the PFLP-GC, had members.

A possibility that neither the prosecution nor the Libyans were motivated to raise at trial (and which Mr Linklater ignores) was that Libya had supplied one of the RT-SF16s to the PFLP-GC.

Interestingly, one of the declassified CIA cables showed that the CIA knew of Abdelbaset’s relationship with Said Rashid and of the latter’s involvement with the electrical company. Strangely, the CIA had originally redacted this information. Could it be that they didn’t want it known that they had foreknowledge of another element of the Crown’s case? As Mr Linklater would say, we may never know.

12. Then there is the unexplained presence of al-Megrahi himself in Malta on the day the prosecution say the bomb went on board KM 180 to Frankfurt, arriving from Tripoli on December 20, the day before the bombing, carrying a false passport in the name of Ahmed Khalifa Abdusamad.

Mr Fhimah, his co-accused, the former Libyan Arab Airlines station manager at Luqa, was on the same flight. The next day al-Megrahi, from his hotel room in Malta, called Mr Fhimah at his home.

The following morning “Abdusamad” was checked in on Libyan Arab Airlines flight LN147 back to Tripoli. Thus al-Megrahi was at Luqa airport just as KM 180 was checking in. By the time the bomb arrived at Frankfurt, he was back at home.

No explanation for the false passport was given, although many years later al-Megrahi was to claim that he was on a sanctions-busting trip. However, he never used the passport again.

Abdelbaset’s presence in Malta was is not unexplained: he said that went there to look at Mr Fhimah’s new travel agency business and meet his Maltese business partner, Vincent Vassallo, and to buy a carpet. He may also have had a romantic liaison. Mr Vassallo confirmed the meeting and said that Mr Fhimah had introduced Mr Megrahi under his real name – hardly the actions of men planning a bombing. Mr Megrahi spent the night at the Holiday Inn, which he had stayed at just a fortnight earlier under his real name. Had he been a terrorist, he would surely have lain low at one of the island’s Libyan government-owned hotels.

There is nothing incriminating in someone calling a friend. While it’s true that Abdelbaset never used the passport again, he kept it for eleven years then handed it over as evidence for the trial – again, hardly the actions of a guilty man.




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Eight inconvenient truths about Lockerbie, which the media and authorities are ignoring


Today, the 26th anniversary of the Lockerbie bombing, the media is full of articles about the case. All report the claims of Scotland’s chief prosecutor, the Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland QC, that a review of the case has confirmed the guilt of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the only man so far convicted of the bombing. However, Mr Mulholland and – with the exception of a couple of Scottish newspapers – the media have barely touched upon key facts that suggest Mr Megrahi was not guilty.

Before I list these, a bit of background for those unfamiliar with the story. The prosecution case, which was accepted by the Scottish judges who convicted Mr Megrahi, was that on the morning of 21 December 1988, while travelling under a false name, he managed to smuggle a brown Samsonite suitcase containing a bomb onto an Air Malta flight from Malta to Frankfurt. An expert in airline security and alleged senior intelligence officer, Megrahi was said to have labelled the case for onward transfer to Pan Am flight 103A from Frankfurt to London Heathrow and Pan Am 103 from Heathrow to New York.

He supposedly bought clothes for the suitcase at a small Maltese shop called Mary’s House on an earlier visit to the island on 7 December. The shopkeeper, Tony Gauci, who was the prosecution’s star witness, told the court that Mr Megrahi resembled the man who had bought the clothes. The Malta link was confirmed by baggage records from Frankfurt airport, which appeared to show that a suitcase from the Air Malta flight had been forwarded to Pan Am 103.

Another key plank of the case was a fragment of electronic circuit board, found embedded within part of a blast damaged, Maltese shirt. A British forensic investigator told the court that the fragment matched boards in timers supplied to Libya by Swiss company Mebo, which shared its offices with a Libyan company called ABH, in which Megrahi was a shareholder.

Surely open and shut case? Er, no. Here are just a few of the reasons why.

  1. The guilty verdict was “incomprehensible”

Not my description, but that of Professor Hans Köchler, a UN trial observer. He came to this conclusion because, according to the prosecution, Mr Megrahi coud only have carried out the bombing with the help of another Libyan, Lamin Fhimah, who stood trial with him. However, the judges acquitted Fhimah, which begged the question – as yet unanswered – how could Mr Megrahi acted alone?

  1. The clothes buyer was clearly not Megrahi

In his statements to the police, the shopkeeper, Tony Gauci, consistently described the clothes buyer as around 50 years old, six feet tall, dark skinned and with a full head of hair. Mr Megrahi was around 5ft 8 inches tall, light-skinned, had thinning hair and, at the time of the incident, was just 36.

