Monday, 26 November 2018

Lockerbie bombing: 30 years of grief

[This is the headline over an article published yesterday on the website of the Daily Express. It reads in part:]

Still the worst terrorist atrocity on British soil, 270 passengers, crew and residents of a small Scottish town died when a bomb in a radio/cassette player packed in a Samsonite suitcase exploded in the cargo hold of Pan Am flight 103 nearly 30 years ago.

To mark the anniversary, Channel 5 documentary Lockerbie: The Unheard Voices, tells the story of 12 victims and survivors - and reveals two warnings were ignored. (...)

But could the horror have been avoided if warnings were heeded? A fortnight before the explosion, a caller rang the US Embassy in Finland to say there was a "plot against a Pan American flight to the US sometime in the next two weeks".

This was passed to the US Federal Aviation Administration but was "ultimately dismissed as a hoax".

A second, less widely known warning, came two days before the ill-fated flight. The UK Department of Transport "sent out a letter" warning a "bomb had been placed in a cassette player", according to the documentary. "The warning was based on detailed information sent out by the German intelligence services."

This was never heeded. It is not known how the brown Samsonite case made its way into cargo hold, but "security checks" failed to pick up anything.

It contained the Toshiba radio/ cassette tape player, in which 450g of Semtex and a timer was hidden. [RB: Dr Morag Kerr's researches have established conclusively that bomb suitcase was already in the luggage container AVE4041 at Heathrow before the aircraft supposedly carrying the case that the Libyans had sent as unaccompanied baggage from Malta arrived in London: Adequately Explained by Stupidity? Lockerbie, Luggage and Lies.] (...)

But the ultimate suspect was Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, Libyan Airlines' security chief, who was convicted in 2001 of the bombing.

He died in May 2012, maintaining his innocence. His family are still trying to appeal his conviction.

Last week, a police probe found no evidence of criminality in relation to the handling of the investigation and prosecution in the case. [RB: The Chief Constable of Police Scotland has stated that the report contains material that is relevant to the Megrahi family's current application to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission and to any subsequent appeal against Megrahi's conviction.]

The film states: "For many of the families of the 270 victims there are still many unanswered questions."

The unanswered questions…

1 Will al-Megrahi's family get the chance to appeal on his behalf? The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission is looking at Megrahi's conviction and if it decides there has been a miscarriage of justice, the case will return to the Court of Appeal. Some believe the truth will finally be brought to light.

2 Why was key evidence overlooked at the original Lockerbie trial? A break-in at the Pan Am baggage department at Heathrow airport before the bombing was never disclosed to the judges. And a $2million reward paid to witness Tony Gauci by the US only emerged years after Megrahi's conviction.

3 How can a discrepancy in forensic evidence be explained? A fragment of bomb timer found in a field near Lockerbie was linked to Libya, as Swiss firm Mebo had sold timers to Colonel Gaddafi's regime. It has since emerged the fragment was made of pure tin, not the lead/tin alloy used by Mebo.

4 If Megrahi did not plant the bomb then who did? Some believe Iran paid Palestinian terror group PFLP-GC to carry out the attack after the US Navy accidentally shot down an Iranian airliner in July 1988, killing 290 people.

5 What were the warnings? German police told British authorities a PFLP-GC cell might plant bombs hidden in tape recorders on passenger planes, while a man with an Arabic accent rang the US Embassy in Helsinki on December 5 to say a Pan Am flight from Frankfurt to the US would be blown up.

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