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.

Saturday, 22 December 2018

Investigation not static, but no guarantee enough evidence for further proceedings

[What follows is excerpted from a report headlined Lockerbie bomb plotters still hunted, 30 years on published in today's edition of The Times:]

The solicitor-general for Scotland has pledged to work in close co-operation with US authorities if new evidence about the involvement of people in the Lockerbie bombing comes to light.

Scottish prosecutors said they had a number of strands of investigation that were producing intelligence and information which supported the findings of the trial that the bombing was state-sponsored terrorism by Libya in which Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi was a main figure. (...)

The Crown Office said the investigation was also contributing evidence to the pursuit of other people involved in the conspiracy. Prosecutors insisted that the investigation was not static, but said they could not guarantee that it would uncover enough evidence to support further criminal proceedings.

Speaking in Washington at a commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the disaster which claimed 270 lives, Alison Di Rollo, QC, the solicitor-general, said: “Within the Scottish prosecution service we have nine prosecutors who are involved to varying extents in the investigation; one who was involved in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, three who have been with the case since 1999, two who joined the team in 2007, two in 2012 and one in 2015.

“We have resilience and succession planning for this challenging investigation, ensuring that the team contains a range of prosecutorial expertise in counter-terrorism, major crime investigations, forensic analysis, international co-operation and mutual legal assistance.

“As a prosecutor I cannot guarantee that the investigation will uncover enough evidence to support further criminal proceedings, but I can — and do — promise that the lord advocate and I, along with the prosecution team and the Police Service of Scotland, will remain committed to this investigation and to working as closely as we ever have with our US colleagues.”

She said that the Crown Office would not give details about the progress of the case team’s investigation work because of the rules about publicity and its potential to prejudice a criminal case. But she added: “Please be assured, however, that doesn’t mean that the investigation is static, or that progress is not being made.” (...)

In Scotland, the family and friends of Lockerbie victims travelled to the town for a memorial service. (...)

Dr Jim Swire, who lost his daughter Flora, 23, in the explosion, attended the memorial service in Lockerbie for the first time after years of spearheading campaigns by bereaved relatives for a full inquiry into the atrocity.

Mr Swire, 82, said: “I found it very moving. Partly because I felt so out of touch with the people of the town and I know that my campaigning inevitably results in the town’s name being talked about again and again and again.

“I felt that they might be resenting that, but I haven’t found that to be the case at all.

“The people I’ve met here have all been extremely warm and welcoming and they seem to respect the fact that this must never be forgotten and this is part of making sure it isn’t forgotten.”

The truth behind bomb that took down Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie remains a 30-year mystery

[This is the headline over an article by John R Schindler published yesterday on the US Observer website. It reads in part:]

Thirty years ago this week, Pan Am Flight 103 was torn apart by an explosion as it cruised 31,000 feet above the Scottish Lowlands, 38 minutes after it departed London’s Heathrow Airport. The shattered Boeing 747, named Clipper Maid of the Seas, was bound for New York but never made its destination, falling in flames around the bucolic town of Lockerbie. (...)

Once it was obvious that nobody survived the crash, the biggest investigation in British history commenced, painstakingly locating and cataloguing over four million pieces of wreckage—including thousands of body parts—spread over 850 square miles of the Scottish countryside. Within a week of the disaster, investigators discovered traces of explosive, revealing that the Lockerbie crash was no accident.

A bomb took down the 747, and FBI analysis revealed that the huge airliner was destroyed by less than a pound of plastic explosive, specifically Semtex from Czechoslovakia, packed in a Samsonite suitcase stowed in the plane’s forward left luggage container. The improvised explosive device was hidden in a Toshiba radio cassette player and was detonated by a barometric sensor designed to detect altitude.

This revelation set off alarm bells, since less than two months before the attack, German police rolled up a terrorist cell near Frankfurt—where Pam Am 103’s transatlantic trip originated—that was building bombs, specifically a Semtex bomb hidden inside a Toshiba radio cassette player. The cell belonged to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine—General Command, a radical Arab group headed by Ahmed Jibril, a former Syrian army officer. Western intelligence considered the PFLP-GC to be little more than an extension of Syria’s security services.

Moreover, the October 1988 arrests bagged a top PFLP-GC official, plus the Jordanian national Marwan Khreesat, a veteran bomb-maker who is believed to have played a part in an unsolved terrorist attack in 1970 that took down a Swissair jetliner, killing 47 people. Before long, Khreesat was released from custody, apparently because he was an informant for Jordanian intelligence.

