Friday, 22 March 2019

Thatcher warned US of reprisals years before Lockerbie bombing

[This is the headline over a report in today's edition of The Times. It reads as follows:]

Margaret Thatcher privately begged President Reagan two years before the Lockerbie bombing not to attack Libya, warning it would unleash a bloody “cycle of revenge and counter-revenge”.

In 1986 Britain took the controversial decision to allow the US to use RAF bases to launch a raid on Colonel Gaddafi’s regime. However, secret documents newly released and placed in the National Archives in Kew, show the prime minister was deeply troubled by the plan and outlined her concerns in a series of frank “Dear Ron” letters.

Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up over Lockerbie in 1988 and Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi, a Libyan national, was convicted for the atrocity in 2001.

It was confirmed yesterday that prosecutors from Scotland had interviewed five retired Stasi agents in Germany over their possible involvement in the bombing, which killed 270 people, including 190 US and 43 UK citizens. Investigators do not believe al-Megrahi acted alone, while campaigners insist he was the victim of a miscarriage of justice. According to reports in Germany, the ex-agents were in their 70s and 80s, and were interviewed over the past nine months.

Days before ordering airstrikes against Libya, which led to the deaths of more than 70 people in April 1986, the US president requested assistance from his ally. He confirmed it was a response to an attack on a nightclub used by US servicemen, writing: “Because the evidence we have on direct Libyan involvement in the Berlin bombing is so convincing, and our information on their future plans is so threatening, I have reluctantly taken the decision to use US forces to exact a response.”

Thatcher responded: “Dear Ron . . . as you know my instinct is always to stand beside the United States, but what you say in your message causes me very considerable anxiety. My worry is that this risks getting us into a cycle of revenge and counter-revenge in which many more innocent lives will be lost.

“Given all we know of Gaddafi’s nature, a military attack on Libya seems all too likely to lead him to step up terrorist attacks against civilian targets, resulting in the death of more innocent victims — some of them yours and some of them mine.” Referring to the conflict in Northern Ireland, she added: “I have to live with the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic across which terrorists come daily. We have lost 2,500 of our people in the last ten years, but we have never crossed that border to exact revenge.”

Reagan appealed to her sense of loyalty, writing: “You should not underestimate the profound effect on the American people if our actions to put a halt to these crimes continue to receive only lukewarm support, or no support at all, from our closest allies whom we have committed ourselves to defend.”

She responded: “You can count on our unqualified support for action directed against specific Libyan targets demonstrably involved in the conduct and support of terrorist activities.”

US F-111 jets launched raids on Tripoli and Benghazi from RAF bases in Suffolk and Oxfordshire. The actions caused an international outcry.

[RB: If Libya was responsible for Lockerbie, President Reagan's 1986 attack on Tripoli and Benghazi is normally regarded as supplying the motivation. The competing view, of course, is that Pan Am 103 was destroyed by the PFLP-GC at the instigation of Iran in revenge for the shooting down of Iran Air flight 655 by the USS Vincennes on 3 July 1988.]

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Crown investigation separate from SCCRC's

[Press reports today confirm, as I hinted yesterday, that the investigation currently being conducted by Scottish police and prosecutors into possible involvement by the East German Stasi in the Lockerbie bombing is quite separate from the investigation by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission into whether Abdelbaset Megrahi's conviction might have amounted to a miscarriage of justice. The SCCRC on 13 March 2019 obtained a European Investigation Order addressed to the Federal German authorities, but this appears to be independent of the Crown investigations disclosed yesterday and today, which stemmed from assistance requests submitted to the German authorities months earlier. What follows is excerpted from today's edition of The Guardian:]

According to a report in the German tabloid Bild, Scotland’s solicitor general, Alison Di Rollo QC, is said to have about 20 former Stasi officers in her sights.

The Crown Office, the Scottish prosecution service, confirmed to the tabloid that an investigation involving the Stasi was ongoing, but said it did not want to detail particular aspects that might hinder the work of what it said was “an ongoing investigation”.

But several state prosecutors across eastern Germany, including in Berlin, Cottbus, Frankfurt an der Oder, Zwickau, Potsdam and Neuruppin confirmed to the newspaper that Di Rollo had approached them asking for “legal assistance”.

The focus is said to be on the states of Brandenburg and Berlin, where most of the former agents, now in their late 70s and 80s, live. Bild said as many as 15 former Stasi agents were being approached for “concrete questioning”.

