[This is the headline over an article published in the Sunday Herald on this date in 2002. It reads as follows:]
Megrahi's appeal team ignored 'evidence' from key CIA investigator that claims Iran was behind PanAm 103 bombing
One of the CIA's leading Lockerbie bomb investigators has come forward with compelling evidence that Libya was not behind the downing of PanAm 103 which killed 270 people.
Robert Baer, a retired senior CIA agent, offered to meet the defence team leading the appeal of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, who was convicted last year of the bombing. However, his offer was not accepted and the new evidence never raised in court.
The new evidence, according to Baer, shows Iran masterminded and funded the bombing; implicates the Palestinian terrorist unit, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), as the group behind the plot; and reveals that just two days after the December 21 1988 bombing the PFLP-GC received $11 million (£7.6m), paid into a Swiss bank account by Iran.
Legal experts say the new evidence should have been brought before the court, and are asking why Megrahi's defence didn't take up the offer.
Megrahi's appeal, which took place at a special Scottish court sitting at Camp Zeist in Holland, adjourned on Thursday for judges to consider whether to overturn the original verdict.
Baer claims he is breaking his silence now because of growing disillusionment with the CIA's counter-terrorist operations and the war on terror.
Baer, an anti-terrorist specialist, was one of the key CIA officers investigating Lockerbie. He says the CIA received definitive evidence that the PFLP-GC struck a deal with Iranian intelligence agents in July 1988 to take down an American airliner.
Baer also has details of an $11m payment made to the PFLP-GC. On December 23 1988 the money was paid into a bank account used by the terror group in Lausanne, Switzerland. It was transferred to another PFLP-GC account at the Banque Nationale de Paris and moved to the Hungarian Trade Development Bank.
A terrorist linked to the PFLP-GC, Abu Talb, who was later jailed for terrorist offences in Sweden, was also paid $500,000 (£350,000). The money went into an account in Talb's name in Frankfurt four months after the bombing, on April 25 1989.
Germany was a key base for the PFLP-GC in the late 1980s. Baer has the number of at least one of these bank accounts.
Talb and the PFLP-GC were to have been implicated by lawyers working for Megrahi and his co-accused, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, at the original trial, but little evidence was ever raised to show they were part of the Lockerbie plot.
On legal advice Baer is not disclosing his Lockerbie records, but the Sunday Herald has seen CIA paperwork that supports his claims. British and US intelligence have always publicly denied that the PFLP-GC played a part in the Lockerbie plot, saying raids by German police two months before the Lockerbie bombing took the terror group out of action.
Baer says, however, that these arrests were a mere hiccup in PFLP-GC plans as other members of the German unit rem ained at large. This theory also fits with claims that the bomb began its journey in Frankfurt, rather than Malta, where Megrahi was based.
PFLP-GC leader Hafez Dalkamoni and the group's chief bomb-maker, Marwan Khreesat, were arrested in Germany in October 1988 in possession of a Toshiba radio-cassette player containing a bomb. PanAm 103 flew from Frankfurt and was destroyed by a bomb built inside a Toshiba radio-cassette.
Timers matching the one used in the Lockerbie device were sold to both Libya and the East German secret service, the Stasi, which had close links to the PFLP-GC. 'I don't know what components the bomb contained,' Baer said, 'but there was very reliable information from multiple sources that (the PFLP-GC) were running around between East and West Germany and Sweden, trying to get the operation back on track. It's conceivable that the Stasi supplied components during a trip to East Germany.'
Baer said the components for the bomb were supplied by a terrorist known as Abu Elias, who was for a time the CIA's prime suspect but was never caught. 'He was the big centre of the investigation, but he was very elusive,' Baer said. Khreesat and Dalkamoni were on their way to meet Abu Elias when they were arrested in Germany. Abu Elias was a close associate of Abu Talb. Both lived in Sweden. [RB: More about Abu Elias can be found here and here.]
Talb had made a trip to Malta just weeks before the Lockerbie bombing. Clothes from a shop in Malta were packed in the suitcase which contained the PanAm 103 bomb.
Baer also claims the CIA has irrefutable intelligence that Talb and Dalkamoni were Iranian agents and were on a government roll of honour for their services to the 'Islamic revolutionary struggle against the west'. Baer added: 'Although it was not specific, Dalkamoni's citation praised him for achieving Iran's greatest- ever strike against the west'.
Iran had vowed 'the skies would rain with American blood' after a US battle cruiser, the USS Vincennes, accidentally shot down an Iranian Airbus over the Persian Gulf, killing 290 people, six months before the Lockerbie bombing.
'It doesn't take a genius to figure out where the $11m came from,' says Baer. He added that 'the information [would] be useful to the defence as much of it was of a type that would be admissible in court. Once the investigators had the timer evidence, which seemed to point to Libya, they stopped pursuing other leads -- that's the way most criminal investigations work. People sleep better at night if they think they have justice. Who wants an unsolved airplane bombing?'
Edinburgh University law professor Robert Black, the architect of the Lockerbie trial, said of Megrahi's defence not seeking to interview Baer: 'I don't know why they would act like this. Real hard evidence of a money transfer from Iran to the PFLP-GC is so supportive of the alternative theory behind the bombing that I'm at a loss to explain their actions.
'At the very least, you would interview the source of the information and make a decision once you have spoken to him. A lawyer's job is to provide a belt-and-braces defence for his client, so to refuse to even meet with Baer requires a lot of explaining.'