Saturday, 23 October 2021

‘I had most to gain and nothing to lose about the whole truth coming out’

[What follows is the third and final extract from chapter 15 of The Colonel and I: My Life with Gaddafi by Daad Sharab. Articles about this book can be found in The National here and here. The previous extracts on this blog can be read here and here.]

As he was released, al-Megrahi said he bore the people of Scotland no ill will, and thanked the prison staff at Barlinnie and Greenock for their kindness. He received a hero’s welcome back in Tripoli. [RB: Saif al-Islam Gaddafi in an article in The New York Times denied that there had been a hero's welcome.] I was in Jordan at the time but watched on television, noticing that al-Megrahi flew home on the same jet I’d helped Gaddafi buy from Prince al-Waleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia. Also on board was the Colonel’s son, Saif, in his white robes and holding al-Megrahi’s arm aloft as he stepped on to Libyan soil.


Saif was basking in the glory of the triumphant homecoming, although in reality I knew he’d barely been involved. I was seething inside as I watched him steal all the credit, while the real hard workers were nowhere to be seen. Saif regularly went to London, but he never once bothered to hop on a domestic flight to Glasgow to visit al-Megrahi in prison at either Barlinnie or Greenock. The jubilant scenes didn’t go down well in the West, which had requested a restrained welcome, but this was too good an opportunity to pass up. It was rare that Libya got the upper hand against America.


However, when he came home I hardly recognised al-Megrahi who was walking with a stick and had to be helped down the steps of the aircraft. He looked nothing like the healthy man I’d last visited a few years earlier. It was said at the time of his release that he would die within three months. In fact he lingered on for another three years, even outliving Gaddafi which no one could have envisaged at the time. I found the outcry from the West over al-Megrahi’s failure to die sooner distasteful. I always felt very sorry for him and never doubted his innocence. What reason did he have to lie to me, an agent of the regime?


In a moment of desperation, he once told me in prison: ‘They would be very happy for me to die here.’ There is a suspicion in my mind that al-Megrahi did not receive very good medical attention in prison, because prostate cancer usually responds well to treatment if it is caught early. He died at his villa in the suburbs of Tripoli, in May 2012, aged 60. I hope he found peace and was able to enjoy precious time with his family. In my eyes al-Megrahi was the 271st Lockerbie victim.


By then the final compensation cheques had been paid to the families, much to the dismay of Gaddafi. Although he appreciated the importance of keeping up the instalments, he often railed against the unfairness and how the handing over of compensation would be interpreted. ‘Why should I do this when Libya is innocent?’ he asked many times. 


For those working behind the scenes it was a constant battle to persuade the Colonel to take a pragmatic approach. Finally Abdul Ati al-Obeidi, one of his key advisors on Lockerbie, spelled this out in very direct terms. At one of our regular Lockerbie briefing meetings with Gaddafi, he told the leader: ‘Look, we don’t want to see you suffer the same fate as Saddam Hussein. If the cost is money, then we have a lot of money. Let’s just pay them, get rid of this issue, open up our country and keep it stable. America can do anything it wants. Do you want us to end up watching you on TV like Saddam Hussein?’


It was a very blunt reference to Saddam’s capture and humiliation by US forces, which had so rattled Gaddafi. For all his bluster he knew that America and its allies could topple him at the drop of a hat. The bombing of his compound in 1986 by the Americans was a constant reminder of the West’s power. After al-Obeidi’s intervention the Colonel didn’t make such a fuss about the blood money.


The burning question remains: if al-Megrahi was innocent, as I firmly believe, then who brought down the Pan Am flight?


At the time of the Lockerbie bombing there were loose alliances between various states and organisations. They were generally opposed to the ideals of the West, and pooled resources. Bombing an aircraft is no easy matter, so if one country didn’t have the expertise to carry out an attack it simply funded a group that did. I don’t carry a smoking gun but al-Megrahi, who knew the case inside out and had access to Libya’s files on Lockerbie, was convinced that it was a joint enterprise between Iran, Syria and The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine [-General Command]. The shooting down of the Iranian passenger jet by the American warship Vincennes, six months before Lockerbie, was too much of a coincidence. It was the crucial link, but by the time the evidence began to stack up no one wanted to point the finger at Iran or Syria, who had helped Western coalition forces in the first Gulf War. My time on the fringes of international diplomacy taught me that politicians are like shifting sands in the desert.


Sadly I never got the opportunity to see al-Megrahi following his release but I know he intended to present fresh evidence at his appeal, insisting he had nothing to fear or hide. ‘I had most to gain and nothing to lose about the whole truth coming out,’ he said.


I am sure the British intelligence services know the truth about Lockerbie, but it has been covered up. Al-Megrahi’s early death was convenient, although his family did eventually get a posthumous appeal. It came as no surprise to me that it was rejected, or that al-Megrahi’s family have called on the British government to release secret files which implicate Iran. Justice has not been done and, for political reasons, I fear we may never learn the truth.

In another recent development the US has named and charged another so-called suspect, Abu Agila Mohammad Masud. I don’t claim to know every member of the Libyan intelligence services but I can tell you I never encountered him during my many years in Libya, or heard his name mentioned by Gaddafi. Why did the Americans choose to make this announcement on the 32nd anniversary of Lockerbie? In my opinion it is nothing more than another crass political stunt.

Thursday, 21 October 2021

A matter of sorrow, disappointment and anger

[What follows is a further extract from chapter 15 of The Colonel and I: My Life with Gaddafi by Daad Sharab. Articles about this book can be found in The National here and here. The previous extract on this blog can be read here.]

