Friday, 5 June 2015

Another claim of Iranian responsibility

[This is the headline over a report published on this date in 2000 on the BBC News website. It reads as follows:]

A man claiming to be a senior Iranian intelligence service defector has said that Iran, not Libya, masterminded the Lockerbie bombing.

But legal experts in Scotland have said that the allegations are unlikely to affect the trial currently under way of two Libyans accused of being behind the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.

Ahmad Behbahani also said that Iran was responsible for the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community centre in the Argentine capital Buenos Aires.

Mr Behbahani - who was interviewed in Turkey - told CBS's 60 Minutes programme that until recently he had been responsible for all "terrorist" operations carried out by the Iranian Government beyond its borders.

CBS quoted him as saying that these operations included the bombing which downed Pan Am Flight 103 above Lockerbie in December 1988, killing all 259 aboard and 11 people on the ground.

Prosecutors in the trial in the Netherlands allege that two Libyans were intelligence agents who planted a bomb in a suitcase on Pan Am Flight 103.

Edinburgh University law professor Robert Black said: "This trial is not a trial of the various competing theories of what happened at Lockerbie.

"It is a trial into one theory - namely the prosecution theory that these two Libyans were responsible."

Mr Behbahani did not appear in the programme in person, because the CBS producers were prevented by the Turkish authorities from recording an interview.

However, he told them that he himself had first suggested the plan to bomb the Pan Am flight to Ahmad Jibril, who heads a Syrian-backed armed group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command.

He also said Iran spent 90 days training a group of Libyans for the operation.

CBS says Iran's motive for the attack was revenge after a US warship shot down a commercial Iranian airliner, killing all 290 passengers aboard.

Iran vowed the skies would "rain blood" after the USS Vincennes shot down an Iran Air flight in July 1988, killing 290.

It was widely assumed at first that Tehran ordered the destruction of the Pan Am airliner with Syrian-sponsored help.

The two Libyans currently on trial have consistently maintained that Syrian-backed Palestinian extremists were responsible for the attack.

CBS said Aboul-Hassan Bani-Sadr, the former Iranian president who has lived for many years in exile in Paris, first alerted the programme makers to what the former intelligence operative had to say.

Mr Bani-Sadr also has a recording of a telephone conversation claiming that the 1994 Buenos Aires bombing was co-ordinated by Ahmad Jibril under direction of Iran.

Officers from the US Central Intelligence Agency spent several hours debriefing Mr Behbahani on Friday and Saturday, 60 Minutes said.

A US official in Washington told CBS: "The government wants to get to the truth of all terrorist incidents, and we do not turn a deaf ear when people offer credible information."

US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said it was obviously an interesting report, but that she did not want to comment on the specifics because a trial was already in process.

A CBS producer said that Mr Behbahani might be motivated by revenge.

"I traced the tone of someone who was extremely bitter... He had fallen out of favour with the Iranian officials, with the government of Iran, and he just wanted to get back at them, at any cost."

Mr Behbahani said he had lost a power struggle in Tehran before being arrested and escaping.

[A long article about Behbahani by Dr Ludwig de Braeckeleer can be read here.  Material about the 1994 Buenos Aires bombing can be found here. The special prosecutor investigating the bombing, Alberto Nisman, died in suspicious circumstances in January 2015.]

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