German police seized four bombs from the PFLP-GC’s Frankfurt cell, but a fifth IED went missing. Western intelligence agencies assumed that may have been the device that took down Pam Am 103. Neither was it difficult to ascertain a motive for the attack. Only months before, on July 3, the cruiser USS Vincennes, on station in the Persian Gulf, shot down an Iran Air Airbus, killing all 290 aboard, 66 of them children. It was a terrible accident, but hotheads in Tehran promised revenge. Had they gotten it in the skies over Scotland?

That was hardly a far-fetched idea. In the 1980s, Iranian-backed terrorists left a trail of bombings across the Middle East and beyond, several of which killed large numbers of Americans. Not to mention that the Syrian regime was friendly with the mullahs in Tehran, and outsourcing Iran’s vengeance for the downed Airbus to the PFLP-GC seemed plausible to seasoned Middle East-watchers.

That was the conclusion of US intelligence, particularly when the National Security Agency provided top-secret electronic intercepts which demonstrated that Tehran had commissioned the PFLP-GC to down Pan Am 103, reportedly for a $10 million fee. One veteran NSA analyst told me years later that his counterterrorism team “had no doubt” of Iranian culpability. Bob Baer, the veteran CIA officer, has stated that his agency believed just as unanimously that Tehran was behind the bombing. Within a year of the attack, our Intelligence Community assessed confidently that Lockerbie was an Iranian operation executed by Syrian cut-outs, and that take was shared by several allies with solid Middle Eastern insights, including Israeli intelligence.

American spies were therefore profoundly shocked in November 1991 when the American and British governments indicted two Libyans for the bombing. It took nine years for a trial to commence, since Libya was reluctant to hand over its nationals, and it began in May 2000 in the Netherlands, although the proceedings took place under Scottish law. In January 2001, only one of the defendants, Abdelbaset el-Megrahi, reported to be a Libyan intelligence officer, was convicted on 270 murder charges.

Megrahi professed his innocence and he was sent back to his native country in the summer of 2009 on compassionate grounds since he had terminal prostate cancer. He died in May 2012, not long after Libya’s revolution felled his former boss, dictator Muammar Gaddafi. In 2003, as part of his effort to curry Western favor, Gaddafi admitted responsibility for the Lockerbie attack and paid compensation to victims’ families, but he never conceded that he ordered the bombing. [RB: Libya did not admit "responsibility for the Lockerbie attack" -- it accepted "responsibility for the actions of its officials". The full text of the relevant document can be read here.] 

Libya, too, perpetrated a rash of terrorist attacks in the 1980s, and some of them killed Americans, so it was never implausible that Lockerbie was executed by Libyan intelligence. Indeed, U.S. intelligence never excluded the possibility that Libyan spies played some role in the attack. Such multinational collaboration in terrorism happens in the real world, with spies employing foreign terrorists, sometimes from multiple groups, as cut-outs. However, the evidence for Megrahi as the lead Lockerbie terrorist was never especially firm, and the case has weakened over time, as stories have changed.

While Libyan intelligence veterans have claimed that Gaddafi was behind Lockerbie, Iranian intelligence veterans have just as adamantly pointed the finger at Tehran. Revealingly, Jim Swire, an English doctor who lost his daughter on Pam Am 103, has devoted the last three decades to Lockerbie victims’ advocacy, becoming over time a vehement defender of the late Megrahi, believing the Libyan was a patsy. Like all sides in this mystery, Swire has assembled a convincing, if ultimately circumstantial, case for his theory of the crime.

The number of people who know the truth about Lockerbie is dwindling as time takes its toll. It is troubling that what U.S. intelligence confidently believed about the attack never translated into judicial or political action. The atrocity that took place over Scotland 30 years ago remains the deadliest terror attack on American civilians except for 9/11. In 2014, Marwan Khreesat was living freely in Jordan, posting pictures on Facebook of the blown-apart Pam Am 103 and a replica of the bomb which took her down. He died two years ago and Khreesat’s daughter recently told the media that her father left behind proof that he was responsible for Lockerbie due to his “deal with Iran.” Time is running out to let the public know what really happened to Clipper Maid of the Seas and 270 innocent people.

"Some say that you have received justice. I am not at all convinced"

[Lockerbie victims live on in our hearts, says priest is the headline over a Press Association news agency report as featured on the website of The Courier. It reads in part:]

Canon Pat Keegans delivered a homily during a memorial mass at Holy Trinity RC Church in the town on Friday evening.

He spoke of the aftermath of the disaster and how those who died on the night of December 21, 1988 will not be forgotten.

Canon Keegans also told how when he is in Lockerbie he visits the Memorial Stone at Dryfesdale Cemetery and reads the names of the 270 victims, among them people he knew in the town.