In 2005, al-Megrahi was transferred to the more relaxed surroundings of Greenock prison, where he served the rest of his sentence. I wasn’t surprised to find that he was depressed. In the early days of his captivity his family relocated to Scotland to be near him, but they encountered hostility from locals and soon moved back to Libya. The separation from his loved ones had clearly affected his mental health and he was not sleeping well. Al-Megrahi, who had five children, was most upset about missing the wedding of his only daughter. He told me that she’d come to Scotland with the marriage papers, for him to sign according to Arab custom. He’d cried for a week after her visit, he told me, adding: ‘Every day I spend here my children are growing up. My daughter was a child when I left Libya and now she is a woman. Please remind President Gaddafi.’

We spoke about al-Megrahi’s journey from Malta, where he worked for Libyan Arab Airlines, to the special court at Camp Zeist in The Netherlands where he was convicted in 2001. He was alleged to have used his position to evade lax security and smuggle the bomb into a suitcase on a flight which connected with Pan Am 103. At the prison I was interested to learn that he’d never met Gaddafi face-to-face and all his dealings, prior to being handed over for trial, had been with Abdullah Senussi in the intelligence office.


Al-Megrahi told me: ‘Senussi came to see me and said to me: “There is an agreement with the West to send you for trial, which the leader says you are free to accept or reject. No one will force you to go and you will be protected by us.”’


He gave himself up for his country but at the time he was sure he would not spend long behind bars, and this was eating away at him. He did not believe he’d received the fair trial that had been promised.


From what I observed, al-Megrahi was well treated and, in return, was a model prisoner. He was able to cook his own Halal food and sometimes used the prison gym, although he devoted most of his spare time to reading and researching his case. Satellite television was installed in his cell so that he could watch Arab stations, delighting other inmates who also had access to a host of new channels. Rather predictably, his unit became known as ‘the Gaddafi café’.


I was allowed to take a camera into my meeting with al-Megrahi at Barlinnie. Returning to Libya to present my report, I first showed Gaddafi photographs of myself with the prisoner. Until I explained his identity, the Colonel seemed to show no recognition of the man at my side. For anyone who still believes Gaddafi personally instructed the Lockerbie bomber, interpret that how you will.


I told Gaddafi of his countryman’s dismay about the passing years and apparent inaction by the Libyan government. He replied: ‘Meet him again. Tell him that I received his message and I will find a solution. Tell him that I promise he will be home soon.’ From that moment, the Colonel did everything possible to keep his case in the spotlight, also funding lawyers for his appeal and paying for investigators to gather new evidence.


When I next visited al-Megrahi, he was a frightened man. He’d become convinced there was a plot to assassinate him, by deliberately leaving the doors to his secure unit unlocked. ‘The other prisoners hate me,’ he told me. If what he was saying was true I knew he had good reason to be terrified, because the Lockerbie bomber was a prize scalp. I promised to pass on his concerns and, to the best of my knowledge he never suffered any harm in either prison.


In Libya he was regarded as a martyr. The Colonel’s wife, Safia, took Al-Megrahi’s wife, Aisha, under her wing. She was treated like a VIP, often appearing at functions and on Libyan television.


I liked al-Megrahi and we kept in touch. He had my mobile telephone number and occasionally I’d receive calls. We’d speak for a few minutes about the case and we exchanged letters. I used to urge him to keep his spirits up, and reassure him that he was always in Gaddafi’s thoughts.


Al-Megrahi was ultimately granted a second appeal, which I’m convinced would have cleared his name. The already weak case against him was gradually being dismantled, as it emerged key witnesses had been paid millions of dollars to testify. Tony Gauci, the Maltese shopkeeper who picked out al-Megrahi as the man who bought the clothes which were found in the suitcase containing the bomb, was discredited. There was doubt he was even in Malta at the time, which would have blown the entire case out of the water.


Few people who have studied the evidence in any depth truly believed al-Megrahi was the bomber, or that Libya was behind the attack. Had the appeal gone ahead it would have been very embarrassing for the West and there was a good chance al-Megrahi would have ended up receiving compensation for wrongful imprisonment. There was also talk in Libya of suing Britain for the economic damage caused by the years of sanctions against Libya. Can you imagine that?


I was shocked when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2008. He was released by the Scottish government on compassionate grounds on 20 August 2009, when he was said to be terminally ill. Six days earlier he withdrew his appeal, explaining: ‘I have been faced with an appalling choice: to risk dying in prison in the hope that my name is cleared posthumously or to return home still carrying the weight of the guilty verdict, which will never now be lifted. The choice which I made is a matter of sorrow, disappointment and anger, which I fear I will never overcome.’ It was just one more political deal over Lockerbie and his early release, after eight and a half years in prison, brought condemnation from the US. ‘We think it is a mistake,’ said President Barack Obama.


Many of the relatives of the Lockerbie victims were also angry but the decision was welcomed by Jim Swire, the doctor whose daughter was among the dead. As usual he gave a measured response, stating: ‘I feel despondent that Scotland and the West didn’t have the guts to allow this man’s second appeal to continue because I am convinced that had they done so it would have overturned the verdict against him.’


A survey in The Times revealed that 45 per cent of British people believed his release had more to do with oil. I don’t disagree. I’d urge anyone who is interested in the case to look at Dr Swire’s website, Lockerbietruth.com.


[to be continued]

Tuesday, 19 October 2021

Unfairly convicted on a false accusation

[This is the first of a number of extracts from chapter 15 of The Colonel and I: My Life with Gaddafi by Daad Sharab that I shall be posting on this blog. Articles about her book can be found in The National here and here.]


A prison guard ushers me into a small room, containing only a table and a couple of chairs. Already seated is a bespectacled man, in his early fifties and with grey flecks in his brown hair, who is wearing a baggy tracksuit. Before him there’s a large file of documents and as I enter he stands to shake my hand. His grip is gentle and he appears a little nervous. When he speaks it’s almost in a whisper, although we are not being overheard.


During my time working for Gaddafi, the Lockerbie bombing and its aftermath provided a constant backdrop. It was the single issue that most occupied the Colonel’s mind and in 2003 I was summoned to the leader’s office, to be told he was sending me to Scotland to meet Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi. As far as most people were concerned this man had the blood of 270 innocent people on his hands. Outside Libya he was better known simply as the Lockerbie bomber.


