Saturday, 10 October 2015

Megrahi and the coded passport

[What follows is excerpted from a report on the BBC News website on this date in 2000:]

The Lockerbie trial has heard that one of the accused was issued with a false passport after security service chiefs sent an urgent request to the relevant authorities.

Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, 48, was given a "coded" passport in the name of Ahmed Khalifa Abdusamed, the Scottish Court in the Netherlands was told.

Maloud Mohamed Omar El Gharour, of the general passport and nationality department in Libya, said that in June 1987 his department received a letter from the external security services asking for a new "coded" passport for Al Megrahi.

Prosecuting counsel Alan Turnbull QC asked the witness: "What would you understand by a coded passport?"

Mr El Gharour said: "It means simply that the passport does not carry the original name of its holder."

He told the court that the letter requesting the passport asked for the matter to be dealt with "very urgently".

It said the name of the holder of the coded passport was Al Megrahi who was described as having the job of "collaborator civil".

However the profession listed for his false passport was to be "employee".

The false passport was issued on the same day as the urgent letter was received, Mr El Gharour said.

The Lockerbie indictment accuses Al Megrahi of travelling to Malta, where the bomb which blew up Pan Am Flight 103 is alleged to have originated, on various occasions in 1987 and 1988 using the false identity of Ahmed Khalifa Abdusamed.

Carol Butler, of the British Immigration Services, told the court that stamps in the Abdusamad passport showed the user arriving in Malta on 20 December 1988 and flying back to Libya the following day.

The passport was not used again after 20 December.

[I have commented on this evidence as follows:]

Megrahi (inexplicably, in the view of many) was not called by his lawyers to give evidence on his own behalf at the trial; so no explanation of his use of this passport was ever supplied to the court. There is an innocent (ie non-Lockerbie related) explanation (involving his role in seeking to circumvent US trade sanctions against Libya and obtain Boeing aircraft spare parts on behalf of his employers, Libyan Arab Airlines) which could have been provided.

[Megrahi’s own explanation of the use of this coded passport on this occasion can be found in John Ashton’s Megrahi: You are my Jury at pages 108 to 115.]


  1. A passport with the name changed is made to avoid a name being popping up in some authority's database (or someone's memory), after the bearer has been traveling around, doing whatever clandestine business he does.

    As such a detection would of course limit the possible activities of the bearer
    For this reason, the passport will only be used in a period, until it is replaced with another coded passport.

    For countries under embargo this will be a no-brainer. For the urgency, I wonder if I know a single frequent business traveller that would never have have been needing urgent passport or visa services.

    But for a major terror act, the issuing of a passport with another name does not really make that much difference.
    A Libyan with any other name would be just as guilty, and drag his country - that is supposed to want to hide its identity - into the matter.

    With the easy availability of passports on the black market, couldn't Libya have bothered to get one from another country? In that case there wouldn't even have been a Mr. Gharour to interview.

    If Libya was guilty and wanted to hide it they really did a poor job. Am I revealing helpful information to coming terrorists nations when I suggest them to at least buy the clothes in a department store (not in a personal man-to-man deal, with the owner of a small shop), remove the labels, set the timer to explode when the plane is over water - and have the involved people either travel in their real name so they could later claim innocence - or with passports that do not identify your nation.

  2. Whay SM said,

    Also, if the bomb wasn't on KM180, then the identity of anyone who was at Luqa when KM180 departed is pretty irrelevent. Focussing an investigation on this is chasing rainbows.

    The bomb wasn't on KM180.

    1. What SM said. Honest, that's that I typed. My computer has a cold.