He said: “There you are, Joanne Flannigan from Sherwood Crescent. You are only 10. I remember you and I remember your friend Lyndsey Sommerville, who is 10, and her brother, Paul, who is 13.

“And you, Joanne, and Paul and Lyndsey are delivering Christmas cards. You ring my doorbell. You hand me a card. You smile and say, ‘Have a nice Christmas’ and all three of you die.

“But, as with all who died on that evening, whose names are engraved along with yours, you are not just a list. You are not just a distant memory.

“You are not from the past. You are precious people who live on in our hearts, for that is where your names are truly engraved.”

He added: “Some say that you have received justice.  I am not at all convinced.

“What I can promise is that we will not close the book on the story of your lives, for the last chapter is still to be written: Pan Am 103. The truth must be known. The whole truth.”

Canon Keegans praised the way those in the town dealt with the aftermath of the tragedy.

He said: “As I speak to you here in Holy Trinity Church this evening, I can reflect that, having experienced here in Lockerbie, the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 and seeing such horror and devastation, we did not allow our lives to be poisoned by fear nor by a desire for revenge.

“All that we looked for was healing, recovery and justice.”

The service was led by Bishop William Nolan, with Father Jim Hayes the current parish Priest and Canon Keegans as guest preacher.

Lockerbie suspect now living in US suburb slams 'complete lie' he planted bomb

[This is the headline over a long report in today's edition of the Daily Mirror. It reads in part:]

The man suspected of planting the Lockerbie bomb has been tracked down by the Daily Mirror.

Once allegedly identified as Abu Elias, the Syria-born US citizen lives a normal life under a different name in a suburban town outside Washington DC.

Questioned by the Mirror, he said it was a “complete lie” that he played any role in the worst terror attack in Britain which killed 270 people 30 years ago.

He hit out after former Cold War spy Douglas Boyd named him as the prime suspect and argued Libyan Abdelbaset al-Megrahi – the only person to be convicted – was a fall guy.

And it comes after the Mirror’s world exclusive yesterday with stunning claims from the daughter of a senior Jordanian militant.

She said before his death two years ago, Marwan Khreesat told his family his old terror group the Popular Front for the ­Liberation of ­Palestine – General Command carried out the attack.

He claimed its chief Ahmed Jibril was paid millions of pounds by Iran, which wanted revenge for 290 deaths when a US warship shot down an Iranian passenger jet months earlier.

Author Boyd, in his recent book Lockerbie: The Truth, claims it was Jibril’s nephew Elias who most likely broke into the Pan Am baggage store at Heathrow to plant the device on Flight 103.

The Palestine Liberation Organisation and, previously, the CIA have also named Elias as a prime suspect.

Terror cell member Mobdi Goben also claimed Elias was guilty in a deathbed confession.

But the suspect, who lives just 20 miles from the ­Lockerbie Cairn Memorial at Washington, told the Daily Mirror he was innocent.

Asked if he was ever known as Abu Elias, he replied: “No. I have been subject to more than 90 hours of investigation from Scotland Yard and the FBI, and they are through with me.

“The FBI did their ­homework. They know me very well. They have a big thick file on me.”

He later admitted the identity he now lives under was not his birth name.

But he added: “I’m not the nephew to no one. The bit you are talking about is full of f***ing lies. It’s a bloody lie.”

Author Boyd wrote in his book: “Megrahi was convicted on a tissue of lies. Little of the evidence against him can be taken at face value.

“It is a story of incompetence, vengeance, political expediency and then a cover-up orchestrated from the highest levels in London and in ­Washington – where the real bomber is said to live today, under cover of a witness protection scheme.” (...)

Many believed some of the evidence [against Megrahi] was weak. He was identified as buying clothes in Malta that were later found in the Lockerbie luggage. Megrahi died at home in 2012 from prostate cancer, aged 60, having been released from a Scottish prison on compassionate grounds three years previously.

It is believed he planned to reveal Elias’ new identity in a bid to clear his own name.

However, two weeks after being freed to return to Tripoli, SNP politician Christine Grahame used Scottish Parliamentary privilege to identify the man she said was Elias.

She said at the time: “Why were there no criminal prosecutions following the shooting down of the Iranian Airbus by the USS Vincennes in 1988, five months before Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie?

“Was there a contract issued by the Iranian authorities to the PFLP-GC to take revenge for the death of 290 Iranian pilgrims, 60 of whom were children, by bringing down an ­­American plane bringing its pilgrims home for Christmas?