Al-Megrahi spent the first three years of his sentence at Barlinnie, a high security prison in Glasgow, where he was incarcerated in a purpose-built unit. Other than family members and lawyers, Nelson Mandela was one of his few visitors. Barlinnie has the reputation as ‘Scotland’s toughest jail’ and is also the country’s largest, holding more than 1,000 inmates.


The Libyan government had a small office in Glasgow, solely to support Al-Megrahi, and one of the five staff greeted me at the city’s airport. Next day we drove the short distance from my city centre hotel to Barlinnie, where memories of my previous prison visits came flooding back as I passed through security.


The prisoner was expecting me and had been briefed that I was representing Gaddafi directly. Al-Megrahi resembled a mild-mannered accountant but, if the Scottish justice system is to be trusted, he still remains the biggest mass killer in British history. He didn’t look like a murderer, but how do you tell? Of course, Libya always had a very different view and regarded him as a sacrificial lamb. The West needed a figure to blame and to be able to claim justice had been done; Gaddafi needed to find a way out of the mess of sanctions. Everyone benefited except Al-Megrahi and his family. He already had one failed appeal behind him, but when we first met was working on another. In the West there was growing unease about the safety of his conviction, and the expectation in Libya was that he would soon be coming home. Britain wanted rid of him but, unusually, was in disagreement with the US which was taking a much harder line.


My brief was simple: to check-up on Al-Megrahi and offer reassurance that he had not been forgotten. He was pleased with the new trainers and two tracksuits that I brought, and over the next two hours we spoke openly about his case and prospects for release. Al-Megrahi told me that he had not been coerced by Gaddafi to hand himself in for trial, but I couldn’t help wondering: how could he have refused? The pressure must have been unbearable because Libya’s future relations with the US and Britain, not to mention the entire issue of sanctions, were hanging on finding a solution to the Lockerbie problem.


It took years to find a compromise, which entailed handing over Al-Megrahi and another suspect for trial at a neutral venue, and agreeing to pay $2.7 billion compensation to the families of the 270 victims. The final piece of the jigsaw was a carefully worded statement. In it Libya ‘accepted responsibility for the actions of its officials’ but did not admit guilt for bringing down Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988. It was often wrongly interpreted as a full admission, but anyone reading the words closely could see that was not the case. It was a fudge and, in my view, represented diplomacy at its most cynical. Libya bought peace with the West, which framed an innocent man.


When the Lockerbie verdict came through in January 2001, delivered by three Scottish judges, I was in Tripoli. The second suspect, Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah, was acquitted and I remember Gaddafi telling me: ‘It’s what I expected. They could not lose face by releasing both men.’


The Colonel was determined to secure Al-Megrahi’s early release but, speaking to the prisoner, it was clear that he felt let down by his country. Al-Megrahi urged me to use my connections with the royal family of Jordan, handing me a letter addressed to King Abdullah in which he protested his innocence and pleaded to be transferred to a prison in any Arab territory until his innocence was proved. Here is an excerpt:


‘Your Majesty, I am an Arabic Libyan citizen who was unfairly convicted in the case of what is called Lockerbie on a false accusation based on the allegation that I was the suspect who bought the clothes from a storekeeper in Malta that were found in the remains of the suitcase bomb that was the cause for the plane crash over Lockerbie, and that I was [present] in Malta and that my colleague the second suspect who was acquitted by the court is the one who put the suitcase on the flight from Malta.


‘Your Majesty, I am a rational Muslim; I am not an extremist at all. I have a family and children who I do love more than any other thing. I swear to Allah the One, the Almighty, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful, the Holy, the Bestower, the Alive, The Lord of Majesty and Bounty, I swear with all the beautiful tributes of Allah that I have never in my life bought any clothes from any store in Malta. I have never seen the clothes, nor the storekeeper in my life except during the trial when the witness presented his deposition. I have never dealt in my life with a suitcase that contains an [explosive device] at any airport in the world. My presence at Malta, if it were really the beginning of this crime, as claimed by the allegation, was merely to get some necessities.


‘Your Majesty, I beg you on behalf of my family and my children to raise my problem with those concerned in the United Kingdom and the United States of America to be transported to a prison in my homeland, or in your country or in any other Arabic country (as I consider any Arabic country as my own homeland) until the time when Allah Almighty will show my innocence to the entire world.


‘Your Majesty, I conclude my letter with this verse: By the name of Allah, the Merciful our Lord! Rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from thee one who will protect, and raise for us one who will help.’


[to be continued]


Sunday, 17 October 2021

Former Gaddafi aide 'never doubted that Megrahi was innocent’

[What follows is taken from a report by Greg Russell in today's edition of The National:] 

A Jordanian business-woman who was Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s chief troubleshooter and fixer for more than 20 years has said she never doubted that Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was innocent. 

Daad Sharab visited the only man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing several times during his time in prison. 

Sharab has told how the Libyan leader appeared not to recognise al-Megrahi when she showed him a picture of the two of them taken when she visited him in Glasgow’s Barlinnie prison. 

However, she said that when she told Gaddafi of his countryman’s dismay about the passing years and apparent inaction by the Libyan government, he told her: “Meet him again. Tell him that I received his message and I will find a solution. Tell him that I promise he will be home soon.” 

From that moment, Sharab said he did everything possible to keep the spotlight on the case, funding lawyers for his appeal and paying for investigators to gather new evidence. 

Her narrative comes in an autobiography, The Colonel and I: My Life with Gaddafi, due to be published next week – 10 years after Gaddafi was killed in his home city of Sirte during the Arab Spring uprisings – and to which The Sunday National has had access. 

Professor Robert Black QC, the architect of the Camp Zeist trial in the Netherlands, where al-Megrahi was convicted and his co-accused Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah cleared, told this newspaper it strengthened his belief that al-Megrahi was wrongly convicted. 

