Tuesday, 23 February 2016

The PFLP-GC chimera: Part Two

[What follows is Part Two of Kevin Bannon’s article on the chimerical PFLP-GC. Part One can be read here.] 

Steve Emerson et al

In their book The Fall of Pan Am 103 (1990) Steve Emerson and Brian Duffy alluded to a suspicion that the Germans had secretly agreed with Syria to leave Palestinian suspects alone so long as no terrorist actions would be planned in Germany: ‘We will leave you alone if you leave Germans and German targets alone’ [Emerson & Duffy  p124]. The notion of such a diabolical pact between Germany and a terrorist group is absurd and entirely incompatible with both West Germany’s Cold War position and its post-war attitude to terrorism. The Germans had in fact adopted a famously pro-Israeli position in the aftermath of The Holocaust. In this context, The murders of 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team at the 1972 Olympics in Munich by the ‘Black September’ group had been a catastrophe for the Germans just as it had been a disaster for Israel and for the Olympic movement. The suggestion that Germany would again entertain murderous terrorists in their midst on the condition that German citizens would not be amongst their victims is abject nonsense. Emerson & Duffy’s stated source for this theory is ‘Israeli and Western intelligence officials’ [pp124 & 139] which speaks volumes about the integrity and reliability of such sources. An article in The Guardian in April 2012 by veteran foreign journalist Luke Harding and Israel correspondent Harriet Sherwood, observed that ‘German politicians from both left and right have traditionally been supportive of Israel, for obvious historical reasons’ [p27, The Guardian 6 April 2012]. The revelations of Herbstlaub more strongly suggest that the West German government had tolerated the presence of an Israeli ‘sting’ operation in their jurisdiction, out of a sense of obligation. 

According to Emerson, the Camp Zeist proceedings were ‘secured’ by Gaddafi, enabling the accused Libyans to get more ‘preferential treatment’ than they would were they tried in the US. He believed that the trial did not do justice to all the evidence, particularly ‘intelligence that could not satisfy the burden imposed’ by the ‘rules’ of proof and corroboration applicable to a court of law. Clearly a fountain of misconceptions - one could use coarser terms. [Steve Emerson, Terrorism on Trial: the Lockerbie Terrorist Attack and Libya: A retrospective Analysis, Case West Reserve Journal of International Law, Vol.36 no.2-3. 2004, 487-490].

Robert Baer, a former CIA man has made a successful second career out of writing about espionage and international intrigue. His take on the Lockerbie bombing does not contribute to a plausible or logical construct compatible with known facts, which genuine historical material tends to do. It is noteworthy that as a former CIA man, Robert Baer, for ‘security’ (i.e. strategic) reasons, cannot reveal most of the important things he must have knowledge of – hardly a position of strength for a writer of publications purporting to help unravel such mysteries. 

In my own research, I did manage to find some novelties in Mark Perry’s The Last Days of the CIA (1992) – but referred to them only for their effect as ‘comic relief’.

The PFLP-GC and Ahmed Jibril

The moniker ‘PFLP-GC’ represents a cynical attempt to usurp the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) – an official and rational political party with international recognition as such. 

The deadliest atrocity attributed to the PFLP-GC was said to be the in-flight bombing of Swissair Flight 330 en-route to Tel Aviv in February 1970, killing 47 passengers and crew. After the bombing, the PFLP-GC - or callers on its behalf - were reported as having claimed and (separately) denied responsibility for the atrocity, but it was suggested, implausibly, that the denial was only after the outrage the bombing had caused – an outcome which the actual bombers must surely have expected [New York Times, Feb 22, 1970]. The criminal investigation into the plane’s loss by the Swiss Federal Prosecutors Office ‘ceased definitively’ in November 2000 as no perpetrator had been identified. In response to a ‘demand’ for information about the investigations into the loss of Flight SR 330 filed in the Swiss Federal Council chamber in March 2009, the Federal Council’s response was: "There is little hope of bringing the bomber[s] to court because there are not enough clues for their identification and arrest. This was the case in 1970, and the passage of time has further blurred the evidence and reduced the chances of a successful prosecution" [Daniel Huber, “We are crashing - goodbye everybody” (E-paper) 20 Minuten 9 February 2010]. 

The PFLP-GC were retrospectively named or claimed as perpetrators of the Kiryat Shimona massacre of Israeli villagers in 1974, but those terrorists blew themselves up before they could be interrogated. Another attack in Israel using micro-light aircraft in the 1980’s also resulted in the deaths of the perpetrators. These terrorist acts were real enough, but the claim that the PFLP-GC were behind it, was no more than that.