  1. It’s official – the court judgment was unreasonable

In 2007, following a four-year review of the case, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (the official body responsible for examining alleged miscarriages of justice) referred Mr Megrahi’s conviction to the appeal court on no fewer than six grounds. He abandoned the appeal in 2009 when terminally ill with cancer in the belief that it would help smooth the way for his release from prison on compassionate grounds.

Crucially, one of the SCCRC’s six grounds was that there was no “reasonable foundation” for the crucial finding that he bought the clothes on 7 December 1988, which was his only window of opportunity. Why did the commission reach this conclusion? Because Mr Gauci was clear that, as he was leaving the shop, the clothes purchaser bought an umbrella because it had started to rain. Yet meteorological evidence heard by the court demonstrated that there was no rain on 7 December. If Mr Megrahi didn’t buy the clothes on 7 December, the prosecution case collapses, so the SCCRC had come as close as it legally could to saying that the guilty verdict itself was unreasonable.

  1. The prosecution withheld a stack of evidence that was helpful to Megrahi

During their review, the SCCRC found that the prosecution had withheld important documents that cast doubt on their own case. Four out of the commission’s six appeal referral grounds concerned such non-disclosure.

Among the documents were secret police memos noting that Tony Gauci had expressed an interest in receiving a substantial reward, and that he was under the strong influence of his brother Paul, who regularly nagged the police about being rewarded. The SCCRC discovered that Tony was later secretly paid $2 million by the US Department of Justice and Paul $1 million. Among the documents uncovered by the commission was a begging letter from the police’s senior investigating officer to the DoJ, in which in which he acknowledged that the Crown Office was prevented by its own rules from seeking a reward for the brothers, but saw no problem in the police doing so.

  1. The circuit board fragment was not from one of the timers supplied to Libya

Evidence uncovered in 2009 demonstrated that the circuit board fragment could not have originated from one of the Libyan timer boards. The evidence concerned the metallic coating on the fragment’s copper circuitry. Back in 1990, two independent scientists consulted by the police established that the coating was pure tin, but when, two years later, they examined a board from the same batch that was used to make the timers supplied to Libya, they discovered that it was coated with a tin-lead alloy. As neither scientist was an electronics expert, they were unaware of the potential significance of the difference. However, in 2009 Mr Megrahi’s lawyers spoke to the prosecution witness who had made the boards used in the Libyan timers, who was certain that all of them were coated with tin-lead alloy and therefore equally certain that he could not have made the board from which the fragment originated. The lawyers also discovered notes by the prosecution forensic expert who had claimed in court that the fragment matched the boards in the Libyan timers. These demonstrated that he too was aware of the metallurgical disparity, which, as an electronics expert, he should have recognised the significance of.

  1. The luggage evidence points to Heathrow rather than Malta

It was not disputed at Mr Megrahi’s trial that the Lockerbie bomb was packed within a brown Samsonite suitcase. Of all the witnesses who were involved in the loading of the three flights on which, according to the prosecution, the bomb was carried were interviewed by the police. Only one of them could recall seeing such a case – a Heathrow baggage handler called John Bedford. Significantly, it was positioned within the luggage container within which the explosion later occurred, very close to the centre of the blast. Crucially, Mr Bedford went off duty BEFORE Pan Am flight 103A arrived from Frankfurt, which means that the suitcase he saw could not have originated on the Air Malta flight

Researcher Dr Morag Kerr, who has exhaustively studied the luggage evidence, has made an extremely compelling case that the Bedford suitcase contained the bomb. Furthermore, records from the Maltese airport suggest that no rogue baggage made it on to the flight to Frankfurt. (For further details see her book ‘Adequately Explained by Stupidity?’)

  1. There is no reliable evidence that Megrahi was a senior intelligence agent

The claim that Mr Megrahi was a senior intelligent agent originated from a junior colleague in the state-owned Libyan Arab Airlines. At Mr Megrahi’s trial, this witness, Magid Giaka, was revealed to be a CIA informant. Not only that, but the CIA considered him so unreliable that it was on the verge of sacking him before he became useful in the Lockerbie case. Declassified CIA cables examined by the court showed him to be a money-grabbing fantasist. As well as alleging that Mr Megrahi was an intelligence agent, he claimed that colonel Gaddafi was a freemason. The judges rejected most of his evidence, yet chose to believe his unsupported claim about Mr Megrahi.

Mr Megrahi does not deny that travelling on a false passport, which he says was issued to him because he was involved a US sanctions-busting efforts to source spare parts for the airline. Crucially, he kept the passport for eleven years after the bombing and was happy for it to be passed to the prosecution at trial – hardly the actions of a guilty man.