He said: “What Daad Sharab says completely matches the views that I formed through my many meetings with Libyan government officials, including Gaddafi himself, my meetings over many years with the Libyan and Scottish lawyers representing al-Megrahi, and in the course of my one meeting (in HMP Greenock) with al-Megrahi himself. 

“It reinforces my view that al-Megrahi was not only wrongly convicted but had no involvement at all in the Lockerbie bombing. 

“It remains a disgrace that the Scottish criminal justice system has failed to rectify this clear injustice.” 

Sharab said the Lockerbie bombing was the single issue that most occupied Gaddafi’s mind and, in 2003, she was sent to Scotland to meet Megrahi. 

She said he had been supported by a small Libyan government office in Glasgow, and when she arrived one of the staff took her to Barlinnie, where a prison guard ushered her into a small room, where “a bespectacled man, in his early 50s with grey flecks in his brown hair and wearing a baggy tracksuit” was sitting in one of the room’s two chairs. 

“Before him there’s a large file of documents and as I enter he stands to shake my hand,” she said. “His grip is gentle and he appears a little nervous. When he speaks it’s almost in a whisper, although we are not being overheard.” 

She said Libya had always regarded him as a sacrificial lamb, with the West needing someone to blame to be able to claim justice had been done and Gaddafi seeking a way out of the mess of sanctions. This benefited everyone except for al-Megrahi and his family. 

“In the West there was growing unease about the safety of his conviction, and the expectation in Libya was that he would soon be coming home,” said Sharab. 

“Britain wanted rid of him but, unusually, was in disagreement with the US which was taking a much harder line.” 

Al-Megrahi said he had not been coerced by Gaddafi to hand himself in for trial, said Sharab, but she said the pressure must have been unbearable because solving the Lockerbie problem was key to Libya’s future relations with the US and Britain, as well as securing the removal of sanctions against the country. 

The compromise entailed handing over the two accused for trial at a neutral venue, agreeing that Libya paid $2.7 billion (£1.9bn) in compensation and a “carefully worded statement” in which she said: “Libya ‘accepted responsibility for the actions of its officials’ but did not admit guilt for bringing down Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988. 

“It was often wrongly interpreted as a full admission, but anyone reading the words closely could see that was not the case. It was a fudge and, in my view, represented diplomacy at its most cynical. 

“Libya bought peace with the West, which framed an innocent man.” 

Sharab said that when the January 2001 verdict was delivered by three Scottish judges, she was in Tripoli, where Gaddafi told her: “It’s what I expected. They could not lose face by releasing both men.” 

Al-Megrahi felt let down by his country, she said, and urged her to use her connections with the royal family of Jordan. He gave her a letter to King Abdullah, protesting his innocence and pleading to be transferred to a prison in any Arab territory until he was proved innocent. 

In 2005, Megrahi was transferred to Greenock prison where he served the rest of his sentence while battling depression and then prostate cancer, before being released on compassionate grounds by then Scottish justice secretary Kenny MacAskill, who told The Sunday National

“It confirms the international nature of the tragedy and the role that oil played in UK/USA attitudes. 

“I agree that Megrahi wasn’t the bomber but he had a role in the action perpetrated by Libya.” 

The pressure group Justice for Megrahi (JFM) said there was nothing Sharab had written that contradicted their position over the years, and her first-hand account of the stance of Gaddafi and Abdullah Senussi, Libya’s intelligence chief, lent weight to their position. 

JFM said: “On many levels The Colonel and I provides us with a fascinating and plausible insider’s insight into the culture and philosophy of the Gaddafi regime and reveals how the dictator was wooed by the oil hungry British and American leaders like Tony Blair and George Bush. 

“Sadly, after 33 years, Scotland’s Court of Appeal appears more interested in obscure points of law than in removing this indelible stain on the Scottish justice system.” 

For Sharab, and others, one burning question remains – if al-Megrahi was innocent, who brought down Pan Am flight 103? 

“At the time of the Lockerbie bombing there were loose alliances between various states and organisations,” she said. 

“They were generally opposed to the ideals of the West, and pooled resources … I don’t carry a smoking gun but al-Megrahi, who knew the case inside out and had access to Libya’s files on Lockerbie, was convinced that it was a joint enterprise between Iran, Syria and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

The shooting down of the Iranian passenger jet by the American warship Vincennes, six months before Lockerbie, was too much of a coincidence. 

“It was the crucial link, but by the time the evidence began to stack up no one wanted to point the finger at Iran or Syria, who had helped Western coalition forces in the first Gulf War … Sadly I never got the opportunity to see al-Megrahi following his release but I know he intended to present fresh evidence at his appeal, insisting he had nothing to fear or hide. 

“He said: ‘I had most to gain and nothing to lose about the whole truth coming out’.” 

[A more general article by Greg Russell on the book also appears in today's edition of The National under the headline Colonel Muammar Gaddafi memoir author: ‘Judge him for yourself’.]

Tuesday, 14 September 2021

"Is this a case of deflected culpability for US military attacks?"

[What follows is excerpted from an article headlined Victoria Cummock on the Lessons of the Pan Am 103 Litigation published yesterday on the website of Corporate Crime Reporter:]

It was December 21, 1988 and Victoria Cummock was in Miami awaiting the return of her husband John Cummock from London for Christmas. (...)

Victoria Cummock was the mother of three young children, aged three, four and six.

Her husband never made it home.

Pan Am 103 was blown out of the sky over Lockerbie, killing all 259 people on board. A bomb was put on the plane before takeoff and detonated over Lockerbie.

John Cummock was at the front of the plane in seat 3A.

Victoria knew her husband was on the plane when she saw the iconic photograph of the crashed nose cone of the plane lying in a field in Lockerbie. 

In front of the plane on the ground, Victoria could see John’s attache case. She had given it to her husband as a gift.

