Friday 8 August 2014

Lockerbie investigators "hand in hand ... praying for justice"

[Various Dutch newspapers are today running an article headlined De lessen van Lockerbie (The lessons of Lockerbie). What follows are excerpts taken from Dagblad van het Noorden, translated courtesy of Google Translate, as modified by me via my knowledge of Afrikaans. The original Dutch text is appended.]

The Pan Am flight 103 disaster on December 21, 1988 sowed death and destruction in the small village of Lockerbie. Exactly 38 minutes after the plane takes off from London Heathrow, at a height of 10 kilometers, something goes terribly wrong. The ‘Clipper Maid Of The Seas' explodes, falls into thousands of pieces, and destroys much of Lockerbie. Eleven residents and 259 passengers are killed.

Because there were 189 Americans on board, the FBI is also involved in the investigation. The leader of the team was Richard Marquise. With pain in his heart, he looks at what is happening in Ukraine.  “We both have many compatriots lost in a foreign country. But we had one great advantage, and that was that the Scottish police did ​​a very good job. Directly after the disaster there were thousands of police and soldiers on hand to help search for victims and wreckage."

Marquise calls the war in Ukraine a nightmare for the Dutch investigators who ultimately have to find the perpetrators. There are, according to him, so many people who have an interest in ensuring that there is no evidence to be found. International observers have already indications that wreckage has been tampered with. “It is hoped that these were people who did not know exactly where to go looking. So perhaps forensic experts with all their advanced techniques can still find something useful."

Yet there is one bright spot, according to Marquise. The Netherlands already knows that Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was probably downed with a rocket.  “The first few days we still had no idea why the Pan Am aircraft had crashed.” (...)

A piece of wreckage, however small, can be invaluable, as became clear in the investigation into the Lockerbie disaster. Investigators found a tiny chip from the timer that activated the bomb in a suitcase. By means of this, investigators eventually exposed the Libyan intelligence agent Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. He smuggled the bomb suitcase on board the Pan Am aircraft. But in the absence of this kind of hard evidence it will be a very tough job to identify the perpetrators, predicts Marquise. “Unless someone comes forward who says ‘It was him.’”

What Marquise would like to see is a “golden informant” such as they had in the Lockerbie investigation. (...) [RB: Presumably this is a reference to Abdul Majid Giaka. If that is so, it is interesting that he should still today be being referred to as “golden” after his performance at Zeist.]

If the Dutch - despite all the difficulties - find the perpetrators then a suspect can be arrested even after years of waiting, as the Lockerbie investigators have cause to know. Al-Megrahi, the man who placed the bomb suitcase in the Pan Am aircraft, was a Libyan. That country already had a reputation as a rogue state that was not cooperative. “Gaddafi simply denied that it had happened,” says Marquise.

Only after years of economic sanctions did Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi give in and two suspects were extradited in 1999. One of them was acquitted. Al-Megrahi was imprisoned in 2001 for life. So there was finally justice, thirteen years after the disaster.

Marquise remembers that day like yesterday. He was with the Scottish detectives at Camp Zeist, when the judges delivered judgment. Hand in hand they listened to the verdict, praying for justice. “All those years of hard work had led us to this man. But only when the judge pronounced the word "guilty", were we sure: ‘we got him’.”

De ramp met Pan Am-vlucht 103 zaait op 21 december 1988 dood en verderf in het kleine dorpje Lockerbie. Precies 38 minuten nadat het toestel is opstegen vanaf Londen Heathrow, gaat het op 10 kilometer hoogte vreselijk mis. De ‘Clipper Maid Of The Seas' explodeert, valt in duizenden stukjes uiteen en vermorzelt een groot deel van Lockerbie. Elf bewoners en 259 passagiers komen om het leven.

Omdat er 189 Amerikanen aan boord waren, wordt ook de FBI bij het onderzoek betrokken. Leider van het team was destijds Richard Marquise. Met pijn in zijn hart kijkt hij naar wat er nu in Oekraïne gebeurt. ,,Wij hebben beide veel landgenoten verloren in een vreemd land. Maar wij hadden één groot voordeel en dat was dat de Schotse politie heel goed werk verrichtte. Na de ramp waren er direct duizenden agenten en militairen op de been om te helpen zoeken naar slachtoffers en wrakstukken.''

De oorlog in Oekraïne noemt Marquise een nachtmerrie voor de Nederlandse onderzoekers die uiteindelijk de daders moeten zien te vinden. Er zijn volgens hem zo veel mensen die er belang bij hebben dat er helemaal geen bewijsstukken worden gevonden. Internationale waarnemers hebben al aanwijzingen dat er met de wrakstukken zou zijn gerommeld. ,,Het is te hopen dat de mensen die dat hebben gedaan niet precies wisten waar ze naar moesten zoeken. Zo kunnen forensische experts met al hun geavanceerde technieken misschien toch nog iets bruikbaars vinden.''

