Thursday, 11 November 2021

Outrage over her Lockerbie comment puts Libya's foreign minister on the spot

[This is the headline over an article by Dr Mustafa Fetouri published today on the website of Middle East Monitor (MEMO). It reads in part:]

Libya's much-hailed first female Foreign Minister, Najla Mangoush, has been suspended by the country's Presidential Council. The decision on 6 November concluded that the minister had been "acting unilaterally and without consultation" with the council as required by the political agreement of 9 November 2020 that divided authority between the Council of Ministers and the Presidential Council. The suspension decree also said that Mangoush is to be investigated by two experts who will submit their findings to the council within the next two weeks.

However, the real reason for the suspension and investigation is a comment in her interview with the BBC. The minister said that her government is "open" to the possibility of extraditing a Libyan citizen wanted by the United States in connection with the Lockerbie bombing in 1988. On the 32nd anniversary of the bombing on 21 December last year, the then US Attorney General William Barr accused a former Libyan intelligence officer, Abu Agila Mohammed Masud, of involvement in the atrocity. Despite what Mangoush told the BBC, though, it is unlikely that Masud will be extradited.

Two hundred and seventy people, mostly US citizens, were killed on that fateful night, including 11 people on the ground, when Pan Am Flight 103 blew up over the Scottish town of Lockerbie. A Libyan intelligence officer, Abdel Baset Ali Al-Megrahi, was convicted of the atrocity and sentenced to life imprisonment in a 2001 trial. He was released in 2009 for health reasons — he was suffering from prostate cancer — and died in his Tripoli home in 2012.

Al-Megrahi protested his innocence to the end and his family launched a posthumous appeal to clear his name. The third appeal is now being considered by the UK Supreme Court in London after it was rejected by Scotland's Court of Appeal in January.

His Glasgow-based lawyer, Aamer Anwar, was outraged by Mangoush's comments. In a statement shared with MEMO he wrote, "Shame on you [Najla Mangoush] for broadcasting to the world, the words 'positive outcomes' are coming." When asked about the possibility of extraditing Masud to the US the minster had used that phrase, implying that the issue is being discussed among ministers and a decision to collaborate with the US has already been made.

Anwar went on to question her motives by asking, "What reward are you expecting from the United States, a country that has bombed, humiliated and sanctioned your people?" He accused the minister of breaking Libyan law, which bans the extradition of Libyan citizens to be tried abroad.

Faced with a wave of public outrage, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation denied on 7 November what was attributed to the minister in the BBC interview. It insisted that Mangoush "never mentioned" Masud. It's true that she did not refer to him by name, but the context of the interview clearly refers to him. The BBC released a clip of the interview in which Mangoush answered a question about extraditing Masud to the US and she said: "I don't know but I think we, as a government, are very open in terms of collaboration in this matter."

Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh came out quickly in her support, and said that the Presidential Council does not have the authority to suspend the foreign minister. Citing the political agreement that paved the way for the current government and council to share power, Dbeibeh said that the latter "has limited power" which does not include appointing or suspending ministers.

A top Libyan Supreme Court judge, Ali Al-Zuraiqi, confirmed in a televised interview said it is "illegal to extradite a Libyan citizen" to be tried in another country. He added that such a matter is in any case "for the judiciary in Libya to decide."

Libyan commentators overwhelmingly rejected Mangoush's statement, accusing her of reopening the Lockerbie case which, many say, has long since been closed. Indeed, in 2008 the US and Libya signed what is known as a Claims Settlement Agreement that ended all claims in connection, not only with the Lockerbie bombing, but also many others that involve violence and acts of terror committed before 2006.

Former Foreign Minister Mohamed Sayala was asked about his successor's comments. "The Lockerbie case was completely closed," he pointed out, "[and] its revival opens hell's door" to Libya, particularly, in terms of financial compensation for the victims' families. In the 2008 agreement with the US, Libya agreed to pay a total of $2.7 billion to victims' family in order to "buy the peace", as its then Prime Minister, Shukri Ghanem, described it.

Libya has never accepted responsibility for the Lockerbie tragedy and "mounting evidence" since the 2001 trial has pointed to Al-Megrahi's innocence. Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter was killed on board the doomed flight, is certain that Al-Megrahi is a "victim of a miscarriage of justice." Swire is one of the campaigners pushing for his conviction to be overturned.

Ferial El-Ayeb, a consultant to Al-Megrahi's defence team in Scotland, told MEMO that such comments by Foreign Minister Mangoush are "outrageous and insulting to us in the defence team." She added that Libya is in "a weak situation now" and the kind of comments heard from the minister "will increase US pressure on the country to hand over Masud."