  1. No evidence has emerged from Libya since the fall of Gaddafi

A few days after the start of the Libyan revolution, in February 2011, Colonel Gaddafi’s ex-justice minister, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, who was soon to become head of Libya’s National Transitional Council, told the Swedish newspaper Expressen that he had proof that Gaddafi had ordered the bombing. A few days later, he told the Sunday Times that Mr Megrahi had blackmailed Gaddafi into securing his release from prison by threatening to expose Gaddafi’s role in the bombing, and had ‘vowed to exact revenge’ unless Gaddafi complied. However, when, a few weeks later, he was pushed to reveal his proof, the best he could offer was that the Gaddafi regime had funded Megrahi’s legal case. He later claimed that Expressen had misquoted him. The Scottish police and prosecutors hoped that the regime change would yield more evidence about Mr Megrahi’s and Gaddafi’s role in the bombing, but, nearly four years on, no such evidence has surfaced publicly. The only significant document to emerge was a letter from Megrahi to his relative Abdullah Sennousi, which was reported by the Wall Street Journal. In it he stated: “I am an innocent man”. He wasn’t lying.

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Sunday Herald article responds to Lord Advocate’s latest claims of Megrahi’s guilt


The Sunday Herald has today published the following article by me in response to the Lord Advocates latest claims that Abdelbaset was guilty of the Lockerbie boming.

The four elephants in the room which suggest the Lord Advocate is wrong

The Crown Office has used the 26th anniversary of the Lockerbie bombing to proclaim the safety of the conviction of Abdelbaset al Megrahi, the only man so far convicted of the bombing.

The department briefed yesterday that a review of the case had “confirmed beyond doubt” the Libyan’s guilt, while today its head, Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland QC, has personally reaffirmed that guilt.

Mulholland has been unusually vigorous in denouncing Megrahi’s supporters, who include relatives of the Lockerbie dead, branding them “conspiracy theorists” two years ago. It is hard to imagine his opposite number in England and Wales, the director of public prosecutions, taking to the media to defend a conviction and take on critics. But while this strident tone has raised eyebrows, Mulholland’s statements are more notable for ignoring four large elephants in the middle of his legal chambers.

The first is the ongoing review of the case by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC), the statutory body that has the power to refer convictions to the appeal court. As Mulholland well knows, a previous review by the commission referred the case on no fewer than six grounds. The terminally ill Megrahi abandoned the resulting appeal to improve his chances of being granted compassionate release, but was confident that his name would one day be cleared. Remarkably, one of the six grounds was that the three Scottish law lords who convicted him had made a fundamental error of judgment when they found that the clothes incriminating Megrahi had been bought on December 7. In doing so, the commission, in the eyes of some, came as close as it legally could to saying that the guilty verdict was itself wrong.

More seriously for the Crown Office, four of the other grounds concerned its failure to disclose important evidence to Megrahi’s defence team. This included evidence that the Crown’s star witness, Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci, had expressed an interest in receiving a substantial reward and was under the strong influence of his brother Paul, who regularly nagged the police about being rewarded. The SCCRC discovered Gauci was later secretly paid $2 million by the US Department of Justice, and his brother Paul $1m.

When, in 2012, this ­newspaper published a leaked copy of the SCCRC’s 800-page review, the Crown Office went into panic mode, anonymously briefing a Scottish tabloid that Megrahi’s case had “more holes than a piece of Swiss cheese” then issuing a press statement that significantly downplayed the commission’s findings.

The second elephant is the two-year-old police investigation, led by Police Scotland’s Deputy Chief Constable Iain Livingstone, into criminal allegations made against some of those originally involved in the inquiry by the committee of the Justice for Megrahi group.

When the allegations were first made to the then Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, the Crown Office immediately denounced them as groundless, despite not having seen the detailed dossier of evidence assembled by the committee. Many were shocked by the intervention, believing it might compromise the police inquiry and that it raised serious questions about Mulholland’s independence as the chief public prosecutor. Unfortunately for the Crown Office, the police clearly do not share its contempt for the allegations. If the investigation concludes there was no criminal misconduct, the Crown Office still has to explain why it failed to disclose so much important evidence. In the view of its critics, notably Dr Jim Swire, who lost his daughter in the bombing, the matter must be addressed in a public inquiry – something successive Scottish governments have been reluctant to grant.

The third elephant is forensic evidence concerning a small fragment of electronic circuit board, recovered from an item of clothing that was supposedly in the same suitcase as the bomb. According to the prosecution, it matched boards in timers supplied to Libya by a Swiss firm called Mebo, which shared offices with a Libyan company part-owned by Megrahi.