“Why have the US authorities not queried the true identity of [name withheld] alias Abu Elias, a senior figure in the PFLP-GC at the time of the bombing and nephew of Ahmed Jibril, former head of that terrorist organisation?”

We asked the suspect where he was on December 21, 1988 – the day of the bombing. He replied: “I was in the United States. The FBI saw my journal they know I was in South West Washington DC handling my job.” (...)

Speaking to the Daily Mirror, SNP politician Ms Grahame said: “These various discoveries that you have made builds further on the case that it was, as many of us believe, Iran that was responsible for the ­Lockerbie bombing and that Megrahi was the fall guy. Libya took the rap for various international reasons.” (...)

[The Megrahi family's] lawyer Aamer Anwar said this week: “Many believe that Megrahi was the victim of a miscarriage of justice and the finger of blame has long been pointed in the direction of Iran.”

Friday, 21 December 2018

Pan Am 103 – The Truth Must Be Known

[This is the headline over an article by Tommy Sheridan published today on the website of Sputnik News. The following are excerpts:]

Now 82 years of age Jim Swire continues to fight for truth and justice in relation to Lockerbie. Like anyone with a morsel of brain matter in between their ears he knows that the trial of Abdelbaset al Megrahi and Lamin Khalifah in a makeshift Scottish Court convened in the Netherlands in late 2000 that led to the conviction of Megrahi in January 2001 was not just a farce but a concerted and contrived cover-up involving the British and American governments at the highest levels.

The pre-trial preparations, live trial obfuscations and subsequent conviction of Megrahi represent the darkest day in Scottish legal history and process. The collusion of some of the most senior judges in Scotland in what was no more than a pantomime of justice is shocking and although criminal conduct has been surprisingly ruled out by a lengthy police investigation, Operation Sandwood, professional negligence charges should still be brought against the three senior judges who jointly prosecuted the case against the two accused and determined their guilt or innocence. The role normally reserved for a jury of peers in murder trials was subsumed by three judges whose decision to find Megrahi guilty on the basis of the evidence presented was both bizarre and troubling.

The Justice For Megrahi (JFM) Campaign was formed after he was convicted of 270 counts of murder on 31st January 2001 and involves victims’ families, former and current legal practitioners and others concerned with opposing miscarriages of justice. One of its members, Len Murray a retired Scottish criminal court solicitor, said of the conviction of Megrahi:

“any notion that the case against Megrahi was "overwhelming", "could not be further from the truth"… and 

"It is worth bearing in mind that while the three [Scottish] judges [who tried the case] were experienced judges, judges in our High Court have never ever had to determine guilt or innocence — that's always left to the jury," he added. "But, when for the first time in modern legal history, it's left to three judges, they get it appallingly wrong."  

“Appallingly wrong”. That is the verdict of just about anyone who followed the case in 2000/01. Megrahi was subsequently released from prison on compassionate grounds in 2009 as he had contracted terminal cancer and eventually died of his cancer in 2012 in Libya. He was appealing his conviction prior to compassionate release but was advised to drop the appeal to help facilitate his return to Libya. Fortunately, a posthumous appeal is still being pursued via the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, a body specifically established to examine potential miscarriages of justice and make recommendations for conviction appeals to be heard based on examination of the trial evidence, new evidence and/or legal process failings. They are currently considering the case and will hopefully recommend Megrahi’s conviction is appealed against in Scotland’s’ Criminal Court of Appeal next year.

It is a fact of life that atrocities lend themselves to miscarriages of justice. The more grotesque the crime the greater the clamour for some sort of justice and corners in investigations will be cut, proper legal processes warped and even evidence concocted or withheld to secure convictions. Think of the Guildford Four, Birmingham Six, Maguire Seven all prime examples of unsafe convictions delivered on the back of false testimonies, fabricated evidence, withheld evidence and warped police investigations and judicial failures. In the pursuit of those guilty of heinous crimes often innocent citizens can find themselves framed and ruined. 

Do yourself favour over the next couple of weeks. Take a rest from festive films and watch Jim Sheridan’s In The Name of the Father. It is based on the autobiography of Gerry Conlon, Proved Innocent: The Story of Gerry Conlon of the Guildford Four and is a devastating condemnation of the British justice system. If you watch it and are not enraged and driven to tears of anger at the injustice it portrays you are bereft of humanity.