In Scotland a team of nine prosecutors is involved in investigating whether East German agents were actively involved with the regime of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Crown Office lawyers have also been searching for new evidence in Libya.

Those prosecutors are acting independently of a separate investigation by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC), which has been running its second inquiry into whether Megrahi’s conviction was a miscarriage of justice. (...)

Megrahi’s family has since reinvigorated their quest for the conviction to be overturned, instructing lawyers in Scotland to submit a fresh appeal with the SCCRC.

There has long been suspicion of collaboration between the Stasi and Gaddafi’s secret service, but many critics of Megrahi’s prosecution believe the Lockerbie bombing was carried out by Palestinian terrorists on behalf of Iran, in retaliation for the US downing of an Iranian passenger jet in 1988.

Some relatives of the dead, including the Lockerbie campaigner Dr Jim Swire, believe the bomb was planted at Heathrow airport and not sent via feeder flights from Malta, as the US and UK claim.

A cell belonging to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (General Command) had been operating in West Germany in the months before the Pan Am bombing.

[RB: Further reports appear today in The Scotsman, The Times and The Telegraph.]

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Lockerbie detectives plan to question retired East German Stasi officers

[This is part of the headline over a report published today on the Mail Online website. It reads in part:]

Scottish investigators want to speak to nearly 20 former East German secret police officers over alleged links to the Lockerbie bombing, it has been claimed. 

Seven retired Stasi agents, now in their 70s and 80s, have reportedly been interrogated already, more than 30 years after the crash which killed 270.  

Detectives are said to believe that the Stasi could have helped to supply the timer on the bomb, which brought down Pan Am flight 103 over the Scottish town in 1988. 

The secret police could also have provided ‘logistical support’ for the attack, German newspaper Bild reported.  

Scottish detectives have reportedly sent dozens of requests to authorities in former East Germany to speak to retired agents.

Seven who live near Frankfurt/Oder are said to have been handed over and questioned already, with investigators from Edinburgh present.  

Libyan intelligence officer Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was found guilty of murdering the 270 crash victims in 2001. 

It has long been suggested that then-Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi ordered the bombing, although he denied it. 

However Libya could have had help from East Berlin, where the Stasi are known to have supported terror groups.  

At the Lockerbie trial in 2000 the court heard that the Swiss businessman whose company supplied the timer had links to the Stasi. 

The Stasi are known to have given assistance to members of the Red Army Faction, a far-left terrorist network active in West Germany in the 1970s. 

Former left-wing terrorists were given shelter in East Germany and given new identities, according to the government of reunified Germany. 

Stasi agents were also linked to a 1986 disco bombing in West Berlin, which was also connected to Libya. 

The Stasi – short for Ministry of State Security – kept watch over the population of socialist East Germany until its collapse in 1990. (...)

Many believe the Lockerbie atrocity was committed in revenge for the downing of an Iran Air passenger flight by a US missile cruiser earlier in 1988.     

Megrahi was released from prison on ‘compassionate grounds’ in 2009 and died in Tripoli in 2012. 

However Megrahi’s family are still pursuing a possible appeal against his conviction. 

[RB: I do not know what connection, if any, this has to the European Investigation Order obtained by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission on 13 March 2019.

The suggestion (far-fetched, in my estimation) that the Stasi assisted Libya in carrying out the bombing of Pan Am 103 is of considerable vintage. See, for example, this article in The Baltimore Sun of 27 November 1991: Former E German secret police tied to Libyans, 1988 Lockerbie bombing.]

Friday, 15 March 2019

European Investigation Order granted to SCCRC relating to Lockerbie case

On Wednesday 13 March 2019 an application by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission in relation to the Lockerbie case was heard by three judges of the High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh. The SCCRC sought and was granted a European Investigation Order addressed to the Federal Republic of Germany. The Order granted by the court reads as follows:

In the application by the SCCRC under section 194IA of the Criminal
Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 seeking a European Investigation Order.

The Court, on the motion of the Advocate depute, being satisfied that an
order was necessary and that it was in the interests of justice that it be made
to secure possible future criminal proceedings, made an order prohibiting the
publication in any form of the information discussed in respect of the
application by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, heard before
the court this morning; withholding from publication material, namely (a) the
name of the person referred to in paragraph 3 of the application and
elsewhere in that application and any information calculated to disclose his
identity or his present whereabouts (b) any reference to, or any detail of or
pertaining to the involvement, actual or alleged, of that person in the
bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988 and (c) the other incident referred to
in paragraph 3 or elsewhere in the application; along with making that order
at common law, withholding that information from the public domain, the
court made an Order in terms of section 11 of the Contempt of Court Act
1981, prohibiting publication of all of that information, as set out in the first
part of the Order and made that a final Order, effective from now; having
heard counsel for the applicant, Grants the application and authorises the
issue of a European Investigation Order, together with the schedule of
documents conform to separate order and schedule attached hereto, to the
Federal Republic of Germany to obtain the evidence specified therein.