A source in the foreign ministry, speaking anonymously, told MEMO yesterday that Mangoush was in her office despite the Presidential Council's decision. The source added that she is expected to take part in tomorrow's conference on Libya hosted by the French in Paris.

The only certainty, the source concluded, is that the "negative public backlash against [Mangoush] will act as a 'deterrent' to her and other officials to be careful when discussing sensitive issues."

Wednesday, 3 November 2021

Lockerbie, Bushnaq, Iran

[This is the headline over a blog by Dov Ivry that was published yesterday evening on the website of The Times of Israel. It reads as follows:]

The takedown of Pan Am 103 at Lockerbie, Scotland was a catastrophe that the US intelligence community could see coming for half a year and no one took the necessary steps to prevent it.

There were 270 people who died in that crash Dec 21, 1988.

On July 3 1988, during a war between Iran and Iraq, a US warship, the Vincennes, sailing in the war zone, shot down an Iranian passenger plane killing all 290 aboard. It should not have happened. It was an unfortunate mistake.

Khomeini, the Iranian leader, immediately issued Iran’s response, which had the force of a binding religious edict, “an eye for an eye.”

Ali Mohtashemipur, the Iranian interior minister, offered $10 million to arch terrorist Ahmed Jibril, head of the PFLP-GC, to blow up an American passenger plane.

Israel knew Mohtashemipur well. He founded Hezbollah in 1982. One of their first major acts was to level the Israeli military headquarters at Tyre killing 91. Yitzhak Shamir, when he came into office, ordered the Mossad to kill him. They send him a holy book, it exploded and stripped away an arm, but he survived. And here he was again.

From the time the Iranians invited Jibril to a meeting July 8 in Teheran until the end, the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS), a monitoring agency for the US intelligence community, was reporting what the Iranians and Jibril were discussing, the names of the people at their meetings, the complete package, as it happened.

These reports were not released to the public for years, but they demonstrate that anyone who read them was never in the dark. It was like watching a gang preparing a major bank robbery step-by-step.

One example. Rashid Mehmet, a Turkish engineer and Hezbollah member, who worked at the Frankfurt airport in conjunction with two other Turks, attended planning meetings. Those three put the bomb on the plane. The day the plane went down Mehmet flew to Cyprus to make his getaway and was congratulated by the Iranian chargé d’affaires there for having “performed his mission.”

Those Turks were never arrested. James Shaughnessy, lawyer for Pam Am, asked why none of the numerous Turks who worked at Frankfurt airport were investigated. It appears that no one ever read the FBIS reports even after the fact.

The conspirators also announced with the sound of trumpets the day that they decided to act, Dec 15. There was a big pow-wow in Beirut under the cover of a celebration of the Palestinian cause, where they concluded the meeting by saying the “ordained revenge for America” is nigh.

Here were the consequences. Khaled Jaafar, an affluent 20-year-old from Beirut whose father lived in Dearborn, Mich, and he had American citizenship, was tasked with transporting the bomb to the plane. He had been living with a PLPF-GC cell in Dortmund since Nov 8 awaiting the call, but on Dec 14 he booked a flight to Detroit to go home for the holidays.

The next day a Hezbollah operative living in that house with him, Naim Ghannam, got a call from Beirut and he would change Jaafar’s booking to another plane going to Detroit, Pam Am 103. They did it through a travel agent in Dearborn, who also seems to have been a member of Hezbollah.

The FBIS report says that they chose Pan Am 103 after the Iranian embassy in Beirut confirmed that five CIA agents were on that plane. Other sources say they were tipped off by what is described as a “double agent.” He apparently lived in Beirut, his identity was known, and he was never apprehended either.

Jaafar was an experienced world traveller, with never any issues in flying, but in Frankfurt he knew he was about to die. Yasmin Siddique, the woman behind him in line, who would get off the plane at London, could not take her eyes off him. He was having a nervous breakdown right before her eyes.

None of the several people at the Dortmund cell were arrested although the owner of the house was brought to the show trial of the Libyan al-Megrahi, served up as a scapegoat, to testify for what that was worth. The travel agent’s connection to terrorists was exposed by Debbie Schlussel, a nationally known journalist who lives in Michigan. He was never questioned about his role in enabling the Pan Am attack.

