Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Lockerbie relatives to appeal Megrahi conviction

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

British relatives of victims of the Lockerbie atrocity are planning another attempt to overturn the conviction of the only person found guilty of the attack after a former Iranian spy went public with his claims that Syrian-based extremists recruited by Iran carried out the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.

Former Iranian intelligence officer Abolghassem Mesbahi told a TV documentary, screened last night and repeated tonight, that the December 1988 bombing was undertaken by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) on behalf of Tehran.

He claimed it was carried out in revenge for the mistaken shooting down in July 1988 of an Iran Air Airbus by the USS Vincennes, a US Navy cruiser in the Gulf.

Iran's then leader Ayatollah Khomeini had pledged the skies would "rain blood" in revenge.

During Al Jazeera's Lockerbie: what really happened? documentary, Mr Mesbahi said: "Iran decided to retaliate as soon as possible. The decision was made by the whole system in Iran and confirmed by Ayatollah Khomeini.

"The target of the Iranian decision makers was to copy exactly what happened to the Iranian Airbus. Everything exactly same, minimum 290 people dead."

Campaigner Dr Jim Swire said yesterday that UK relatives of the victims, including himself, are preparing to apply to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) for the conviction of Libyan Abdelbaset al Megrahi to be overturned. Megrahi died in 2012 protesting his innocence.

Mr Swire, whose daughter Flora, 23, was on board Flight 103 said: "Some British relatives have decided that enough is enough and we will be applying within weeks for a further appeal against the Megrahi verdict. We have a right to know who killed our families and why the British Government and authorities responsible for the safety of the aircraft failed in their duty. We are not going away."

A successful SCCRC application could start the third appeal into Megrahi's conviction.

The Al Jazeera documentary fingered Ahmed Jibril, secretary-general of the PFLP-GC, as the key figure behind the attack, which was led by Hafez Dalkamoni. The bomb itself is alleged to have been made by Jordanin Marwan Khreesat.

In December 1988, an anonymous man took responsibility for the crash in the name of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution and in retaliation for the downing of the Iran Air flight.

Earlier that year, German police raided a PFLP-GC cell and found Toshiba cassette recorder bombs, and arrested Khreesat and Dalkamoni. The bombs were later found to be almost identical to the one used to blow up Flight 103.

But during the Lockerbie investigation, the spotlight turned from Iran to Libya when forensic examination of the suitcase that carried the bomb found it had contained a Maltese-made babygrow. Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci identified Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer, as the man who bought the baby clothes and other items found in the suitcase.

In 1991 an indictment for murder was issued against Megrahi and Malta airport manager Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah. The pair were handed over to Scottish authorities in 1999. Fhimah was later cleared of any involvement in the bombing.

Egyptian-born Abu Talb had also previously emerged as a key suspect, with his accusers alleging he had smuggled the bomb onto the flight. However, when Megrahi went on trial in 2000, Talb was called as a prosecution witness.

New information about Talb and his activities in Europe was sent to the SCCRC during an earlier investigation. It claimed he was paid millions of dollars by Iran following the bombing. In 1989, a Swedish court convicted Talb of bombing a synagogue in Denmark and gave him a life sentence. He has since been released.

John Ashton, Megrahi's biographer, said: "There is very little that is new here. For about 18 months after the bombing Tehran got the blame, before attention focused on Libya. I am glad [Al Jazeera's] report has put the focus back on Iran."

A Crown Office spokesman said: "Mesbahi's claim that Iran was responsible was first reported in the media in the late 1990s and was available to the defence before the trial but they did not call him as a witness.

"The wider alleged involvement of the PFLP-GC has been repeatedly reported over many years but was addressed in full and rejected at the original trial."

He added that Megrahi was convicted and that the verdict was upheld following an appeal.

[The Scotsman also today runs an article headlined New Lockerbie appeal to be launched ‘within weeks’.

An interesting article appears today in the Maltese newspaper The Times.  It contains the following:]

The latest documentary sheds light on events in Malta months  before the actual bombing. According to documentation gathered for the film, in March 1988, intelligence officers from Iran, Syria and Libya met at the Miska Bakery, in Qormi. The place was used by a cell of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) that operated in Malta.

Foreign intelligence agencies knew of the cell’s presence on the island and were monitoring the bakery.

However, the information was not accurate enough for action to be taken.

The Iranian, Syrian and Libyan intelligence officers had agreed to a general campaign “against Israeli and American targets” but Pan Am 103 was not yet in the picture. Things changed three months later when, on July 3, the USS Vincennes, a military ship patrolling the Persian Gulf, shot down an Iranian passenger plane killing all 290 people on board, including 66 children.

The ship mistook the airliner for a fighter jet but the US refused to issue an apology even after the tragedy was revealed. Iran wanted revenge and a plan was hatched to destroy an American aircraft. In October 1988, terrorists from the PFLP-GC met in a St Julian’s apartment to discuss the final details of its execution.

