Monday, 25 January 2016

A look at Lockerbie: Intiqam, the man who takes revenge

[On 11 January 2016 I blogged on an article entitled A look at Lockerbie: Iran Air Flight 655 that was billed as the first in a projected series. The second article has today been published on the website. It is entitled A look at Lockerbie: Intiqam, the man who takes revenge and reads in part:]

In order to determine beyond a reasonable doubt who was responsible for the Lockerbie crime, one must first understand the crucial pieces of evidence that the case hinges on. First of all, forensics experts have identified that the bomb which blew up Pan Am 103 was concealed in a Toshiba radio cassette player packed in a brown hard-shell Samsonite suitcase. Another important point was that the bomb was triggered by a barometric timer, meaning that it was specially designed to only be triggered at a high altitude where the change in air pressure could activate the device. And maybe most importantly of all, it has been proven that a tweed jacket, a green umbrella, and a jumper with the brand name Baby Gro were all packed in the suitcase that contained the bomb.1,2,3

The key pieces of evidence are well established, but what about the motive and intent?

I discussed in my last blog post the criminal attack on Iran Air 655, and the Western media's characterization of those responsible as heroes. In response to this the Iranian leadership promised vengeance. "We will not leave the crimes of America unpunished," Tehran radio announced, "We will resist the plots of the Great Satan and avenge the blood of our martyrs from criminal mercenaries."4 As Robert Bauer, former member of the CIA investigation into Lockerbie, put it, "They thought that if we didn't retaliate against the United States we would continue to shoot down their airliners." Abulkasim Misbahi, a high level Iranian defector who in 1988 was reporting directly to Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini, would later recall that, "The Iranians decided to retaliate as soon as possible...the target was to copy exactly what happened to the Iranian airbus."5

In order to accomplish this goal the Iranians turned to Ahmed Jibril, a man whose organization was well known for bombing airplanes. Jibril's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command (PFLP-GC) was well known for two airplane bombings that took place on the same day in 1970. The first bomb detonated aboard Swiss Air flight 330 bound for Israel. The bomb forced a crash landing in which all 47 of those aboard were killed. The second bomb which exploded later in the day on an Austrian Airlines flight also bound for Israel detonated successfully, but an emergency landing avoided any loss of life. The bombs were notable not only for the tragedy and terror which they inflicted, but also for the fact that they were the first barometric bombs ever used. In addition to the notable use of barometric triggers, the bombs were also both concealed within transistor radios.6

The Iranians turned to Jibril, not only because of his proven abilities as a plane bomber, but also because the PFLP-GC was an organization with close ties to Iran's strong Shia ally, Syria. After being contacted, Jibril put the Iranians in touch with a PFLP-GC member Hafez Dalkamouni who was based in Frankfurt.

Unbeknownst to Jibril and Dalkamouni, the West German police were already suspicious of Dalkamouni and were watching him day and night at his apartment in Frankfurt at 16 Isarstrasse. In October of 1988, the West German police started to notice some highly suspicious activity taking place at the apartment. On October 13th, West German police watched as Marwan Kreeshat arrived at Dalkamouni's apartment. The wife of one of Dalkamouni's accomplices would later testify that Kreeshat was carrying a brown Samsonite suitcase. The next day police listened in as Dalkamouni and Kreeshat called a number in Damascus and Dalkamouni was recorded as saying that soon "everything will be ready." Kreeshat then took the phone and said that he had "made some changes in the medicine," and that it was "better and stronger than before."7 A week later Dalkamouni and Kreeshat went shopping. While shopping they purchased three mechanical alarm clocks, a digital clock, sixteen 1.5-volt batteries and some switches, screws, and glue. A police internal memo made that day noted, "the purchase of the materials under the clear supervision of a PFLP-GC member designated as an explosives expert leads to the conclusion that the participants intend to produce an explosive device which, on the basis of the telephone taps, would be operational within the next few days."8 Fearing an imminent attack, on October 26th West German security services launched Operation Autumn Leaves, intended to round up Dalkamouni and his Frankfurt cell. The police followed Dalkamouni and Kreeshat as they drove in a silver green Ford Taurus and stopped to make a call at a public telephone booth. There the police apprehended them and searched their car, inside they found a Toshiba radio cassette player hidden under a blanket. In Dalkamouni's apartment police found a stopwatch, batteries, a detonator, and both time-delay and barometric fuses. On October 29th, police took a closer look at the Toshiba and discovered 300 grams of Semtex sheet explosive shaped into a cylinder wrapped with aluminum foil with a barometric timer. 9,10 While in custody, Kreeshat revealed that he was actually in the employ of Jordanian intelligence, and that he had made a total of 5 bombs including the one found in the Toshiba cassette player. 11,12 So what of the other 4 bombs?

The fate of three of the four bombs would be revealed in an explosion in April of 1989. At this time West German police had reopened the Dalkamouni case and visited the basement of a grocery store owner who was friends with Dalkamouni at the time of his arrest. In the basement police found two radios that fit the description of the bombs that Marwan Kreeshat had claimed he had made for Dalkamouni. The officers brought the suitcases back to their headquarters and left them lying around for a few days. Eventually a technician was ordered to inspect them 4 days later. Soon after he began inspection they began ticking. He quickly ran the suitcases through an x-ray machine and saw that they looked suspicious. Two explosives experts were called in, and while they were working on opening the suitcases the bomb was triggered killing one and severely injuring the other. German police went in force back to the grocery store basement and uncovered 400 grams of plastic Semtex explosive and a detonator wired to a barometer.13

So that explained four of the five bombs, but what of the fifth?

