[What follows is an item originally posted on this blog on this date in 2009:]
Pan Am 103: The unanswered questions
[This is the headline over a long interview with Joe Mifsud published in the midweek edition of maltatoday. Mr Mifsud has followed, and written about, the Lockerbie case for many years. The following are excerpts from the interview.]
“Malta is still portrayed as the place where the terrorists met and executed their plan to kill 270 innocent people. Our national airline Air Malta was unjustly implicated. I have suffered silently as a Maltese citizen, listened patiently to the allegations but fought with pride to clear Malta’s name.”
So saying, Joe Mifsud reiterates a point he has been making for almost 20 years. But with Megrahi now released on compassionate grounds, and a growing chorus of voices demanding an independent inquiry into the 1988 disaster, Mifsud still has mixed feelings about the entire affair.
“Vindicated? No,” he says when asked for his reaction to the release. “I thought about the relatives and friends of the victims who perished in the Pan Am tragedy. I thought about the time that was wasted and the truth that has not emerged. There are some who might be happy with financial compensation or a guilty verdict. The latter will not take away the pain and anguish caused by the fact that they still do not know the cruel hand behind the planning and the execution of their dear ones...”
Mifsud argues that foreign investigators had abused our friendship and infringed Maltese law. They illegally tapped telephones and even offered money for evidence to strengthen their case.
“I still remember two particular occasions. During proceedings the court was told that the whereabouts of a husband and wife, mentioned as members of a Palestinian terror team responsible for the Lockerbie bombing, were unknown, when I knew that there were living openly with their three young children in Gaza. Everyone was surprised when I interviewed the couple and the story was published on the front page of Scotland on Sunday. When Scottish police first came to Malta in 1989, it was to investigate a Lockerbie connection because clothes originating on the island had been in the bomb suitcase. On their second visit, Palestinian terrorists were suspected. At that time the Palestinian man was living in Malta with his family. His phone was illegally tapped by Scottish police operating in partnership with the American and German investigators. The Maltese authorities protested when the clandestine operation was discovered and the whole investigation was immediately suspended. The investigators were asked to leave Malta and were only allowed to return several weeks later when the Maltese government had been guaranteed that there would be no repeat of illegal investigations.”
The second occasion was when Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, the second suspect, was acquitted on 31 January, 2002.
“I visited Fhimah one week after the end of the trial when festivities to celebrate his acquittal were still in full swing in his home area Suq il-Gimgha. I still remember Fhimah’s words: ‘I had tears in my eyes when I bid him farewell, I was very sad and left with a broken heart knowing that my friend Basset was still there. I kept contact with him. As you believed that I was innocent, believe that Basset is innocent too.’”
But what, apart from instinct, originally led Mifsud to doubt the prosecution’s version of events?
“I personally knew Fhimah as he used to live in Mosta, my home town. When his name was mentioned in the investigations I was surprised, and my initial reaction was that I was witnessing a frame up in the making. I was very suspicious regarding Abdul Majid Jiacha, a Libyan defector married to a Maltese. At that time he was being considered as the star witness. I investigated further and obtained classified documents from the USA, claiming that he was in the Witness Protection Programme and he had met US agents more than 10 times before the Lockerbie bombing! So if he knew what was happening he should have supplied all necessary warnings so that the terror act would have been prevented.” (...)
But if the Libya connection is in doubt, what other explanation could there be for a terrorist act claiming 270 lives?
“Secret service sources suggest that the Pan Am disaster was an act of revenge for another air disaster. On 3 July 1988 a United States warship, the USS Vincennes, shot down an Iran Air civilian airliner killing 290 people. As a result of this action and of increased tension in the Middle East it was generally expected that the United States would be the subject of reprisals. There was widespread concern about the threat to United States civilian aircraft at the time.”
As for the insistence on prosecuting Libyan suspects, Mifsud suspects a case of “blame shifting”:
“Pointing fingers to the bad guys of the moment – Libya was known for their support to movements linked to terror, including the IRA, Abu Nidal and others.”
In view of the doubts now cast on the trial proceedings, Mifsud believes the time has come for an independent enquiry.
“During the past years I have spoken to Jim Swire who lost his daughter in this tragedy. He always urged the British government to appoint an inquiry to investigate the case. This should have been done immediately after the tragedy. I agree with his suggestion; better late than never. I still remember the representatives of British victims telling me that questions about the tragedy went unanswered in the trial. They said the trial had not answered the huge number of questions asked over the last years. In my opinion the trial only served to add to this list of questions. A United Nations initiative in the form of a tribunal can act as an independent inquiry...”
What further details could such an inquiry reveal that have so far not come to light?
“The bomb which caused the Pan Am 103 tragedy on Lockerbie did not start its journey from Malta, as the Crown suggested during the trial and during the early stages of the investigations, but from another destination. Where? This is the first question that needs to be answered.
“The bomb device could have been introduced into the working area of Frankfurt by being flown on board any airline, interline tagged or on-line tagged for PA 103. The luggage could have been sent from the Damascus airport in Syria.
“Regarding Heathrow airport, where it is certain that the bomb was loaded onto the Pan Am flight, the three-judge panel itself said that there was also a possibility that an extraneous suitcase could have been introduced by being put onto the conveyor belt outside the interline shed, or introduced into the shed itself or into the container when it was at the built-up area...”
The second unanswered question concerns who mandated the act of terror and who executed the plan. To answer this, Mifsud argues we have to go back to the shortcomings of the initial investigations – among them, the process that led Tony Gauci to identify Megrahi as the person who bought the incriminating clothes from his shop.
“Two points that should have been noted in Tony Gauci’s testimony are: If the person who bought the items from his shop was living at the Holiday Inn Hotel as the prosecution claimed, and this is less than five minutes away from the shop, was it wise for the person who bought the items to walk to the taxi stand which is the same distance from the hotel and in the opposite direction? If Megrahi was the head of the security service and planning a terrorist attack, would it be wise for him to go and buy the clothes himself? This point is very puzzling and confusing. Scottish judges came to a conclusion even without coming to Malta and conducting an on-site inquiry in order to become acquainted with places mentioned in the trial.”
In the final analysis, Mifsud suggests it may have been in the interest of other countries to implicate Malta, albeit indirectly.
“At that time the German authorities were highly criticised for the fact that just some time before the tragedy they had in custody a number of persons involved in terrorist acts, who were very close to the Palestinian faction of Ahmed Jibril, the PFLP-GC, whose base is in Syria. (...)
“Germany was also criticised by security services as how a person suspected of involvement in the Lockerbie case, Hafez Kasem Dalkamoni, was allowed to depart from Germany to Syria without being interrogated about the Lockerbie case.”