Monday, 28 September 2015

IRA supplier named as ‘Lockerbie mastermind’

[This is the headline over a report published (behind the paywall) in today’s edition of The Times. It reads in part:]

A Libyan intelligence officer who helped supply the IRA with explosives in the 1980s is suspected of being the mastermind of the Lockerbie bomb plot.

A TV documentary to be aired this week in the US claims that Nasser Ali Ashour, who was the link between the IRA and the regime of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, led the group responsible for the attack. He is among eight suspects sought by Scottish prosecutors, of whom only three are believed to be alive.

Last week, The Times reported that one, Abu Agila Mas’ud, believed to have manufactured the bomb, was being held in a Libyan prison, accused of unrelated charges. Another, Abdullah al-Senussi, Gaddafi’s brother-in-law, has been sentenced to death in Libya.

The documentary, part of the PBS TV programme Frontline, is the work of Ken Dornstein, whose brother David died when Pan Am flight 103 was blown up over Lockerbie in December 1988.

Ashour’s name has long been known to British intelligence. When a cargo ship, the Eksund, was captured by French customs in 1987, and found to be carrying Semtex explosives and weapons bound for Ireland, its captain named Ashour as the Libyan operative who had supervised the loading of the cargo in Tripoli.

Later he emerged as the senior intelligence officer who supervised the return to Libya of members of the Libyan embassy after the shooting of WPC Yvonne Fletcher in London in 1984.

Mr Dornstein has uncovered evidence that allegedly ties Ashour to the plot. The CIA also had him in their sights. He was interviewed by investigators after the bombing and although he denied any involvement, he was revealed in CIA cables to have travelled to Malta before the bomb was loaded on to a flight that linked to PanAm 103. [RB: But as Dr Morag Kerr has conclusively demonstrated in Adequately Explained by Stupidity?: Lockerbie, Luggage and Lies, the bomb suitcase was already in the Heathrow luggage container AVE4041 before any luggage from the relevant Malta flight could have arrived from Frankfurt.]

Ashour was accompanying the only man convicted of the bombing, Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi.

A letter passed to the CIA by Edwin Bollier, a Swiss businessman who supplied the bomb timer to the Libyans and was a witness at al-Megrahi’s trial, includes Ashour’s telephone number.

Ashour was named in the Lockerbie judgment as head of operations in the Jamahiriya Security Organisation, the Libyan secret service under Colonel Gaddafi. He was said to have bought the timers from Bollier. One was later found at the Lockerbie site.

“Ashour is the most significant person who got away,” said Mr Dornstein.

“He has a history of supplying Semtex explosives. Edwin Bollier in his FBI statement in 1991 said that if he had to name the person who he thought was the prime suspect in the [Lockerbie] bombing, it would be Nasser Ashour.”

Ashour, whose whereabouts are unknown, was also a close colleague of another senior Libyan intelligence officer, Said Rashid, who died of a heart attack before he could be questioned. Rashid’s widow, who spoke to Mr Dornstein, said that she had always suspected that he had been involved in the bomb plot. (...)

A spokesman for the Lord Advocate said: “The Crown Office is aware of this individual. Evidence in relation to him featured at the original trial of Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi at Camp Zeist.”

[RB: Ken Dornstein's revelations are not new. They have been circulating since the US State Department distributed in April 1992 its notorious (and now deleted) Briefing Note on Lockerbie. Details can be found on this blog here and here.

A further article by Mr Linklater in the same newspaper is headed One man's mission to find Lockerbie bombers.]

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