Flashback to October of 1988, while the West German police were watching Dalkamouni's apartment at 16 Isarstrasse. On October 14th, a man named Martin Imandi visited and parked a car with a Swedish license plate outside Dalkamouni's apartment. Imandi and two others were then seen carrying packages and suitcases in and out of Dalkamouni's apartment. The three men returned to Sweden where they and a fourth person by the name of Mohammed Abu Talb had their headquarters in Stockholm. Abu Talb, whose nom de guerre was Intiqam, roughly translated as "man who takes revenge," was a seasoned fighter. He had served in the Egyptian army, had undergone multiple training programs in the Soviet Union, and had served with the PLO in Lebanon. arrested soon after by the Swedish police.

Soon after returning to Stockholm, the West German police tipped off the Swedish police about the danger the four men posed, but by the time of their arrest, Abu Talb and the rest of the Swedish group had hidden any incriminating evidence and were soon released from police custody for lack of evidence. A Swedish police investigation in 1989 would later uncover a plane ticket in Abu Talb's apartment that showed that after his release in 1988, Abu Talb flew to Malta on November 19th. It was in Malta that he stopped to purchase a jumper, a tweed jacket, and an umbrella at a store called Mary's House.14,15

Unfortunately for Abu Talb his purchases had not gone unnoticed. After the bombing it would be deduced from the unusual brand name of the jumper that it had been purchased at Mary's House. When questioned in April of 1989, the store owner, Tony Gauci, remembered Abu Talb's purchases very clearly as Abu Talb had purchased a tweed jacket that Gauci had been trying to sell for 7 years. Gauci provided to police at the time a perfect description of Abu Talb despite it not being common knowledge that he was a suspect.16 [Emerson, 245] Gauci then repeatedly picked Abu Talb's picture out of a photo lineup (before being coaxed and pressured into picking a man named al-Megrahi as I will discuss more in my next post).17 Abu Talb then returned with the clothes to Sweden on November 26th.

From what can be pieced together the story picks back up in London at Heathrow airport, at 2pm on December 21st, 1988. It was at this time that a baggage handler named John Bedford and two other workers began loading luggage for Pan Am flight 103. The flight was scheduled to take off at 6pm and was destined for New York's JFK airport. Bedford began loading the luggage of transfer passengers upright into a large metallic container. At about a quarter after four as things began to slow he took a tea break. When he came back 30 minutes later his partner, Sulkash Kamboj, informed him that he had put two more suitcases into the container during his absence. Bedford looked into the container and saw two suitcases lying flat, not upright. "In a statement given to the police on 9th January 1989 he was able to describe it--'a brown hard-shell, the kind Samsonite make.'" This statement was made just three weeks after the bombing, at which time there was no indication that a brown Samsonite was the bomb suitcase.18
At 7:02pm, 38 minutes after take off, at an altitude of 31,000 feet, the bomb went off in the Samsonite creating a hole in the plane which caused it to disintegrate. Those on board were sucked out of the plane where they fell to their deaths, some still strapped in their seats. All 259 people aboard were killed, and falling wreckage killed an additional 11 people on the ground in Lockerbie, Scotland.
  • 1. Lockerbie: What Really Happened? Al Jazeera English (AJE), 2014. Web.
  • 2. Emerson, Steven, and Brian Duffy. The Fall of Pan Am 103: Inside the Lockerbie Investigation. New York, NY: Putnam, 1990. Print.
  • 3. Kerr, Morag G. Adequately Explained by Stupidity?: Lockerbie, Luggage and Lies. Print.
  • 4. Fisk, Robert. The Great War for Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East. London: Fourth Estate, 2004. Print.
  • 5. AJE.
  • 6. Emerson, Steven, and Brian Duffy. The Fall of Pan Am 103: Inside the Lockerbie Investigation. New York, NY: Putnam, 1990. Print.
  • 7. Emerson, 130
  • 8. Emerson, 130
  • 9. Emerson, 168-169
  • 10. AJE
  • 11. Wines, Michael. "Portrait of Pan Am Suspect: Affable Exile, Fiery Avenger." The New York Times. The New York Times, 1989.
  • 12. Emerson
  • 13. Emerson, 208
  • 14. Wines, NYT
  • 15. Emerson, 249
  • 16. Emerson, 223
  • 17. Kerr, 241-262 18. Kerr, 89-90


  1. Interesting, though not everything stacks up. Tony Gauci said only that Talb, like Megrahi, resembled the purchaser of the clothes, not that he was the purchaser. Also, Talb had a pronounced limp, which Gauci would surely have noticed.

    It should also be pointed out that it was Bedford who claimed that Kamboj had reported loading the extra bags: Kamboj himself denied having done so. There was in fact only one extra bag, the brown Samsonite. Its neighbour was one of the bags previously loaded, repositioned presumably to keep the Samsonite on the outboard side of the container. For full details , as always, see Morag's book.

  2. All the arguments against Megrahi having been the purchaser of the clothes also apply to Abu Talb. Talb was the same age as Megrahi so too young. I don't know about his general build but he doesn't really seem to fit the description of the burly man with the big chest and large head. The photos I've seen of him suggest that he's quite light-skinned too.

    And then of course there's the limp. In all Gauci's interviews nothing at all was said about a limp. And yet he saw the man walking to a taxi rank.

    I imagine someone with no other connection to the bombing bought the clothes. Someone who could disappear from Malta and never be encountered again by anyone looking into the purchase. I don't think there's a hope in hell of finding out who it was.