For thirty-three years, Victoria Cummock has been seeking justice for her husband and for her family.

She is the founder and CEO of the Pan Am 103-Lockerbie Legacy Foundation.

“On December 21, 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 was blown out of the sky,” Cummock recalled to Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview last month. “It was a flight from London to New York that blew up over Lockerbie, Scotland. It scattered the contents of the plane and the people in the plane over 845 square miles. Eleven people on the ground in Lockerbie, Scotland were killed when two residential neighborhoods were set ablaze.”

“This attack against America created the largest recorded crime scene and remains the oldest cold case of mass murder in US and UK history.”

“Terrorists have targeted the United States for decades. And threats still remain a constant today. The response by our government to this attack has impeded due process, justice and accountability for those who perpetrated this act.”

“Tragically, the US government has never led the investigation or prosecuted anyone regarding this case. The US government abdicated the lead role of the investigation and prosecution to the Scottish police, which happened to be the smallest police force in the UK as well as the least funded.”

“There was a criminal trial in 2003 at the International Court at the Hague, under Scottish law. That was in 2003.” [RB: The trial ran from 3 May 2000 to 31 January 2001 and was held in a Scottish court sitting at Camp Zeist near Utrecht.]

“I have always wondered, with America’s vast reach, power and might, why that wasn’t utilized to pursue justice and accountability for the murder of American citizens aboard Pan Am 103.”

“Aside from issuing criminal indictments in 1991 and criminal charges in 2020, the US has never pursued, arrested or prosecuted any suspect.”

“The family members wonder why the US quietly abdicated the lead role to Scotland, not even to the UK, and handed over full authority to Police Scotland, which had the smallest staff and least funded police force in mainland Britain, to lead an investigation and prosecution of international scope into multiple state terror sponsors and dozens of inter-continental suspects.” [RB: Police Scotland was formed on 1 April 2013. The Lockerbie investigation was conducted by Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary.]

“Knowing the limitations of Scottish law, the differences between Scottish and American law in terms of admissibility of evidence as well as witnesses, and the fact that the terrorists did not attack Lockerbie, we have always wondered why allow Scotland to ultimately decide who, how and when to criminally prosecute the mass murderer of Americans.” 

“To date, only one Libyan suspect – al-Megrahi – was convicted and then released after eight years on compassionate grounds.” 

“There is still an ongoing posthumous appeal to this conviction. No one believes that if al-Megrahi did have a hand in this, that he could have acted alone to perpetrate an attack of this magnitude. But after decades of US pragmatic foreign policy, the true perpetrators of this attack will probably never be known. Informants and witnesses die, memories fade, and evidence deteriorates or disappears.” 

“We wonder if the real culprit for all terrorism is capitalism and the corruption and violence it fosters? Is political expediency for commerce, or business as usual, the only brand of American justice? Is this a case of deflected culpability for US military attacks such as the July 3, 1988 USS Vincennes warship missile shooting down of Iran Air flight 655, which killed 290 civilians in Iranian airspace?” 

Friday, 10 September 2021

Tony Blair, the deal in the desert and terrorism

[What follows is excerpted from an article by Aneela Shahzad headlined Tony Blair’s crimes that appears today on the website of Pakistan's The Express Tribune newspaper:]

Since US Forces started their final evacuation from Afghanistan, Britain’s ex-PM Tony Blair has been more distraught than anyone. Calling the withdrawal “tragic, dangerous, unnecessary” and “in a manner that seems almost designed to parade our humiliation”, Blair reminded a retreating West that “Islamism… is a first-order security threat”, and this time the radical Islamist will be using ‘bio-terrorism’.

Mr Blair is being hailed by some as a possible replacement of Boris Johnson in the next elections, but Blair’s recent statements on Afghan withdrawal are surely more than just an election stunt, as they come from a man who has been instrumental in seeding wars around the Islamic world, like in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya. (...)

Going back to 2004, three years after the US invasion of Afghanistan and one year after the invasion of Iraq, Blair connived with Barack Obama to intervene in Libya; and suddenly after decades of suspended diplomacy between the US/UK and Libya, it was decided that Blair would visit Libya to make the infamous ‘deal in the desert’, wherein in exchange for an oil deal with BP and cooperation on the War on Terror, the UK would return Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi to Libya and moreover all Libyan dissidents from Europe would be returned to Libya. In making this deal Blair laid the seeds of replanting UK-nurtured LIFG [RB: Libyan Islamic Fighting Group] into Libya, which would eventually become the rebel force that would topple Libyan cities on ground as Nato airpower would pound them from the skies.

This LIFG was composed of al-Qaeda members who had returned from the Afghan front after the end of the Russo-Afghan War, and had been given asylums in the UK. Meaning that Blair was the person responsible for the lodging and funding of these ‘Islamist’ ‘terrorists’ on Britain’s soil and their export into Libya!

Wednesday, 11 August 2021

The Forensic Explosives Laboratory and the Lockerbie case

The UK Government has today published an encomium on the Forensic Explosives Laboratory (FEL), now part of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), but between 1986 and 2020 part of the Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment (RARDE).  Anyone familiar with the forensic scientific evidence provided by FEL in the Lockerbie case may be forgiven for regarding today's tribute with a distinct measure of scepticism.

Material relating to FEL's involvement in the Lockerbie investigation can be found in this blog's items relating to Dr Thomas Hayes and Allen Feraday.

Wednesday, 4 August 2021

MST-13 timer designer Ulrich Lumpert dies in Zürich

Edwin Bollier has announced on Facebook that Ulrich Lumpert died in Zürich this morning. Lumpert was the engineer employed by MEBO who designed the MST-13 timer that was allegedly used in the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie. 