Evidence uncovered prior to Megrahi’s abandoned appeal demonstrated that the fragment could not have originated from one of the Libyan timer boards. The discovery has fuelled claims the fragment was a plant, which has in turn encouraged the Crown Office to call its opponents conspiracy theorists. However, as Mulholland must be aware, the breaking of the link between the fragment and the Libyan timers leaves the prosecution case in shreds, regardless of whether it was planted.

The fourth elephant is the lack of evidence from Libya to implicate either Megrahi or the Gaddafi regime in the bombing. During the country’s 2011 revolution, senior officials, keen to curry favour with the West, lined up to accuse the regime of sponsoring the attack.

The best known of them, the head of the National Transitional Council and former justice minister Mustafa Abdel Jalil, claimed to have proof that Gaddafi ordered the bombing.

All this must have been music to the Crown Office’s ears, but, when pushed to reveal his proof of the regime’s guilt, the best Jalil could offer was that it had funded ­Megrahi’s legal case.

Sadly, Libya has become too dangerous for the Scottish police to conduct investigations there. Even if it were not, they would likely find the cupboard was bare. In the four years since the revolution, ­nothing has emerged publicly from the ruins of the old regime to affirm Megrahi’s guilt, let alone Libya’s.

No doubt Mulholland’s public declarations will continue to ignore the four elephants in his legal chambers, but he must knows that their ever-fiercer stamping may one day bring Megrahi’s conviction crashing around his ears.

John Ashton is the author of the authorised ­biography of Abdelbaset al Megrahi, Megrahi: You are my Jury, (Birlinn, 2012) and Scotland’s Shame: Why Lockerbie Still Matters (Birlinn, 2014). From 2006-09, he worked as a researcher with Megrahi’s legal team.


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Private Eye reports on Lockerbie and the shelving of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill

The latest edition of Private Eye (no. 1366) carries the following article.

The Scottish government has quietly shelved for at least a year its controversial Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, heading off an escalating row over the need for corroboration before bringing a case to trial, until after September’s independence referendum.

The move also parks another reform, which would have made it easier to have the highly dubious conviction of Abdelbasset al-Megrahi, the only man jailed for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, referred back to the appeal court – just as relatives of some of the victims were about to launch an unprecedented legal action to do just that.

Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was one of the 270 who died in the attack, is leading 25 relatives of Lockerbie victims who are about to make a new a new application to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) to send Megrahi’s case back to the appeal court for a third time. The SNP government has repeatedly refused calls for an inquiry into the festering scandal, claiming the appeal court is the only appropriate forum for airing the issues. Yet it has quietly stacked the cards against any appeal.

Eye readers will recall that the SCCRC had already found strong grounds for believing there had been a miscarriage of justice, but Megrahi, who had terminal cancer, abandoned his second appeal five years ago in order to return to Libya to be with his family. Since then there has been fresh scientific evidence which points to his innocence. There has also been mounting concern about the amount of material also suggesting he was not the bomber which had been withheld from Megrahi’s 2001 trial, and his first appeal the following year, by Scotland’s prosecuting authority, the Crown Office.

The application by the families will be breaking new territory. First they will have to prove they have a “legitimate interest” in pursuing an appeal on behalf of Megrahi – a task made easier by the fact that Megrahi’s family supports the move. They will then have to prove the case is in the “public interest” – a far more straightforward argument. However, thanks to an arcane piece of legislation the biggest hurdle for them is that before deciding whether to hear a case referred to it by the SCCRC, the appeal court must have regard to “the need for finality and certainty in the determination of criminal proceedings”.

“Finality· and certainty”‘ isn’t defined in the legislation, but it means the court has to decide whether the threat of endless appeals and challenges outweighs SCCRC concern that there may have been an injustice. With one first failed appeal and the second abandoned, the court might simply say enough is enough – especially  when Megrahi himself is dead. That “finality” test was to have been abolished in the new Criminal Justice Bill, but unfortunately for the Lockerbie families it now it remains the law.