As a matter of historical comparison, the Israelis famously sought out and liquidated most of the ‘Black September’ group responsible for the murders of members of the 1972 Munich Israeli Olympic team. It must be significant that Ahmed Jibril, the PFLP-GC leader, ostensibly responsible for murdering many more Jewish and Israeli non-belligerents, has not only remained at large but has been openly accessible, enjoying a high profile, and giving filmed interviews to news teams (See Francovitch The Maltese Double Cross 1994). In May 1985 the Israelis actively promoted Jibril as go-between in a spectacular deal involving the release of well over 1,150 Palestinian ‘and other’ prisoners in exchange for 3 Israeli soldiers said to have been held by the PFLP-GC – whoever they were. [Ze'ev Schiff, ‘The Prisoner Exchange’ Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol 14, No. 4, (Summer, 1985) University of California Press, pp176-180]. The agreement greatly enhanced Jibril’s prestige and status, confirming him as the ‘Palestinian’ that the Israeli’s could do business with, but if Jibril had been what he claimed to be, the Israeli’s would surely have eliminated him. In that event, the Palestinians would have shed few tears as Ahmed Jibril has been persona non grata in Gaza and the West Bank for decades. Gaza-based Mohammed Suliman writing for the pan-Middle Eastern website Al-Monitor, quoted two Palestinian residents in Syria in December 2012, while the Syrian civil conflict was on-going. One PFLP official, Mariam Abu Dakka criticized Jibril’s faction as unrepresentative. “Everyone knows the true size of PFLP-GC. They are not representative of the Palestinians. Their acts only represent them[selves], and in fact their membership in the Palestine Liberation Organization has been frozen for some time now,” Similarly, Rabah Mhanna, a senior member of the political bureau of the PFLP, affirmed the same position. “Ahmed Jibril does not even belong to the Palestinian Left. He is closer to the extremist right-wing groups than to revolutionary leftist ones” [Mohammed Suliman, Al-Monitor: 27 December 2012]. This explains Israel’s promotion of Jibril, whose principal contribution has been to help associate the Palestinians primarily with indiscriminate mass killings, rather than their pursuit of statehood.

Defence counsel in the Lockerbie trial ventured to present the Frankfurt bomb factory, PFLP-GC and the Goben memorandum as crucial to their case. In fact these diversions played a significant role in making the entire defence case eventually look ridiculous.


  1. That's all very well, but Dalkamoni, Khreesat and others were and are real people, who were really caught with a booby-trapped radio-cassette player in October 1988. The nature of the booby-trap was such that if the radio was sent on a plane journey, it would blow up around 37 minutes into the flight.

    What were they doing and why? What was their intended target? Given that they were all released, can we have any confidence that they didn't simply regroup and continue with the mission?

    Can we think of another plausible reason for an explosion to have happened only 38 minutes after take-off of an ON TIME flight, when it was scheduled to be in the air for about seven hours? Because I can't. If you look at successful attacks on long-haul flights where countdown timers were used, the planes disappeared well into the flight, often not that far from their destination.

    So, never mind what you call them. "PFLP-GC" has become a handy shorthand for "Dalkamoni, Khreesat and the gang" who were active in Dusseldorf only weeks before the Lockerbie disaster, and were clearly planning to do something spookily similar to what happened to Pan Am 103. Debunking the label isn't really all that relevant. These gangs were fluid and unstructured and labels don't really mean a lot. Has this author provided any evidence to counter the suspicion that Dalkamoni et al. carried out the attack? I don't think he has.

  2. As a more general point, when pressed to say who carried out the Lockerbie bombing if it wasn't Megrahi, I decline as a point of principle. Maybe it was Dalkamoni, Khreesat and their friends, aided by the shadowy Abu Elias. Maybe it wasn't. How should I know? Observing that in October 1988 these guys were clearly planning to do something extraordinarily similar to what actually happened in December 1988, and that there was really nothing to prevent them having been responsible, is just that. An observation. It's not an accusation.

    Who actually carried out the Lockerbie bombing? Someone who was backstage at Heathrow terminal 3 at about 4.30 in the afternoon of 21st December 1988, that's who. So, not Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who was demonstrably and verifiably in Tripoli at that time.

    As David Fieldhouse said to me most forcibly on Tuesday morning, this is what everyone should be saying, repeatedly and forcefully, sidestepping all other arguments. Now it has been proved beyond any reasonable doubt that the bomb was in the case Bedford saw, of what relevance is any argument predicated on the bomb having been introduced at Malta?

    The defence case wasn't ridiculous. It was incompetent, and perhaps the notion of the special defence of incrimination wasn't pursued as well as it might have been. But be that as it may, the bomb went on at Heathrow. That's the crime that has to be solved.