Thursday, 31 March 2011

Moussa Koussa could know truth about Lockerbie bombing, say campaigners

[This is the headline over a report just published on the website of The Guardian by Severin Carrell, the paper's Scotland correspondent. It reads in part:]

Crucial questions about Libya's role in the Lockerbie bombing could finally be answered after the defection of the country's foreign minister, say campaigners.

Professor Robert Black and Jim Swire, whose daughter, Flora, was killed in the attack, said Moussa Koussa had been a pivotal figure in the Gaddafi regime and his defection was a "fantastic day" for the victims' families.

Scottish prosecution authorities plan to interview Koussa about the bombing of Pan Am flight 103, which killed 270 people on 21 December 1988. The Crown Office has been "liaising closely with other justice authorities", while Dumfries and Galloway police, which has kept open its files on the bombing, said it was waiting for direction from the Crown Office before asking permission to interview Koussa.

Swire and Black say they have spoken to Koussa, formerly Muammar Gaddafi's head of intelligence, on numerous occasions and describe him as "the scariest man" they have met. He even terrified other Libyan government officials, they said. They said Koussa had stuck rigidly to the official position that Libya was not responsible for the bombing.

Both men believe Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, jailed in 2001 for the bombing, is innocent, but questions remain on whether Libya was actually involved in the attack.

Swire claims the evidence points to Syria, not Libya. "Within the Libyan regime, [Koussa] is in the best position of anyone other than Gaddafi himself to tell us what the regime knows or did," he said. "He would be a peerless source of information."

Black, emeritus professor of Scots law at the University of Edinburgh, was the architect of the unique trial of Megrahi and his co-accused, Al-Amin Khalifah Fhimah, at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands in 2001.

Koussa signed the papers agreeing to the trial on behalf of the regime in July 1994, Black said, and was also involved in negotiating a multibillion-pound Lockerbie compensation deal with UK and US authorities.

The former spy chief played a key role in Libya's efforts to get Megrahi released from Greenock prison, meeting Scottish government and Foreign Office officials and visiting the bomber in jail.

"On a personal level, I always found [Koussa] extremely scary," Black said. "I never felt fear in the presence of any other Libyan official over the years, including Gaddafi, but Koussa was a frightening guy. It was the way everyone in Libya that I met was terrified of him."

Black said he had never formed a firm view on whether Libya was involved in the bombing, but had long suspected Megrahi had been wrongly convicted. "As far as the Libyans supplying components or logistical support for the bombing, I don't know," he added.

Oliver Miles, a former British ambassador to Tripoli, said he knew Koussa well when he was head of the Libyan "people's bureau" or UK embassy before he was expelled in 1980 for openly supporting Irish republicans and terrorism.

Miles – a former president of the Society for Libyan Studies – found him a "straightforward and reliable" diplomat to deal with, despite his fierce loyalty to Muammar Gaddafi and his reputation amongst his Libyan friends of being "a terror".

Miles, who was then head of the Foreign Office's north Africa department before becoming Libyan ambassador until diplomatic relations broke off in 1984, said: "I found him a perfectly reasonable person to deal with; he struck me first of all as being a committed revolutionary. His record shows he is or was a devout admirer of Gaddafi." (...)

Miles said it was difficult to assess how useful Koussa could be on the Lockerbie affair. "There are two parts to this question: the first question is that given the situation he's in, is his personality and professional training conducive to him spilling the beans? And I think yes, with some reservations. But the real question is: does he have those beans to spill?"

He added that immediately detaining and threatening to prosecute Koussa would be very damaging to the UK's main interest: destabilising and toppling Gaddafi. "I very much hope that the government puts the questions of possible court action and criminal proceedings as a second priority, behind using this incident to unsettle Gaddafi. If Moussa Koussa is in jail, that's hardly going to encourage more defectors."

No comments:

Post a Comment