Friday, 11 March 2016

Iran denies new Lockerbie bombing claims

[This is the headline over an Agence France Presse news agency report as published on the Arab Today website on this date in 2014. It reads as follows:]

Iran on Tuesday denied any involvement in the Lockerbie bombing in the face of new allegations it contracted Palestinian militants to carry out the 1988 attack which killed 270 people.

Documents obtained by Al-Jazeera television for a documentary to be broadcast later on Tuesday provided new backing to longstanding allegations that Iran and not slain Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi was behind the downing of the Pan Am airliner over the Scottish town.

"We reject any claims of Iranian involvement in this act of terror," foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham told reporters.

"Iran's stance -- not only on this case but on all terrorist-related issues -- is quite clear: Iran flatly denies (links) to any act of terror."

Former Libyan intelligence officer Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, -- the only person ever convicted over the bombing -- maintained his innocence right up until his death in May 2012.

Al-Jazeera said that new evidence gathered for Megrahi's planned appeal, which was aborted by his release from prison on compassionate grounds in 2012, supported his innocence and implicated a Syrian-based Palestinian militant group.

Campaigners led by Jim Swire, whose daughter was killed in the bombing, have long claimed that Tehran contracted the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command to carry out the bombing in revenge for the shooting down of an Iranian airliner by the USS Vincennes, which killed 290 people in July 1988. The Syria-based PFLP-GC is blacklisted as a terrorist group by both the European Union and the United States.

In the documentary called Lockerbie: What Really Happened? Al-Jazeera cites testimony from alleged former senior Iranian intelligence official, Abolghasem Mesbahi, who defected to Germany in the late 90s. Mesbahi claims Iran contracted the bombing to PFLP-GC leader Ahmed Jibril, and provides names of those he says were involved in the operation.

"Money was given to Jibril upfront in Damascus for initial expense. The mission was to blow up a Pam-Am flight," Mesbahi told Al-Jazeera.

Former CIA agent Robert Baer, who was involved in the Lockerbie investigation, told Al-Jazeera that US intelligence agencies had long been convinced of Iran's involvement. He said the finger of blame was pointed at Kadhafi's Libya because the US government did not want to alienate Syria in the run-up to the 1991 Gulf war.

Kadhafi's regime admitted responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing in 2003 and eventually paid $2.7 billion in compensation to victims' families. But Kadhafi's now jailed son and heir apparent Seif al-Islam has long insisted that the admission was merely a tactical ploy to end the regime's pariah status and mend fences with the West.

[RB: I understand that a further Al-Jazeera documentary on Lockerbie will shortly be ready for broadcast.]

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