Friday, 8 March 2019

"... the FBI was put in charge of the crime scene in Lockerbie"

[What follows is excerpted from a report published today on the website of North Carolina's Bladen Journal:]

The former FBI investigator, [John Kelso] who led the probe in the 1988 bombing of Pam Am Flight 103, was the guest speaker for the Bladen Leadership Luncheon, a fundraiser for the Cape Fear Council Boy Scouts of America. (...) [RB: Until today John Kelso's name has not once appeared on this blog during its (almost) twelve year existence. The head of the FBI's Lockerbie investigation team is usually given as Richard Marquise.]

On a topic that could be discussed or presented over many sittings, the skilled orator explained how the FBI was put in charge of the crime scene in Lockerbie, Scotland, how it went about determining suspects and what has happened in the 30-plus years since. [RB: Is it really the case that the FBI, and not the Scottish police, were in charge of the crime scene? If true, this might explain a lot. But I am reluctant to believe that it is true.]

The plane with 200,000 pounds of fuel carrying 259 people was at 31,000 feet flying 500 mph. When a Semtex device of about 1 pound exploded, all aboard and 11 on the ground were killed.

The crime scene was scattered over 845 square miles, which is roughly just smaller than Bladen County.

“We initially had three theories,” said Kelso, who retired in 2002. “One was a suicide bomber, someone knowingly checked in the device. The second was a mule, which is a situation, for example, of boyfriend and girlfriend. Someone says if you take some of my luggage, I’ll join you later. The mule is the one who takes the luggage.

“And then the third was an inside job, which is what happened.”

The agency’s investigation had a lucky break and a mystery letter, elements that seem to often accompany movie thrillers and good books. The break was two-fold, that the airplane didn’t take off on time and the explosive device was a straight timer as opposed to a barometric device.

Had the plane been on time, the explosion would not have happened over land, and all the evidence would have been on an ocean floor. [RB: Dr Morag Kerr has debunked the claim that the aircraft was late in leaving Heathrow. It left its stance within two or three minutes of the scheduled time.]

The anonymous letter was written and left at a US embassy in Vienna within weeks of the bombing, yet left pretty well out of the three-year probe. When a suspect connected to the timer was fingered, his conversation with the FBI uncovered his authorship of the letter. [RB: The strange story of the letter written by Edwin Bollier on a Spanish-keyboard typewriter is discussed in the trial court's judgement at paragraph 47.]

Kelso told the group he’s met with families of those killed. The meetings were emotionally draining.

At Syracuse University, which had several students onboard, an anniversary is held each year. Kelso and his wife have stayed in touch with one family, connected as parents of twins.

“One was a student at Syracuse, one at Rensler — both on the same flight and were killed,” Kelso said of the parents’ sons. “They both keep hoping, as do I, that there will be a stable government in Libya to help us get to the bottom of this. We indicted two, and convicted one, but we know there is more to this.

“For us who worked the case, and the families grieving, that’s what they’d like to see. If they could have some closure, charges against other Libyan officials, that would make things better.”

Sunday, 24 February 2019

"... it became clear that there wasn't going to be any survivors"

[What follows is excerpted from a report headlined Witnessing Lockerbie tragedy was calling from God says Largs chaplain published today on the website of the Largs & Millport Weekly News:]

A Largs chaplain who witnessed the horrors of the Lockerbie bombing says he believes the tragedy was God preparing him for life as a minister.

Pastor Gordon Weir, 51, told the News how he is still haunted by the horrific scenes in the town straight after the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in 1988.

He was living in Dumfries and working as clerk for the health service, delivering equipment and ensuring the region's hospitals and GP's were well stocked.

Gordon, of Brisbane Evangelical Church, said: "The night it happened I had just got home from work when the phone rang.

"It was my boss telling me he had called me a taxi and I had to get back in to work. I thought he was joking, but right enough there was a taxi outside my door.

"I got the story on the way in, that a jet had fallen from the sky and crashed in Lockerbie and that we had to set the hospital up for any emergencies coming in.

"Five people came in who had been on the ground and been hit with flying debris and we helped them. We were waiting for people from the plane, but as the night went on it became clear that there wasn't going to be any survivors.

