[This is the headline over an article by John Ashton and Ian Ferguson that was published in The Guardian on this date in 2001. It reads in part:]
There are two versions of the Lockerbie story. One - told at the trial - is neat, clearcut and, ultimately, reassuring. The other, which we believe is the true story, is far less comfortable. In the official version it was bad guys against good: Muammar Gadafy and his recently convicted henchman Abdel Baset al-Megrahi versus the heroic international investigation led by the tiny Dumfries and Galloway police force. It ends with the triumph of justice over terror. In the alternative version the heroics of the cops are obscured by dirty politics. It ends with a dreadful miscarriage of justice.
The conviction of Megrahi (his co-accused, Al-Amin Khalifah Fhimah, was acquitted) supposedly proved the official version and drew a line under the Lockerbie saga. But the case will not go away: Megrahi is planning an appeal and the relatives of the British passengers are determined to hold the Labour government to their promise, made in opposition, of an independent inquiry. If the relatives get their way, a huge can of worms will be opened for, (...) almost from the night the plane went down, vital evidence was suppressed.
In the official version, of course, nothing of the kind happened. It posits that on December 21 1988 Megrahi placed a bomb in a suitcase, which was loaded, unaccompanied, on to a flight from Malta to Frankfurt, where it was transferred to Pan Am flight 103. It exploded over Lockerbie just after 7pm that night, killing all 259 people on board and 11 on the ground. The bomb was built into a Toshiba radio-cassette player and fitted with a distinctive timing device supplied to the Libyan intelligence service by a Swiss company, Mebo. The firm's Zurich offices were shared in 1988 with the Libyan company ABH, with which Megrahi was closely involved. He was also alleged to have bought the clothes in the bomb suitcase from the Mary's House shop in Malta on December 7 1988.
During the eight-month trial the prosecution could offer no direct evidence of the bomb being loaded in Malta, and their star witnesses, Abdul Majid Giaka - a former colleague of the two accused - was exposed as a money-motivated fantasist. The court heard that Mebo sold identical timers to the East German Stasi (which armed Middle East terrorist groups), and the evidence of the Mary's House shopkeeper, Tony Gauci, suggested that the man who bought the clothes was considerably older and taller than Megrahi, and that the purchase occurred two weeks earlier, when, it is believed, Megrahi had an alibi. The fact that the judges refused to be swayed by the clouds of doubt hanging over the prosecution case left many observers staggered.
In the alternative version, the real culprits lay not in Libya, but in Iran, Syria and Lebanon. It begins in July 1988, when a US warship accidentally shot down an Iranian airliner over the Persian Gulf, killing 290 people. The CIA later revealed that, within days, Iran hired the Syrian-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command (PFLP-GC) to avenge the incident. The group had close ties to the Lebanese Islamic radicals Hizbullah and in the early 1970s specialised in bombing airliners. Its favoured method was to plant carefully disguised bombs on innocent dupes.
The group's leader, Ahmed Jibril, dispatched his right-hand man, Hafez Dalkamoni, and a bomb-maker, Marwan Khreesat, to West Germany, where Khreesat manufactured at least five barometric bombs designed to blow up aircraft, two - possibly more - of which were built into Toshiba radio-cassette players. Six weeks before Lockerbie, police raided the PFLP-GC gang and found one of the Toshiba bombs. In the official version this put an end to the revenge mission, but there is every reason to doubt this. The PFLP-GC may not have relied solely on Khreesat to make bombs and, in any case, at least four of his devices were unaccounted for. Three were recovered four months after Lockerbie, but the second Toshiba was never found.
Five weeks after the raid, the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) warned of the continuing threat of an Iranian reprisal and noted that Middle Eastern terrorist groups active in Germany had the infrastructure to conduct bombings. At around the same time, the US state department circulated a specific warning that radical Palestinians were planning to attack a Pan Am target in Europe.
Three months after the bombing, the transport minister Paul Channon told lobby journalists that the culprits had been identified and charges were imminent. Everyone knew he meant the PFLP-GC. The months passed and nothing happened. A White House leak later revealed that Margaret Thatcher and George Bush had agreed to downplay the investigation for fear of endangering hostages in Lebanon - almost all held by Syrian and Iranian proxy groups. Following the Gulf war, in which Syria became a crucial western ally, the PFLP-GC and their Syrian and Iranian sponsors were officially exonerated, and the blame was shifted to Libya.
The alternative version becomes murkier still when it comes to how Jibril's men got the bomb on to flight 103. Two PFLP-GC insiders and many western intelligence sources claim it was planted in the luggage of Khalid Jaafar, a Lebanese-American mule in a heroin trafficking operation. The whistle-blowing spooks say elements within the CIA were allowing Middle Eastern dealers to ship drugs to America in return for help in locating and releasing US hostages. In allowing the suitcases containing heroin to bypass security procedures, the CIA handed the dealers' terrorist associates a failsafe means of getting the bomb on the plane.
Among the Lockerbie victims was a party of US intelligence specialists, led by Major Charles McKee of the DIA, returning from an aborted hostage-rescue mission in Lebanon. A variety of sources have claimed that McKee, who was fiercely anti-drugs, got wind of the CIA's deals and was returning to Washington to blow the whistle. A few months after Lockerbie, reports emerged from Lebanon that McKee's travel plans had been leaked to the bombers. The implication was that Flight 103 was targeted, in part, because he was on board.
As with the official version, there is no proof of this scenario, but there is a chain of circumstantial evidence. Much of it comes from the army of police officers and volunteers who scoured the vast crash site in the weeks after the bombing. And much of it was either not revealed at the recent trial or, worse, covered up.
One such item was a T-shirt found in Kielder forest, Northumberland, by David Clark, who was later told by police that it was potentially important evidence because it bore the insignia of Hizbullah. The T-shirt has never been officially acknowledged or explained. At least four large quantities of US dollars were also found. No one knows who was carrying the cash, but it has been speculated that McKee's team would have had large amounts to pay Lebanese informants. When the Labour MP Tam Dalyell asked about the cash finds in 1995, the Scottish Office minister, Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, replied that nothing other than "what might ordinarily be regarded as personal money" was found.
Also denied was the existence of two large quantities of what appeared to be heroin: one found on Lockerbie golf course and the other in a suitcase discovered by a farmer a couple of miles to the east. The Rev John Mosey, whose 19-year-old daughter Helga died in the bombing, learned about the latter find and assumed the farmer would be questioned at the Lockerbie fatal accident inquiry held in October 1990. But the farmer did not appear, and police witnesses denied that any drugs were found. Mosey raised the issue with a senior police officer, who told him that the farmer would be interviewed. To the best of Mosey's knowledge, this never happened. In 1992 Dalyell wrote to the Scottish lord advocate, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, about the drugs. In his reply, Lord Fraser stated that none had been found, save for a small quantity of cannabis.
Who engineered the cover-up? Almost certainly not anyone in Britain. Police officers and volunteer searchers have spoken of American agents removing items from the crash site. A proper inquiry into these issues could reveal a picture that governments on both sides of the Atlantic dare not face, but without it the echoes of the Lockerbie bomb will be ringing for a long time to come.