Toch is er volgens Marquise een lichtpuntje. Nederland weet al dat vlucht MH17 van Malaysia Airlines hoogstwaarschijnlijk naar beneden is gehaald met een raket. ,,Wij hadden de eerste dagen nog helemaal geen idee waarom het Pan Am-toestel was neergestort.'' (...)

Een wrakstuk, hoe klein ook, kan goud waard zijn, zo is duidelijk geworden in het onderzoek naar de ramp in Lockerbie. De minuscule chip die onderzoekers vinden, blijkt een deel van de timer waarmee de bom in een koffer is geactiveerd. Rechercheurs ontmaskeren hiermee uiteindelijk de Libische geheim agent Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. Hij heeft de bomkoffer aan boord van het Pan Am-toestel gesmokkeld. Maar als dit soort harde bewijzen uitblijven, wordt het achterhalen van de daders een heel zware klus, voorspelt Marquise. ,,Of er moet iemand opstaan die zegt: hij was het.''

Wat had Marquise graag gezien dat er ook in het Lockerbie-onderzoek een gouden tipgever was opgestaan. (...)

Slagen de Nederlanders er – ondanks alle moeilijkheden – toch in de daders te vinden, dan kan het daadwerkelijk arresteren van een verdachte nog jaren op zich laten wachten, weten de onderzoekers van Lockerbie. Al-Megrahi, de man die de bomkoffer in het Pan Am-toestel plaatste, was een Libiër. Dat land had toen al de reputatie van een schurkenstaat waarmee niet viel samen te werken. ,,Gaddafi ontkende simpelweg dat het was gebeurd'', zegt Marquise.

Pas na jarenlange economische sancties zwichtte de Libische leider Muammar Gaddafi en werden in 1999 twee verdachten uitgeleverd. Een van hen werd vrijgesproken. Al-Megrahi kreeg in 2001 levenslang. Zo was er dertien jaar na de ramp eindelijk gerechtigheid.

Marquise herinnert zich die dag nog als gisteren. Hij zat samen met de Schotse rechercheurs in Kamp Zeist, waar de rechters het oordeel velden. Hand in hand luisterden ze naar de uitspraak, biddend voor gerechtigheid. ,,Al die jaren hard werken hadden ons naar deze man geleid. Maar pas toen de rechter het woord ‘schuldig' uitsprak, wisten we het zeker: we got him.''


  1. Just goes to show how hard it is to change a narrative that is already set in the consciousness of the press.

    The evidence that the bomb didn't come from Malta and therefore Megrahi had nothing to do with it has been in the public domain for some time now. And yet still people like Marquise get to come out with rubbish like that without any challenge.

    The article contains a greater truth, though. It is the conscientious and careful recovery of the wreckage by the Scottish (and English) police and volunteer searchers that has allowed the real story about how the bomb got on to the plane to be established. One of the very important points was knowing whether certain suitcases had been recovered at Newcastleton or at Lockerbie. This was all meticulously recorded. Without this sort of attention to detail the job would perhaps have been impossible. The investigators in Ukraine have a very difficult job.

  2. Lekker translation, boet! As with Lockerbie, so with MH17. Tricky Dickie Marquise indulges his favourite pastime: self-delusion. He knows perfectly well that Giaka was a liar and a fantasist who played whatever tune he was paid to play.

    Marquise knows, or ought to know, that it while it seems probable that MH17 was shot down by a ground-to-air missile, it is very far from certain. Some observers have claimed that it was Ukranian fighter aircraft which shot down MH17 and cite damage to the fuselage as evidence. [See for example ]
    Whether or not such alternative theories are subsequently shown to be true or false, the point is that at this stage in the enquiry, it is irresponsible, misleading and downright stupid to claim certainty in either direction...but that's been the Marquise folly all the way with Lockerbie.

  3. Remarkably there actually was a real "golden informant" but his evidence was ignored, at least by the authorities, in favour of the "golden informant" whose evidence led them where they wanted to go. The "tiny chip" was also created by the Americans to implicate Libya. Thurman could identify it because he knew precisely what it was - he was involved with Feraday in the Indian Head tests weeks before it was supposedly "discovered." As I have shown beyond doubt the evidence of its discovery was blatantly fabricated! Pity Megrahi's defence teams never noticed this!

  4. And the true "golden informant" was who, exactly...?

  5. Oh, don't encourage him.

  6. Well Mr Bedford of course. Perhaps each side will be following Mr Marquise's advice and creating their own "golden informant".

    What's your problem Morag - is our book not selling?