"The next day myself and another worker were asked to take x-ray equipment to Lockerbie.

"They were going to use it to identify bodies in the wreckage.

"I will never forget driving in to the site, with the police combing the fields for bodies while in the main street it was packed with camera crews from across the world. Within 12 hours the whole world had arrived in the little town.

"I will never forget it. I saw some horrific things, there were still bodies lying and police were still trying to identify them.

"I think in a weird way, although I didn't know it at the time, seeing those people dealing with real trauma, was God preparing me."

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Death of Senior Investigating Officer of Lockerbie atrocity

[What follows is excerpted from a report published today on the website of the Edinburgh Evening News:]

Heartfelt tributes have been paid to one of the Capital’s “outstanding” police officers.

Former Detective Chief Superintendent Stuart Henderson MBE headed up the Lockerbie investigation and helped bring some of Scotland’s most notorious killers to justice.

He died, aged 78, after an illness on January 31 with a funeral at Warriston Crematorium later this month.

Former Lothian and Borders Police deputy chief constable Tom Wood rose through the ranks under DCS Henderson.

The pair worked in CID together and the major investigations unit for 20 years – helping bring killers Robert Black and Angus Sinclair to justice.

“Stuart was a friend of mine and we worked together for many years. He was an outstanding man with unbounded enthusiasm,” said Mr Wood. (...)

“He was committed to the job, most latterly as senior investigating officer of Lockerbie. It was an enormous job and would’ve crushed most men – but not Stuart. I was very, very sad to hear of his death at a relatively young age. He was super physically fit – an incredible character.

“He did nothing in half measures. Everything he did was 100 per cent, that’s the kind of guy he was and everybody who worked with him would recognise that.

“He was one of the outstanding police officers of his generation and a first class detective.”

Police Scotland Chief Constable Iain Livingstone last night praised Mr Henderson for remaining close to families affected by Lockerbie.

Mr Livingstone said: “He performed his public service with skill and commitment and will be sorely missed.”

[Stuart Henderson's name has featured frequently on this blog. His conduct as Lockerbie SIO, and especially his Lockerbie-related interventions in the years following, have been subjected here to strong and, I would contend, entirely justified, criticism.

What follows is excerpted from the obituary of Mr Henderson that appeared in The Scotsman on 13 February 2019:]

Henderson went on (...)  to forge a career in CID that ultimately saw him take charge of the biggest mass murder inquiry in Scottish criminal history – the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie in December 1988.

On the night of December 21, 1988 he was the most ­senior Lothian and Borders police officer on duty in Edinburgh and went immediately to the site of the Lockerbie disaster, likening it to a war zone.

For two years he was deputy senior investigating officer for Strathclyde Police’s John Orr on the case which involved the murders of 259 passengers and crew on the plane and 11 residents on the ground. Then, in 1990, when John Orr became deputy chief constable of Dumfries and Galloway, he took complete charge of the hunt for the culprits – a role that completely dominated the latter years of his police career and saw him visit 47 countries.

By now a detective chief superintendent, he worked closely with the FBI agent Richard Marquise, who was in charge of the United States’ task force. Henderson’s work earned him the MBE in the New Years honours of 1992 and he retired that same year after delivering a report to the Procurator Fiscal naming two men allegedly involved in the bombing, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi and Al-amin Khalifa Fhimah.

The latter was acquitted after a trial in the Netherlands but Megrahi was ­convicted in 2001. In 2009, suffering from cancer, he was released from jail in Scotland on ­compassionate grounds, a move Henderson vehemently opposed. Both he and ­Marquise wrote to the then Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, urging him not to release the convicted mass murderer.

Henderson, who had marked the 10th and 25th anniversaries of the tragedy at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia where there is a red sandstone Lockerbie cairn memorial, felt it was a naive move and rejected any suggestion Megrahi had been framed as an insult to the police.

Thursday, 31 January 2019

Eighteen years of injustice

It was eighteen years ago today that the judges of the Scottish Court at Camp Zeist delivered their verdict of Guilty against Abdelbaset al-Megrahi (and Not Guilty against Lamin Fhima) for the murder of 270 people in the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie. The Opinion of the Court justifying the verdicts can be read here. In the version originally issued on 31 January 2001, in the very first sentence, their Lordships mis-stated the date of the disaster. This is symptomatic of the quality of the Opinion as a whole.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Did Kenyan minister feature in Lockerbie bombing saga?