On 29 August 2007 an item was published on this blog that contained the following:

"Ulrich Lumpert, an engineer at one time employed by MEBO in Zurich, gave evidence at the Lockerbie trial that a fragment of circuit board allegedly found amongst the aircraft debris (and which was absolutely crucial to the prosecution contention that the bomb which destroyed Pan Am 103 was linked to Libya) was part of an operative MST-13 timer manufactured by MEBO. In an affidavit sworn in Switzerland in July 2007 [available here] Lumpert now states that the fragment produced in court was in fact part of a non-operational demonstration circuit board that he himself had removed from the premises of MEBO and had handed over to a Lockerbie investigator on 22 June 1989 (six months AFTER the destruction of Pan Am 103).

"If this is true, then it totally demolishes the prosecution version of how the aircraft was destroyed, as well, of course, as demonstrating deliberate fabrication of evidence laid before the court."

Further information relating to Ulrich Lumpert and the Lockerbie case can be found here. 

Saturday, 31 July 2021

Many questions remain to be answered

[What follows is the text a letter by Iain McKie published in today's edition of The Herald:]

As an ex-police officer it is always fascinating to see a colleague (Chris Keegan, Letters, July 28), harking back to the good old days", while blithely ignoring the massive political, social, economic, cultural, philosophical and technological changes that have taken place in the intervening years. I certainly agree with Mr Keegan that the reliance on technology to reduce police presence on the ground in communities, while understandable, is regrettable and to my mind is likely to create an even bigger gulf between police and public.

However, he seeks to support his general thesis by pointing out that we have always had major events such as COP26 in Scotland and all were efficiently dealt with. Interestingly, he cites three such events, the 1981 Hampden football “riot’, the Papal visit in 1982 and the 1988 Lockerbie disaster, to support his alienation thesis.

Coincidentally I was involved in all three events and would be the first to agree that the police plan for the Pope’s visit was carried through efficiently and sensitively. However during the Hampden "riot", as the force media officer, I was one of the very few police officers on the pitch creating an extremely thin blue line between the rioting fans while watching, with some trepidation, various projectiles arching over my head. The next few months spent defending the police planning for the event, in the face of a barrage of political and media criticism, are still vivid in my memory.

As Secretary of the Justice for Megrahi group I am only too aware of the Lockerbie tragedy and while being the first to admit the commitment of front line staff at the scene, and during the aftermath, many questions remain to be answered in respect of the police investigation and eventual prosecution of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.

We all reflect on the past in different ways, and of course I respect Mr Keegan’s opinions, but Police Scotland has had to change with the times. When I look at its response to the unprecedented, and at times unfair, operational demands made of it during the current pandemic I believe that, while much has been lost, we still have a police force to be proud of and policing principles worth sharing with the world.

.....

[The following is taken from an item published yesterday on the website of The Bookseller:]

Satirical magazine Private Eye will mark 60 years in October with the release of a celebratory book viewing six decades as they were recorded in its pages.

Private Eye: The 60 Yearbook, by the magazine's journalist Adam Macqueen, will be out on 2nd September 2021—the year which also marks the 35th anniversary of Ian Hislop's tenure as editor.

“From the Beatles to Brexit, JFK to Trump, the moon landings to the Mars landings, it tells the story of the past six decades as they were recorded in the Eye’s pages,” the synopsis reads. “The news stories you remember—and plenty you may have forgotten—are retold in cartoons, covers and the magazine’s legendary spoofs as well as extensive extracts from some of its best-loved features like Mrs Wilson’s Diary, Dear Bill and The Secret Diary of John Major.”

The book also tells the story of the headlines Private Eye made itself, from the earliest stirrings of investigative journalism exposing the Poulson Scandal and Ronan Point, through major miscarriages of justice like the Stephen Lawrence case and the Lockerbie cover-up.

Tuesday, 20 July 2021

Blair urged Mandela not to raise ‘sensitive subject’ of Lockerbie at 1997 summit

[This is the headline over a Press Association news agency report as published today on the website of the Central Fife Times. The following are excerpts:]

Tony Blair failed in his attempts to stop Nelson Mandela raising the Lockerbie bombing at a Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM) in Scotland, despite being warned by aides the South African leader’s intervention over the terror attack would be “pretty disastrous”, new files show.

Downing Street officials warned the then-prime minister ahead of the 1997 summit in Edinburgh that Mr Mandela was visiting Libya, which later admitted responsibility for the airliner disaster, before heading to CHOGM, and urged Mr Blair to speak to him.

But Mr Blair’s efforts – including a personal letter to Mr Mandela a week before the CHOGM, urging him to “avoid a discussion” about Lockerbie – failed, and the enduring controversy over a failure to bring any perpetrators to justice ended up being one of the key themes of the leaders’ summit.

A tranche of previously classified files released by the National Archives at Kew shows a handwritten note from Downing Street aides urging Mr Blair “to speak to” his South African counterpart.

Mr Blair duly wrote to Mr Mandela, explaining the complexities of bringing suspects to justice, having resisted calls to hold a trial in a different country.

Mr Blair wrote: “Lockerbie is of course a particularly sensitive subject in Scotland because of the deaths on the ground of 11 inhabitants of the small town of Lockerbie, in addition to the 259 people on board the aircraft.

“So I hope we can avoid a discussion of the issue at CHOGM itself – we have a lot of other things to talk about.

“But I would welcome a further private discussion when we meet next week.”

The letter ended with the handwritten sign-off: “Very best wishes. Yours ever, Tony.”

Mr Blair’s hopes were in vain when Mr Mandela was asked about the subject, claiming justice would not be seen to be done if any trial was held in Scotland itself.

He said: “I have never thought that in dealing with this question it is correct for any particular country to be the complainant, the prosecutor and the judge.

“Justice, it has been said especially in this country, should not only be done but should be seen to be done.

“I have grave concern about a demand where one country will be all these things at the same time. Justice cannot be seen to be done in that situation.”

The move, however, provided an unlikely fillip for Mr Blair – as his subsequent invitation to meeting grieving families at Downing Street was seen as an intention to listen after years of refusal.

