[This is the headline over an article by Lucy Adams in today's edition of The Herald. It reads in part:]
A convicted killer who many believe is the real Lockerbie bomber has been freed from prison in Sweden, prompting calls for a new investigation into Palestinian links to the atrocity.
Mohammed Abu Talb, who was serving a life sentence for other terror attacks in Copenhagen and Amsterdam using explosive devices, was the original suspect for the attack on Pan Am Flight 103 until 1990, when attention switched to Libya.
The Egyptian-born militant then served as a prosecution witness at the trial of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, when he denied defence claims that he was the killer of the 270 people at Lockerbie in 1988.
However, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) is understood to have uncovered new evidence that strengthens the case against Talb, who was allegedly funded by Iran to blow up the plane in revenge for the American cruiser USS Vincennes shooting an Iran Air flight out of the sky on July 3, 1988, killing 290 people.
On the first anniversary of Megrahi’s release yesterday, Swedish authorities confirmed publicly for the first time that Talb had been released from Malmo prison after serving 20 years.
Because his whereabouts is now unknown, and he is widely thought to have returned to the Middle East, campaigners who believe Megrahi has been unjustly treated are concerned that a key chance to interview Talb has been lost.
The Herald has previously revealed that Talb could be tried if Megrahi were to be formally cleared. An appeal against Megrahi’s conviction could still be mounted even after the death of the Libyan, who is terminally ill with prostate cancer.
Eddie MacKechnie, Megrahi’s solicitor from 2001-2006, said it was now time to refocus on what really happened, rather than obsessing about Megrahi’s early release. “There was more evidence at the time to implicate Talb and his associates than Megrahi,” he said. “I know that many police officers at the time were concerned that the investigation shifted to Libya when there was no evidence of Libyan involvement.
“The relatives deserve to know whether there has been a cover-up of any kind. We need to have a full and independent inquiry into what happened, and it needs to look at the Palestinian connection.”
Professor Robert Black, QC, the architect of the Lockerbie trial, said: “I support Mr MacKechnie 100%. Clearly the Palestinian connection deserves to be looked at and a full inquiry needs to be held.”
A leading CIA figure also called for the Palestinian connection to be reinvestigated. Robert Baer, a former CIA case officer assigned to the Middle East, told The Herald that an appeal or public inquiry was now needed. “I talked to the SCCRC and they were very clearly focussed on the Palestinians and the Iranian connection,” he said.
“There is no doubt that Abu Talb was an asset controlled by the Iranians and questions need to be asked about how he ended up as a prosecution witness. He was definitely not a reliable witness and what we need now is what the SCCRC report says, what intelligence there was, and what the connections were.”
The SCCRC report refers to the recovery of official records from various organisations in Italy. These are thought to relate to Talb, who travelled between Cyprus, Rome, Malta, and Frankfurt in the run-up to the bombing.
Evidence not heard at the Lockerbie trial at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands has revealed that the CIA thought Talb was the man responsible, and that police found clothes, including a blue babygro similar to one found at Lockerbie, when they raided his flat in Germany.
Police also found a calendar with the date “21 December” circled. In addition, Talb’s wife was recorded in a wiretapped telephone call warning another unidentified Palestinian to “get rid of the clothes immediately”.
In May 1989, Talb was arrested in connection with the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. At Camp Zeist, defence counsel alleged the Syrian-backed Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command, and the lesser-known Palestinian Popular Struggle Front, were responsible for the Lockerbie bombing. They said Talb was linked to both terrorist groups.
In his testimony, Talb told the court that he ended “all activities relating to Palestine at the end of 1982”. He was jailed along with three other men for the bombings in Denmark and the Netherlands, which killed one man and injured many others, but his life sentence was later commuted to 20 years.
[The release of Abu Talb from prison in Sweden was first reported on 18 October 2009 by Marcello Mega in an article in The Mail on Sunday.]