[What follows is excerpted from an interesting, if not always wholly accurate, article in today's edition of the Kenyan newspaper the Daily Nation:]

In the early years of his rule, when he was youthful and bubbling with energy, President Daniel arap Moi was always on the road at home, or in the skies visiting some foreign country. (...)

... on November 14, 1988 he left for a four-day State visit to Iran.

The No 2 passenger in the manifest of the presidential jet was Foreign Affairs minister Robert Ouko.

Media reports at the time showed the Kenyan President was thrown a red carpet welcome by his Iranian counterpart and visiting factories outside the capital Tehran.

On returning home, President Moi said Kenya would be selling more tea to the Middle-East country and would support the Palestinian cause.

Never mind within weeks of the visit, Kenya resumed diplomatic ties with Israel which had been “severed” 15 years earlier.

Nothing else was said about the Iran visit by the Kenyan President.

Then Lockerbie happened. At seven in the evening London time, Pan-Am passenger airliner Boeing 747 flew out of the Heathrow Airport en route to New York.

Undetected in the luggage compartment was a suitcase containing a cassette-player.

Inside the gadget was an odourless plastic explosive with an atmospheric timer.

In about 40 minutes, the flight climbed to the trigger height — 31,000 feet above sea level — over a village near Lockerbie town in Scotland. Then hell rained.

The bomb exploded, breaking the plane into a thousand pieces that scattered over a kilometre radius.

The intact part of the fuselage hit the ground with such a force it created a medium-sized crater. Two hundred and seventy lives were lost.

A month after the tragedy, the British periodical well-known for juicy leaks, the Private Eye reported that among the passengers in the ill-fated US airliner were officers from the US Intelligence outfit, the CIA, who had been in Iran to negotiate a secret deal to release American and other western foreigners held hostage in Iran and Lebanon.

The report went further to say that during the visit to Iran by President Moi a month before the Lockerbie tragedy, it had been agreed with Iranian authorities that Dr Ouko be one of the go-betweens in the Iran/US secret negotiations.

The rationale was that Dr Ouko could be trusted as an honest broker by both Iranian and US diplomats with whom he had struck friendship in his role as Kenya’s foremost diplomat.

Neither Kenya or the US confirmed or denied the story carried in the British publication. Both conveniently assumed they never read or heard about it. (...)

In the Lebanon hostage crisis, [President Ronald Reagan] started circumventing the law that restricted arms sales to Iran.

He did so by having the CIA secretly sell arms to Iran and divert part of the proceeds to fund anti-communist rebels in then rogue Central American country of Nicaragua in what was called the Iran/Contra affair.

From the story in the British publication, the Private Eye, it would appear President Reagan also had other spanners in work in the Lebanon hostage crisis and where Kenya was looped in.

Dr Robert Ouko would mysteriously disappear, only to be found murdered slightly over a year after the Lockerbie tragedy.

Incidentally, he had just come from a trip in the US with the President [Moi] when he vanished.

Libya would be accused of having masterminded the Lockerbie terrorist bombing of the US jetliner and forced to surrender, after long drawn pressure, two of her citizens for trial in Scotland, and also to compensate victims of the plane explosion.

The story was that Libya did so to revenge the bombing of her cities of Tripoli and Benghazi ordered by President Reagan two years before Lockerbie tragedy.

But five years ago, a former Iranian intelligence officer disclosed that it was Iran, working with Syria, that organised the Lockerbie bombing to revenge what was called “accidental” downing of an Iranian civilian jet by a US warship, killing 290 people five months before the Lockerbie tragedy.

All in all, nothing has ever came out clearly on who did what and why in the Lockerbie matter — least of all Kenya that was at some point looped in the murky affairs of the powder keg that is the Middle-East.

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Governments must let families of victims know who they believe carried out Lockerbie atrocity

[This is the headline over a letter from Dr Jim Swire published yesterday in the Belfast Telegraph. It reads as follows:]

I am grateful to Kim Sengupta for his article (Saturday Review, December 29). Like Kim, I was privileged to meet Baset Al-Megrahi in Tripoli just before his death in 2012, by which time we had become good friends. Years before, I had met him while he was in prison at Greenock in Scotland for a crime I knew he had not committed.

Kim's article mentions many who were sufficiently involved to become convinced, like myself and Fr Keegans, that this man had been wrongly convicted.

For those of us relatives who know this to be the case, it adds sorely to the burden of bereavement to know that those with the authority, power and knowledge to overturn this verdict, simply will not thus far act.