[RB: The events surrounding CHOGM and President Mandela's attitude towards a Lockerbie trial are described in The Lockerbie Bombing by Jim Swire and Peter Biddulph, pages 97 to 101. Further information can be found on this blog here and here.] 

Thursday, 8 July 2021

Lockerbie incriminee Ahmed Jibril dies in Damascus

[Ahmed Jibril has died in Damascus at the age of 83. What follows is the report published today on the Middle East Monitor website:]

Ahmed Jibril, leader of Palestinian Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command passed away in the Syrian capital Damascus yesterday at the age of 83.

Jibril and his family were forced out of Yazour neighbourhood in the outskirts of the Palestinian city of Yafa in 1948.

In 1965, he established the Palestinian Popular Front, which was later merged with other leftist Palestinian factions and became the Palestinian Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

In 1969 he defected and formed the PFLP-General Command, which ten years later agreed to a prisoner swap with Israel

In 1979, the PFLP-General Command held a prisoner swap with Israel. Some 76 Palestinian detainees were released in exchange for one m Israeli soldier.

Jibril negotiated a prisoner swap between the PLO factions and Israel in 1985 when 1,150 Palestinian prisoners were released in return for three Israeli soldiers.

In 2002, Israel assassinated his eldest son Jihad in Lebanon.

Jibril was criticised for his support for the Assad regime in Syria, which didn't waiver in spite of the current war.

[None of the reports of Jibril's death that I have seen so far have mentioned his and the PFLP-GC's alleged responsibility for the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie. What follows is a report by Richard Norton-Taylor and Ian Black in The Guardian on 4 May 2000:]

The finger of suspicion after the Lockerbie bombing was first pointed at Ahmed Jibril's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command, the very group implicated yesterday, more than 11 years later, by the two Libyan defendants.

In another extraordinary twist, they also implicated Abu Talb, once regarded by the Scottish police as a prime suspect but now a prosecution witness.

For years, western intelligence agencies believed in a simple explanation. The bombing was funded by Iran in retaliation for the mistaken shooting down of an Iranian airliner by an American warship, the USS Vincennes, over the Persian Gulf in July 1988, five months before the Lockerbie bombing.

It was assumed that the Iranians paid Jibril's Syria-backed group to carry out a revenge attack. The assumption appeared to be backed up by the arrest a few months before the bombing of 17 people in Frankfurt, where the bag containing the bomb is alleged to have been placed on the Pan Am airliner. It was reported later that those arrested in the operation, called Autumn Leaves, included Hafez Dalkamoni, a prominent member of the PFLP-GC with links to Palestinians in Uppsala, Sweden.

They also included Marwan Kreeshat, a Jordanian, found with explosives and a Toshiba cassette player in his car similar to the one believed to have contained the bomb that destroyed the Pan Am airliner. British intelligence was later astonished to learn that he had been released for lack of evidence.

Iran appeared to be further implicated in the bombing when a US intelligence report referred to Ali Akbar Mohtashemi, a former Iranian interior minister who supervised Iranian funding of Middle East terror groups, paying out "10 million in dollars in cash and gold ... to bomb Pan Am flight 103 ... in retaliation for the US shoot-down of the Iranian Airbus".

The existence of the report, which was given to lawyers representing Pan Am, became known in 1995. This was after the two Libyans were indicted and officials in Washington and London played down its significance, describing it as low-grade information found to be incorrect.

The trail to Talb began when he was linked to a car belonging to to one of those arrested in Frankfurt. Talb was found guilty at Uppsala in December 1989 of planting a bomb at a synagogue in Copenhagen four years earlier.

Swedish police were reported to have found at Talb's Uppsala apartment an air ticket from Malta to Stockholm indicating that he was on the island at the time children's clothes - part of the evidence against the two Libyans - were bought.

British Lockerbie investigators were also alleged to have found clothes bought in Malta during a later raid on Talb's flat. Also found there was a diary with December 21 1988 - the date of the bombing - circled. He was named in the Uppsala court as being suspected in Scotland of murder or as an accessory to murder.

Yesterday, Egyptian-born Talb was described in the Camp Zeist court as a member of the Palestine Popular Struggle Front and witness number 963 for the Scottish prosecution. The PPSF was founded in 1969 with backing from Syria, and split in 1981. One of its two founders, Samir Ghosheh, left in 1981 to join the mainstream PLO and is now a minister in Yasser Arafat's Palestine Authority in Gaza.

Experts said last night that the PPSF was defunct and that little had been heard of it for at least two years.

According to Israel's Jaffee Centre for Strategic Studies, the PFLP-GC, which rejects a political settlement with Israel, has maintained links with Syria, Libya and Iran, serving as a proxy for those states in attacks in the international arena. It was suspected of carrying out the bombing of a French airliner in 1989 over Niger.

Ahmed Jibril declined to comment last night.

Some commentators say that attention over Lockerbie turned to Libya when the west wanted to improve relations with Iran and Syria after the Gulf war against Iraq. Washington and London dismiss this as conspiracy theory.

Tuesday, 29 June 2021

The Tundergarth drugs suitcase

A persistent rumour relating to the immediate aftermath of the destruction of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie involves the alleged discovery by farmer Jim Wilson at the Tundergarth site of a suitcase containing drugs. 

Here is a snippet from an article in The London Review of Books in 2007: "Jim Wilson, a farmer from the village of Tundergarth, reported shortly after the bombing that he had found in his field a suitcase packed with a powdery substance that looked ‘like drugs’. He last saw the suitcase when he handed it over to the police, he said; he was never asked about it again." And this is from the Morning Star in 2014: "Another farmer at Tundergarth Mains, Jim Wilson, found his fields were littered with bodies and debris from the airliner. The mess included a suitcase, neatly packed with a powdery substance that looked like drugs. Wilson was one of the first witnesses to give evidence when the fatal accident inquiry started in October 1990. Yet no-one asked him about the drugs suitcase."