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Response to Richard Marquise’s Scottish Review article

The current issue of the Scottish Review carries an article by the head of the FBI’s Lockerbie investigation, Richard Marquise, which critiques the three recently broadcast Aljazeera programmes on Lockerbie. The second of the programmes was originally broadcast on the day Megrahi: you are my Jury was published. It presented evidence that, contrary to the Crown’s claims, the circuit board fragment PT/35b could not have originated from one of the 20 MST-13 timers supplied by Mebo to Libya. Mr Marquise writes as follows. My comments are in regular font:

[Programme] two was primarily dedicated to proving that a fragment of a timer (hereinafter called Pt-35 for the Scottish evidence designation) was not part of the timer that was provided to the LIS. The investigation had determined that PT-35 had been blasted into a piece of cloth which had been contained in the bomb suitcase. The British forensic examiner was criticised for not testing this fragment for explosive residue. It should be noted that PT-35 was found within a fragment of cloth which did have explosive residue on it.

No evidence was presented to the court that the cloth fragment PI995 was tested for residues and nothing in the forensic material disclosed by the Crown suggests that it was.

Once MEBO was identified as the manufacturer of the timer from which PT-35 had come, principals of that company verified this fragment had come from one of 20 timers they had manufactured for the LIS in 1985 and 1986.

In fact Mebo’s Bollier and Lumpert said that the fragment appeared to come from one of the timers. They never claimed to have proof that it did. (Bollier later claimed that it was from a prototype circuit board and not from one of the boards used in the Libyan timers, but this unlikely because the prototypes were grey/brown. Whereas the fragment was green.)

All of them were delivered to Libyan officials, in East Germany and Tripoli. No other timers of this sort were ever made or given to anyone but the LIS. The MEBO technician who had actually made these timers said that he first had to create, by hand soldering, a template for the timers. Once he created the solder lines he was then able to stamp out the 20 copies. Once these were made no other copies were ever made of this type timer.

Al Jazeera showed an interview of a forensic scientist who had allegedly (I do not know what specimens he actually compared) determined that the metallic composition of PT-35 did not match that found on the MEBO timers provided to Libya. He also claimed to have replicated in the laboratory the same or greater temperatures than the fragment would have been exposed to during an explosion to make this determination.

The expert, Dr Jess Cawley, compared PT/35b with DP/347a, which was a control sample one of the boards used in the Libyan timers. His work showed that PT/35b’s circuitry was coated with pure tin, whereas DP/347a’s was coated with a tin-lead alloy. The boards used in the Libyan timers were all made for Mebo by Thuring. During the preparations for Abdelbaset’s second appeal we established that Thuring only ever used tin-lead alloy and had never used pure tin.

It is difficult to exactly replicate the explosion in a laboratory setting. I am not a metallurgist and the FBI was not allowed to examine the composition of the fragment. However, the identification of the fragment was through comparison of the tracking (solder) lines which determined the MEBO timer was an exact match to it. Clearly, if the scientist interviewed for the programme had the requisite technical skills, there would be a disagreement among experts.

It might be difficult to replicate an explosion, but it is not difficult to create the same or even greater heat energy than is created by an explosion. This is what Dr Cawley did and his results showed that the heat of an explosion could not account for the metallurgical difference between the fragment and the Libyan timer boards. The tracking lines of the fragment were indeed virtually identical in pattern to the of the boards used in the Libyan timers, but Crown expert Allan Feraday went further, saying that, not only the tracking pattern, but also the material of the fragment was ‘similar in all respects’ to the Libyan timer boards. ‘Similar in all respects’ was a phrase used throughout his forensic report when describing items that were clearly of common origin.

There was no disagreement among scientists: Dr Cawley’s results merely replicated the results of tests overseen by Mr Feraday in 1991 (which the Crown failed to disclosed) and those done by scientists instructed by the police in 1992.

Many trials result in ‘dueling experts’. However, this is a matter for the court. Every day, in courtrooms around the world, ‘experts’ looking at the same evidence arrive at totally opposite conclusions. The prosecution, to counter, would offer ‘evidence’ that the solder tracking lines are microscopically identical to the other MEBO timers given to Libya and therefore the PT-35 fragment is identical to the other MEBO timers provided to Libya. That is the nature of expert testimony. It would have then been up to the judge or jury to reach a conclusion. Presenting one ‘expert’ opinion was a disservice to the viewers.

Again, there were no duelling experts. All the scientists’ work demonstrates conclusively that there was an irreconcilable metallurgical difference the fragment and the boards used in the Libyan timers. Crucially, the Crown fail to disclose Mr Feraday’s 1991 tests results, which directly contradicted his claim that the fragment and the control sample Thuring board were ‘similar in all respects’.

Mr Marquise does not mention the fact that the Scottish police knew from as early as March 1990, well before the fragment was linked to Mebo, that its pure tin coating was very unusual. In 1992 they commissioned tests that proved that the control sample Thuring board had a tin-lead coating, which begs the question: why did the Crown persist in running a case that was predicated on the claim that PT/35b originated from one of the 20 Libyan timers?


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