We, the direct relatives, surely have the right to know the truth as to all that our governments know about the real perpetrators and why the atrocity at Lockerbie was not prevented.

I promised Megrahi's family I would do all I could to free them from the burden of the epithet of "the Lockerbie bomber's family". I also met Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill just before Megrahi's release, when I was able to beg him to let a man I knew to be innocent be free to go home to die among his family. He has since admitted he is not happy with aspects of the evidence used against Baset.

Unfortunately, the Scottish High Court has ruled that we relatives of some of the victims have no locus to request further review of the evidence through a fresh appeal. It is to be fervently hoped that 2019 will see Megrahi's family granted a further full appeal.

It is not that there is nicely balanced evidence for and against the verdict: there is now an overwhelming preponderance of material which confirms that Megrahi was not involved, but that failures in the way warnings were handled by the Thatcher government of the day - and at Heathrow, in particular - allowed the bomb to be ingested there.

Like Baset, Air Malta and Frankfurt airport need to be excluded from blame. Let's admit we got it disastrously wrong and plan for a safer future.

Monday, 31 December 2018

Outrage before Lockerbie

[This is the heading over a letter from Lizanne MacKenzie published in today's edition of The Herald. It reads as follows:]

Whenever there is any coverage of the terrible events which happened in Lockerbie 30 years ago – and there has been a great deal of late – I am dismayed that there is no reference to what took place six months previously. On July 3, 1988, Iran Air Flight 655 was shot down, as it flew out of Tehran, by the USS Vincennes. In all, 290 people were killed, including 66 children. Two years later, the commander of the Vincennes was awarded the Legion of Merit "for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service".

Subsequent attempts to cover up the facts about what happened in that incident are shaming. Vice-President George H W Bush said on the campaign trail: "I will never apologise for the United States – I don't care what the facts are."

I write, not to detract from the Lockerbie crime, but to question why we make no connection between these two outrages – one all but forgotten by us in the West – surely, they are connected?

Saturday, 29 December 2018

There are good reasons to believe that the conviction of Megrahi was a shameful miscarriage of justice

[What follows is excerpted from an article by Kim Sengupta published today on the website of the Belfast Telegraph (and a week ago behind a paywall on the website of The Independent):]

Abdelbaset al-Megrahi lay in his bed attached to a drip, on red sheets stained by dark splashes of blood he had coughed up. An oxygen mask covered his skeletal face; his body twitched as he drifted in and out of consciousness. He was in the advanced stages of cancer: medicine he desperately needed had been plundered by looters; the doctors who had been treating him had fled.

This was in Tripoli in the winter of 2011, in the turmoil of Libya's civil war and the chaotic aftermath of the fall of Muammar Gaddafi. It was a time of great violence. A dozen bodies were piled up beside a roundabout a half-mile from where I had seen Megrahi lie slowly dying. They were corpses of black men, lynched by the rebels because they were supposedly mercenaries fighting for the regime. In reality, they were victims of a xenophobia against African migrants which had accompanied the uprising.

Megrahi himself had been convicted of a dreadful massacre; of being responsible for 270 deaths on December 21, 1988, when Pan Am Flight 103 blew up over the town of Lockerbie in Scotland. A bomb - 12 ounces of Semtex in a Toshiba radio-cassette player - had been secreted in the luggage of the plane carrying passengers to the US, many returning home for Christmas.

After spending eight years in Scottish prisons following his conviction, Megrahi had been returned to Libya on compassionate grounds following a diagnosis of prostate cancer. After a few months in prison in Tripoli, unable to walk and bedridden, he was allowed to return to his family home.

There was vengeful anger expressed by some in Britain, and more so in the US, at Megrahi's return to Libya. He had faked his illness, it was claimed, and even if that was not the case, he had escaped justice by not actually dying in a cell.

The charge of subterfuge was reinforced by the perception that his release was part of the many dodgy deals between Tony Blair's government and Colonel Gaddafi's regime.

Yet there are good reasons to believe that the conviction of Megrahi was a shameful miscarriage of justice and that, as a result, the real perpetrators of one of the worst acts of terrorism in recent history remained free. That certainly was the view of many, including international jurists, intelligence officers, journalists who followed the case, and members of bereaved families.

Among the latter group was Jim Swire, who lost his daughter, Flora, in the bombing. Dr Swire, a man of integrity and compassion, who became a spokesman for UK Families 103, stressed that "the scandal around Megrahi is not that a sick man was released, but that he was even convicted in the first place. All I have ever wanted to see is that the people who murdered my daughter are brought to justice".