The Rev'd John Mosey has today kindly provided me with the following account of this fascinating story.

Here is my recollection of events and conversations with farmer Jim Wilson regarding the finding of drugs on his land.

It was Mrs Wilson who first took us across their fields to the spot where our daughter’s body had fallen on land belonging to their close neighbour. This was in the very early days and a warm relationship grew up between us. Whenever we visited Lockerbie we would try to fit in a short visit to the Mains farm.

It was during one of these visits earlier in the year, before the Fatal Accident Inquiry which was held in October 1990 that, while we were drinking tea in the farmhouse kitchen, Jim asked me to go into the sitting room with him as he had something he wanted to tell me. We sat together on the sofa and, with some agitation and emotion, he said that there was something that he needed to tell someone about. I supposed, in a way, to “get it off his chest”.

He told me that one day shortly after the disaster he had come across a suitcase which had landed in either a bed of nettles or of brambles. (I don’t recall which). The lid had sprung open and he said that he was afraid that his animals might get their noses into it. He examined it a bit more closely and found, beneath a small layer of clothing, a broad plastic ‘belt’ (that was the word he used as he showed its approximate dimensions and format with his hands). He said and signified that the ‘belt’ was divided into compartments, each filled with a white powder, and was folded backwards and forwards in the suitcase. He told me that he licked his finger and tasted the powder adding, “it wasn’t sugar”. He continued to tell me that he phoned the police and they sent out a local police officer (he could remember the number on his uniform) accompanied by an American.The American was very angry that this case had been missed. They took it away handcuffed to the police officer’s wrist.

During the Fatal Accident Inquiry, (which I attended) Jim Wilson was questioned but this matter was not raised. I approached the government appointed lawyer who was representing our interests and he took me through the security into the court where I was received by two august gentlemen one of which, I was told, was the senior police officer in charge of the case and the other the Lord Advocate or Procurator Fiscal. (I forget which, but think it was the former.) [RB: John Mosey's description of this person leads me to believe that it was not the then Lord Advocate, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie.] I told them about my conversation with Jim Wilson and asked why this matter had not been raised. I was told that they would send senior officers up to Tundergarth to question Jim about it. Brian Gill QC, our appointed legal representative, said that if I continued to pursue the matter he would cease to represent me.

About a year later, towards the end of 1991 (probably on the 21st December) we visited the Wilsons and I asked Jim about the police visit following the FAI. He replied that they hadn’t been near him. There had been no visit.

Wednesday, 9 June 2021

Jim Swire's 32-year worldwide fight for justice

[Today's edition of the Daily Mirror newspaper contains a long article headlined 'My 32-year worldwide fight for justice for the girl I lost in Lockerbie bombing'. It reads in part:]

The one thing Jim Swire treasures the most also causes him the most pain. A 50-year-old tape recording, now transferred on to a compact disc, and carefully stored away in a special drawer in his Oxfordshire house.

In it, Jim is singing along with and his seven-year-old daughter Flora as she plays the guitar during an idyllic break on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. (...)

Flora had been flying to the US to spend Christmas with her boyfriend, and from where she planned to surprise her parents with the news she had been accepted for a coveted place to complete her medical training at Cambridge University.

But she never got to do either. Thirty-eight minutes into the long-haul flight, the airliner exploded as it flew 31,000ft over Lockerbie, killing all 259 people on board and 11 people on the ground. (...)

His world suddenly torn apart by grief, Jim, a GP, was determined to find answers, and set off on an unforgiving journey that would take him all around the world – including inside the desert tent of Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi.

More than 32 years later, and now aged 85, Jim is finally releasing a full account of all he discovered in a new book, The Lockerbie Bombing. His memoirs are also being made into a TV series, released next year. (...)

Jim dealt with his grief by spending every waking hour searching for information. And it wasn’t long before he began to suspect a cover up.

First, he came across a communication sent from German police to the British government in October 1988 - two months before the attack, warning that Palestinian terrorists were planning to explode a bomb on a plane heading to the US.

The information came after the arrest of a Palestinian bomb maker Marwan Khreesat, who was later released by a German judge. 

Next, he discovered a classified telex sent by the then British transport secretary James Jack to Heathrow airport, two days before the bombing, with a photo of the type of bomb they believed would be used, hidden inside a radio cassette player to make it difficult to detect on X-ray equipment.

Incredibly, the message told airport staff that if they had suspicions about any object it should be “consigned to the aircraft hold” – exactly where the Lockerbie bomb exploded.

Jim also discovered that, days before the disaster, a notice had been put up in the US embassy in Moscow warning staff of a threat to Pan Am aircraft in the run up to Christmas and advising them to rebook with another airline. (...)

Jim’s investigations led him to believe the Lockerbie bombing was actually ordered by Iran, in retaliation for an incident in July 1988, when American warship The Vincennes destroyed an aircraft in flight containing 290 pilgrims on their way to Mecca.

He believes Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who publicly swore revenge, commissioned a Palestinian group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine [-General Command], to take down an American plane.

He thinks that, despite knowing the truth, the US and the UK decided to blame Libya, an oil-rich country which was in America’s sights.

Convinced that Libya, and Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who was convicted of the Lockerbie bombing in January 2001, wasn’t behind his daughter’s murder, Jim has visited the country, meeting Colonel Gaddafi several times and making friends with al-Megrahi.

Of his first meeting with Gaddafi, who was overthrown and killed in 2011, he says: “I was terrified. A GP from the middle of England shaking hands with the man who was supposed to be the devil incarnate. We met in his tent in the middle of the desert.

"We were surrounded by his female bodyguards holding AK47s and as I went over to him I could hear the safety catches all clicking off. We got on and even became friends.”

Does he now have all the answers he was so desperate to find? “Yes, but I don’t have the ability to do what I feel is desperately important to be done with those answers.

“I would love to go and talk to the Ayatollahs in Iran, and the men they used, and tell them I forgive them and explain why.