[This is the headline over a report by Greg Russell in today's edition of The National. It reads as follows:]
A leading figure in the Lockerbie trial has said he believes that a social media post from the Iranian president refers to the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in 1988 and Iran’s responsibility for it.
Hassan Rouhani posted a tweet in response to President Donald Trump’s threat to target 52 sites in Iran should it retaliate against the US drone strike that killed top Iranian military figure General Qassem Soleimani on Friday.
Rouhani tweeted: “Those who refer to the number 52 should also remember the number 290. #IR655. Never threaten the Iranian nation.”
The number 290 is a reference to the number of passengers on board Iranian Airways flight IR655 who died when the US Navy accidentally shot down their plane over the Persian Gulf in summer 1988.
Five months later, 270 people died when Pan Am flight 103 crashed in Lockerbie after a bomb exploded on board.
Blame for the attack fell on Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and Libya, although Western intelligence agencies believed Iran had ordered the bombing in retaliation for America’s downing of its plane in July.
Speaking to The National as Iran continued to mourn Soleimani, Robert Black QC, Professor Emeritus of Scots Law in the University of Edinburgh, said: “I think Rouhani’s tweet does refer to Pan Am 103 … The 290 clearly refers to those killed on Iran Air 655 and with ‘Never threaten the Iranian nation’ it seems to me that he’s saying that Iran responded to those Iranian deaths caused by US action.
“The only response that I can think of was the bombing of Pan Am 103 six months later.”
Middle East analyst Fatima Alasrar, from the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, also indicated the link between Rouhani’s tweet and Lockerbie.
She wrote: “Rouhani is basically reminding @realDonaldTrump of the #Iranian Air Flight 655 carrying 290 passengers which was downed by a US navy warship the Vincennes in 1988.
“Though it was deemed a human error, Tehran worked covertly to exact its revenge.
“Boeing 747 airline Pan Am exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988 and was assumed to be an operation conducted by the Libyans when it was #Iran who orchestrated the downing of the plane and paid the Libyans to do it.
“After years of denying, Rouhani just admitted to it!”
Black was born and raised in Lockerbie and has published many articles on the atrocity.
He is often referred to as the architect of the Lockerbie trial at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands.
The QC said other analysts shared Alasrar’s view: “Quite a lot of area experts in addition to Fatima Alasrar are interpreting the tweet as an implied admission (or boast) of responsibility for Lockerbie, for example Kyle Orton [who wrote] ‘The accidental shoot-down of Iran Air Flight 655 in 1988 convinced Khomeini to accept the ceasefire in the Iran-Iraq War. It has long been suspected that the downing of Pan Am Flight 103 in Lockerbie five months later was Iran’s revenge. Rouhani seems to be taking responsibility’.”