Megrahi died in May 2012, a few months after I had seen him. Yet a campaign Dr Swire had helped set up, Justice for Megrahi, continues to help the Libyan's family to seek a new appeal against the sentence in their efforts to posthumously clear his name.

Certainly, the chronology of the original investigation into the bombing is strange, raising serious questions about the official narrative.

Soon after the downing of the Pan Am flight, American and British security officials began laying the blame on an Iran-Syria axis. The suggested scenario was that Tehran had taken out a contract in revenge for the destruction of an Iranian civilian airliner (Iran Air Flight 655), which had been shot down by missiles fired from an American warship (the USS Vincennes) a few months earlier.

The theory went that the contract had been taken up by the PFLP-GC (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command), which specialised in such operations.

The blame switched to Libya - which was then very much a pariah state - around the time Iran and Syria joined the US-led coalition against Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf war.

Robert Baer, the former American intelligence officer and author, was among those who held that an Iranian-sponsored hit was the only plausible explanation for the attack. This was the firm belief held "to a man", he stated, by his former colleagues in the CIA.

After years of wrangling, Megrahi, the former head of security at Libyan Airlines and allegedly a Libyan intelligence officer, was finally extradited in 1999 - along with another man named as a suspect over the bombing, Lamin Khalifa Fhimah, also allegedly employed by Libyan intelligence. (...)

I covered their trial at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands, which took place in a specially constituted court, with a panel of Scottish judges but without a jury, under Scots law. The two men were effectively charged with joint enterprise - conspiracy - yet only Megrahi was found guilty. (...)

The prosecution evidence was circumstantial, details of the bomb timer on the plane were contradictory, and the testimony of a key witness, a Maltese shopkeeper, was extremely shaky under cross-examination.

Five years on from the trial, the former Lord Advocate, Lord Fraser of Carmville, who had been responsible for initiating the Lockerbie prosecution, famously described the witness, Tony Gauci, as "an apple short of a picnic" and "not quite the full shilling".

The performance and evidence of a supposedly prime CIA intelligence asset, Abdul Majid Giaka, codenamed Puzzle Piece, who turned up in a Shirley Bassey wig, was widely viewed as risible. It emerged later that important evidence had not been passed on to the defence lawyers. Ulrich Lumpert, an engineer who testified to the validity of a key piece of evidence, admitted later in an affidavit of lying to the court.

The observer for the UN at the trial severely criticised the verdict, as did many lawyers. Robert Black, a law professor born in Lockerbie, who played an important role in organising the Camp Zeist proceedings, later became convinced that a great injustice had taken place. (...)

Fr Patrick Keegans had just been appointed as parish priest in Lockerbie and was looking forward to his first Christmas there at the time of the crash. His tireless work with the traumatised community drew wide praise and is remembered with gratitude.

He reflected: "For those of us who experienced Lockerbie, the story will never come to an end. Lockerbie lives with us, we are part of Lockerbie and Lockerbie is part of us... the horror, the tragedy, the sadness, the grief, the support and the love that was shown - all of that stays with us."

Fr Keegans, who is now retired, joined the Justice for Megrahi campaign after meeting the convicted man's family and is now backing the call for a fresh appeal.

"I can't live with myself being silent," he explained, "when I'm truly convinced that this man has been unjustly convicted. Lockerbie is an unfinished story as far as the legal aspects are concerned."

Megrahi died at his home in Tripoli, still protesting his innocence. He thanked Dr Jim Swire and others who had believed in him.

In his final days, he said: "I pray for all those who died every day. I shall be meeting my God soon, but the truth will come out.

"I really hope the truth of what really happened will come out one day."

Thursday, 27 December 2018

His belief in Abdelbaset al-Megrahi’s innocence drove him forward

[What follows is excerpted from an article headlined The night fire fell from the sky published today on the website of the Scottish Catholic Observer:]

The 30th anniversary has put the catastrophe at the forefront of the media once again as witnesses and families relive the horror. One survivor who was there at the epicentre in Sherwood Crescent had, at the time of the disaster, recently been appointed parish priest of the town’s Holy Trinity Church.

Just as the previously sleepy town suddenly found itself on the centre of the world’s stage, Canon Patrick Keegans, then Fr Keegans, soon became one of the most recognisable faces of the tragedy.

As darkness descended, and the shortest day of the year gave way to the longest night, no one could have known how just how long the night would be and the devastation it would bring. (...)

“I was upstairs when it happened and the whole house shook so much I thought I would die there,” Canon Keegans said.

