Thursday, 5 May 2016

Police followed Palestine link, Lockerbie trial told

[This is the headline over a report in The Guardian on this date in 2000. It reads in part:]

Scottish police investigating the Lockerbie disaster flew to Rome and Germany within days of the bombing to study similar atrocities involving a Palestinian group, the Lockerbie trial in Holland was told today.

Retired detective chief inspector Gordon Ferrie said that the tragedy was treated as a murder inquiry from the day after it happened. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command (PFLP-GC) quickly became the "focus of attention" because of arrests of some of its members in Germany only two months before Pan Am 103 exploded over Lockerbie.

They included a man known as Marwan Kreeshat [or Khreesat] a technical expert who had been jailed for 18 years in his absence for his part in placing a bomb in a record player on an El Al flight from Rome to Tel Aviv in 1972. He had been arrested by the Germans in October 1988, the court was told, but released in December, before the Lockerbie bombing later the same month.

About ten senior officers from the Lockerbie inquiry spent weeks at the German headquarters of the BKA, the German equivalent of the FBI, the court heard.

The two Libyans accused of the bombing, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi and Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, deny charges of murder and conspiracy to murder, and they have lodged special defences in which they incriminate, among others, members of the PFLP-GC.

Under cross-examination Mr Ferrie confirmed he had been sent to Rome twice to study the El Al incident, in which two British women had been befriended by three men - including Marwan Kreeshat - and persuaded to take a record player on board the plane. They did not know it contained a bomb.

El Al security measures ensured the record player went into the bomb-proof luggage hold, instead of in the passenger cabin. Fortunately, although the device exploded at about 13,000ft and blew a hole in the passenger floor, the plane landed back at Rome safely.

Mr Ferrie brought back to Lockerbie some of the Italian evidence in the case, including part of an altimeter which had been used in the bomb's trigger. Questioned by Richard Keen QC, representing Fhimah, Mr Ferrie confirmed that in Rome he had discovered that Kreeshat had been involved in other incidents "using improvised explosive devices", including the bombing of a plane using a Toshiba radio cassette recorder modified to act as a bomb.

The Lockerbie trial indictment accuses Megrahi and Fhimah of placing an "improvised explosive device" concealed inside a Toshiba radio cassette recorder on board an Air Malta flight to Frankfurt labelled for onward connection to New-York bound Pan Am Flight 103 at Heathrow. (...)

Re-examined by Alan Turnbull QC, prosecuting, Mr Ferrie was asked: "There came a stage when the inquiry led officers in a direction other than the PFLP, weren't there?" Mr Ferrie agreed.

However, when he then asked Mr Ferrie what the eventual result of the police inquiry was, defence lawyers objected that it was hearsay evidence, because Mr Ferrie had later been moved to other work.

Questioned by Mr Keen for Fhimah, Mr McLean insisted that, although FBI and CIA agents from America were swiftly on the scene of the disaster, all evidence found was "religiously and meticulously" logged, including items recovered by the CIA.

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