The arrest, trial and conviction of Abdelbaset al Megrahi for the murder of 270 people above and in Lockerbie 30 years ago today is also a travesty of justice. Don’t take my word for it. Consult the evidence painstakingly sought, found, uncovered and presented by the likes of the outstanding investigative journalist, the late Paul Foot, the bastion of legal integrity in Scotland, Professor Robert Black QC, the incredible and inspiring Jim Swire, the courageous and consistent English solicitor Gareth Peirce, who was also integrally involved in the Guildford Four case, and the various campaigns which have done so much to expose this miscarriage of justice and many more like the Scottish Campaign Against Criminalising Communities (SACC).

I dedicate this column to the victims of Lockerbie 21st December 1988 and the truth and justice campaigners like Jim Swire who have managed to deal with the unbearable pain and suffering associated with the loss of a child in such tragic circumstances but still pursue the truth on behalf of the whole of society. He will not rest until the truth about Lockerbie is uncovered and he and all affected by the horror that visited Scotland 30 years ago deserve those answers and that truth to be revealed. As for the rest of us let us reflect today and tonight just how lucky we are to still be able to hug our children and loved ones and tell them how much we love them.

Marwan Khreesat's daughter says Iran not Libya was behind bomb

[What follows is excerpted from a report in today's edition of the Daily Mirror:]

Iran paid a Palestinian terror group to carry out the Lockerbie bombing, it is claimed.

Member Marwan Khreesat ­allegedly told relatives boss Ahmed Jibril led the 1988 plot. Daughter Saha said: “He has a deal with Iran.”

For 17 years Libyan Abdelbaset al-Megrahi has been blamed for the Lockerbie bombing, despite grave doubts over his involvement.

But the Mirror today reveals fresh claims by the daughter of a former terrorist which she says finally proves Iran was behind the outrage that killed 270 people 30 years ago today.

Jordanian Marwan Khreesat left his wife a dossier of evidence that allegedly shows his boss in a Palestinian terror group, Ahmed Jibril, was paid millions of pound by Tehran to mastermind the horrific attack over the Scottish town.

Khreesat’s 43-year-old daughter Saha claims her father even gave the name of the bombmaker to her mother.

It will add to long-held suspicions that Tehran ordered the atrocity in revenge for the US shooting-down of an Iranian passenger plane months earlier, killing 290 civilians.

Saha insisted Khreesat played no part in the attack on Pan Am Flight 103 and blamed Jibril, who was leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command.

Speaking to us in the middle class suburb of the Jordanian capital Amman, she said: “I think he is responsible, and he has a deal with the Iran government.

“I do have a proof that Ahmed Jibril is ­responsible for ­Lockerbie." (...)

Khreesat was identified as a possible Lockerbie suspect shortly after the 1988 attack. He had been arrested two months earlier in Frankfurt with another PFLP-GC member who had plastic explosives hidden in a Toshiba cassette player in his car. The device was very similar to the one used on Flight 103.

Asked if her father knew the name of the bombmaker, Saha replied: “For sure he knows but I don’t know. My dad left ­something written about this but it’s not in the house.

“If my dad made the bomb he would have taken lots of money but now we don’t have anything because my dad didn’t have anything to do with it.

“Ahmed Jibril took the first million and then he took the rest of the money and got very rich but my dad didn’t take anything." (...)

Asked why her dad did not reveal this information while he was alive, she made reference to the US-led 1986 bombing of Libyan capital Tripoli, in revenge for terror explosions at a West Berlin nightclub.

She said: “Maybe he just wanted to protect Jordan. Maybe he’ll put Jordan in danger if he talked.

“What happened to Libya will happen to Jordan. Lockerbie is an important topic since it is related to America and no one is supposed to mess with America.”

Saha claimed Jordan’s intelligence services were not interested in the truth about Lockerbie. (...)

Scottish MSP Christine Graham said: “These various discoveries that you have made builds further on the case that it was, as many of us believe, Iran that was responsible for the ­Lockerbie bombing and that al-Megrahi was the fall guy. Libya took the rap for various reasons.”

Dr Jim Swire, whose 23-year-old daughter Flora died in the attack, added: “This confirms what we have known for a long time and have never been able to say in public.” Within months of Lockerbie, it was being blamed on the PFLP-GC and Iran by the US and UK. America named Jibril.

Former King Hussein of Jordan said the group was behind the attack in a 1996 letter to John Major. [RB: This is the document in respect of which the UK Government claimed Public Interest Immunity during the appeal by Megrahi that was abandoned when he sought repatriation. The details can be found here.] 

Khreesat died two years ago at 70. Jibril, 80, is believed to be in Syria fighting for Bashar al-Assad.

A special mass marking Lockerbie’s 30th anniversary will take place today at Holy Trinity RC Church. Parish priest at the time of the bombing, Canon Pat Keegans, will say he is “not convinced” justice has been done.