“My mother, who was downstairs, was protected by the fridge freezer. At that point I thought it was a fighter plane that had come down.”

Opening the front door, there was only the sound of the crackling of fire to break the momentary eerie silence before the emergency services would descend, only the light of the flames illuminating the darkness which the street had been plunged into as power failed.

“The whole street was gone, it was just debris everywhere,” Canon Keegans said.

“I made an effort to get further in and I think that was symbolic. I needed to try to do something.

“With another man, I was able to carry a woman out but that was as much as we could do in Sherwood Crescent.”

As the local priest, he was soon sought out and, although in the first days he was as shocked and tearful as anyone else, his capacity for pastoral support saw him become an essential part of the grieving and healing in the wake of the atrocity.

“It was simple in some ways because I had the plus factor of living there, of being in Sherwood Crescent at the time, and they could see the sadness in my eyes. And that’s a sorrow that lasts to this day,” he said. (...)

A public life he had never sought or wanted would soon begin. It was his conviction that the families needed to know the truth to begin to heal and his belief in Abdelbaset al-Megrahi’s innocence drove him forward.

Megrahi, an alleged Libyan intelligence officer, was convicted in 2001 of carrying out the bombing.

However, some remain convinced of his innocence. Canon Keegans joined the Justice for Megrahi campaign, which ended his close friendships with many of the victims families.

“I was their blue-eyed boy and then suddenly I was the traitor,” he said.

“To a large extent the relationships went but I’m still close to some of them. I couldn’t just sit back when I believed in his innocence, so my conscience is clear.”

Canon Keegans was spared the survivor guilt which often plagues those who escape death in terrible circumstances.

“I never felt guilty, only grateful to be alive and grateful my mother was alive. I did wish that I had been taken instead of the children, all of whom I knew. (...)

Sunday, 23 December 2018

The record must be set straight once and for all and justice delivered

[What follows is the text of an editorial headlined Libya and Lockerbie published today in the Daily Times of Pakistan:]

Three decades have passed since the Lockerbie tragedy. And it seems that increased doubt surrounds the Libyan role in the worst terrorist attack on American civilians; the events of 9/11 notwithstanding.

Back in 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 was travelling from London to New York when it was brought down by explosives. The plane crashed in the Scottish town of Lockerbie; killing all 270 aboard. What happened next would be the biggest investigation in British history.

There have long been claims that Iran gave the order to strike and paid a ‘middle-man’ the hefty sum of $10 million to do the needful: the Syria-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). [RB: Dr Ludwig de Braeckeleer contends that the document alleged to show a $10m payment from Iran to the PFLP-GC does not in fact do so and has no connection with Lockerbie.] This was reportedly a tit-for-tat move. For a few months earlier, the Americans had, in their own words, mistakenly, downed an Iran Air plane; killing 290. Moreover, the daughter of a former PFLP operative  — in the run-up to the thirty-year anniversary of the disaster — repeated allegations of Tehran’s involvement. According to popular theories, London and Washington sought to frame Col Gaddafi of Libya for Lockerbie over his support for Saddam Hussein in Iraq. It has been argued that the UK and US were keen to keep Iran on side during the first Gulf War.

If true, there has been a terrible miscarriage of justice. First and foremost for purported Libyan intelligence officer Abdelbaset el-Megrahi who was convicted in 2001 on all 270 counts of murder and had always professed his innocence. And also for the entire nation. For once Gaddafi publicly carried the can for the terror attack some two years later — an unfortunate sequence of events put the country firmly in the eye of the American storm. El-Megrahi, who was suffering from cancer, was returned to Tripoli on compassionate grounds. And some political pundits believe that this provided the impetus for Barrack Obama to push for NATO intervention in the country. For at the time of the Benghazi offensive there were reports of JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) being on standby to try and pick up el-Megrahi and fly him to Washington to stand trial before American courts.

To avoid further speculation, therefore, an international tribunal must be set up to re-open the Lockerbie case. After all, spooks working on both sides of the Atlantic have in the past spoken of likely Iranian involvement. The world — particularly the Libyan people — deserve to know the truth. For important questions remain. Namely, why, if at all, would Gaddafi allow himself to be framed in this way? What was the payback he was hoping to secure from the West? This is not to rule out Iranian absolution. The point here is that the record must be set straight once and for all and justice delivered.

If nothing else, a re-investigation may afford a better understanding of the underlying dynamics that are currently fanning Middle Eastern flames. While affording the victims’ families long overdue closure.