Information on this meeting came from a source who was present. The source was tracked down by Jessica de Grazia, a former Manhattan District Attorney working for Mr al Megrahi’s defence. Her findings would have formed the basis of his appeal hearing, which he abandoned on being released in 2009 from Greenock prison in Scotland on compassionate grounds.

One of those present for the Malta meeting was Mohammed Abu Talb, who headed the Swedish cell of PFLP-GC, and would later become one of the prime suspects in the case before the probe shifted to Libya and Mr al Megrahi.

Journalist Joe Mifsud had reported on the meeting in the wake of the Lockerbie attack. Speaking to Times of Malta yesterday, Dr Mifsud was not surprised by the findings of the documentary. “It confirms what I had reported on, even before the Lockerbie trial, that Abu Talb was the prime suspect in the case,” he said.

Dr Mifsud, who was present for Mr Abu Talb’s testimony at the trial, said the Swedish police had found clothes from Malta in the Palestinian’s apartment in Sweden and a calendar with December 21 circled.

In fact, the theory that the Lockerbie bombing was executed by the PFLP-GC on behalf of Iran was in line with the original leads pursued by Scottish and American investigators.

Al Jazeera tracked down the alleged bomb maker, Marwan Khreesat, to Amman in Jordan, where he is kept under surveillance by Jordanian intelligence. He refused to discuss the affair on camera but a source close to him later told Al Jazeera the attack had indeed been commissioned by Iran and the bomb was put on board at Heathrow.


  1. Anyone who hoped that the recent quietness meant that the issue had started going away, can stop hoping.

    It is too serious, too criminal, too inexcusable, too rotten and too present.

    It is not even enough to fool most of the people all the time.

    A strong minority with an unanswerable case can cause so many problems that the rulers will start thinking whether the safest way could be to wash their hands, and try to detach themselves from those buddies having caused the trouble.

    The risk of asking current people to fake up new evidence instead is glaring. While the full disclosure of Lockerbie scandal might be survivable for the top, involvement into new crimes will be a very risky game.

    My guess is that we will never see that retrial. But I hope I am just so wrong.

  2. sfm, I agree with you about the risks of faking up new evidence. They would have to be absolutely certain that it contradicted nothing that was already avilable, and that it would never, ever be detected as being fake. Considering that it would inevitably be suspected of being fake, this would be difficult to achieve.

    I also harbour some thoughts that there will be no new appeal before the court. The strength of the new material is such that any rational judicial authority would throw in the towel and decide not to contest the appeal. What's the betting?

    In fact it's not as crazy as it may seem at first sight. Indeed the Crown Office is currently insisting that it will defend any new appeal vigorously. But it would say that wouldn't it? Things may change when they have to look closely at what they are defending. Conceding the appeal would prevent all that being paraded through the court, and might allow them the fig-leaf of saying that it was all really technical, and in fact they're still pursuing the same line of inquiry that Libya did it at Luqa. It's anybody's guess whether the press would let them away with that.

  3. "...the fig-leaf of saying that it was all really technical, and in fact they're still pursuing the same line of inquiry that Libya did it at Luqa."

    Yes. However absurd, that might just be their best option.

    If the press would let them get away with it? Why not? I think nothing about the press will surprise me ever again.

  4. That's why I think the suitcase jigsaw is really important. I'm currently being given the cold shoulder by so many people who seem to think I'm just an egomaniac trying to promote a book that it's beginning to get to me. I don't think it's egotistical to believe the suitcase jigsaw is the most important piece of ammunition we have at the moment.

    It is agreed by pretty much everybody involved that if it could be proved that the bomb was introduced at Heathrow rather than Malta, that would be completely exculpatory. The other points, while important, leave Megrahi with a false passport right there when the crime was supposedly committed. In that event, even if they had to give up the clothes purchase, they could conceivably go on saying they "weren't looking for anyone else" (figuratively speaking, as of course they would go on looking for his supposed accomplices).

    Move the scene of the crime to Heathrow, in the afternoon when Megrahi was verifiably in Tripoli, and he is "provably innocent". Not only that, the entire investigation is shown to have been monumentally incompetent pretty much from the get-go. Never mind the political ramifications.

    If the press decide to go along with a whitewash even in the face of the suitcase jigsaw placing the crime at Heathrow, they will be placing themselves on the wrong side of history, that's for sure.

  5. I quite agree that the Heathrow origin is irrefutable and have said so for a long time. I am also dubious that a further Appeal would ever happen.

    I also pointed out to the Director of the SCCRC (who wasn't much interested) that the SCCRC Statement of Reasons was quite wrong in concluding (despite the evidence of the Forensic Document Examiner) that page 51 of Dr Hayes notes dated 12th May 1989 was genuine. Simply by comparing page 51 with another exhibit photograph 117 (also the subject of the SCCRC Statement of Reasons) it is beyond doubt, irrefutable, blindingly obvious that page 51 could not legitimately have been created before this photograph was taken.

    This is not grounds for a further Appeal. It renders Mr Megrahi's conviction completely unsafe and it should be quashed immediately.