The PFLP-GC at that point in time was a large and far-flung organization with bomb makers and activists throughout Europe including Germany, Sweden, and Yugoslavia, as well as the Middle East and Asia, and they were killing Americans in Europe as well as Israelis here. This was the Cold War and those in Yugoslavia especially were given free rein to do whatever they wanted

The PFLP-GC boss in Germany was Dalkamoni. Israel knew him well. Years before he came into the Galilee carrying a bomb to blow up a power plant, it exploded prematurely and took off a leg. He spent 10 years in prison in Israel before released in a prisoner exchange. In October the Mossad notified German intelligence that the PLFP-GC was up to something and they arrested Dalkamoni and 15 others in a roundup called the Autumn Leaves. Dalkamoni was the main planner at that point, but the PLFP-GC did not miss a beat.

The US investigation got off to a rousing start. Within six months Dan Rather was reporting coast-to-coast that the planner for the Pan-Am attack was named Dalkamoni and the plane was brought down by the PLFP-GC.

What happened? Tom Thurman happened. He was a fraudster posing as an explosives expert in the FBI. He would be banned by an inspector-general in 1997 from giving expert testimony having being found to have no scientific background, just made stuff up. But in 1990 he went into attorney-general Bill Barr’s office and fingered Libyans. For the next 30 years the investigation turned into a reprise of the Keystone Kops running hither and yon nabbing Libyans, who had nothing to do with anything.

Here’s what actually happened. Jibril turned over the implementation to his nephew Basel Bushnaq, 25, head of his military. That position Jibril liked to keep in the family. In 2002 his son Jihad was head of his military and Israel assassinated him.

The Syrian-born Bushnaq was also an American citizen, expert in both airport security and bomb making. Both the CIA and the PLO, which also did an investigation — anything to embarrass their bitter rival — named Bushnaq as the bomb maker. He purchased the detonator on the Beirut black market for $60,000.

He went by the name of Abu Elias. The CIA went looking for him under than name and could not find him. Bushnaq is an ethnic Bosnian. The word “Bushnaq” means Bosnian.

The FBI and Scotland Yard interrogated him under his American name Basel Bushnaq. They asked for him for his Syrian passport. He said he had misplaced it. You would too if the name there was Abu Elias or perhaps Khaisar Haddad, another moniker he sometimes used.

We know that Abu Elias is Basel Bushnaq because five former associates of Jibril told that to the defence team of the Libyan scapegoat al-Megrahi in 2000.

Here is the situation today. Bushnaq murdered 190 Americans. That’s the record for an American killing Americans exceeding Timothy McVeigh’s 168. He is still walking free.

It will take a call to arms to get this guy under lock and key. But it’s not too late.

I’ve got a book out on this called Lockerbie, Bushnaq, Iran. The digital is at Kindle. The paperback is at Sweek.

Saturday, 23 October 2021

‘I had most to gain and nothing to lose about the whole truth coming out’

[What follows is the third and final extract from chapter 15 of The Colonel and I: My Life with Gaddafi by Daad Sharab. Articles about this book can be found in The National here and here. The previous extracts on this blog can be read here and here.]

Daad Sharab with Abdelbaset al-Megrahi in Barlinnie

As he was released, al-Megrahi said he bore the people of Scotland no ill will, and thanked the prison staff at Barlinnie and Greenock for their kindness. He received a hero’s welcome back in Tripoli. [RB: Saif al-Islam Gaddafi in an article in The New York Times denied that there had been a hero's welcome.] I was in Jordan at the time but watched on television, noticing that al-Megrahi flew home on the same jet I’d helped Gaddafi buy from Prince al-Waleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia. Also on board was the Colonel’s son, Saif, in his white robes and holding al-Megrahi’s arm aloft as he stepped on to Libyan soil.

Saif was basking in the glory of the triumphant homecoming, although in reality I knew he’d barely been involved. I was seething inside as I watched him steal all the credit, while the real hard workers were nowhere to be seen. Saif regularly went to London, but he never once bothered to hop on a domestic flight to Glasgow to visit al-Megrahi in prison at either Barlinnie or Greenock. The jubilant scenes didn’t go down well in the West, which had requested a restrained welcome, but this was too good an opportunity to pass up. It was rare that Libya got the upper hand against America.

However, when he came home I hardly recognised al-Megrahi who was walking with a stick and had to be helped down the steps of the aircraft. He looked nothing like the healthy man I’d last visited a few years earlier. It was said at the time of his release that he would die within three months. In fact he lingered on for another three years, even outliving Gaddafi which no one could have envisaged at the time. I found the outcry from the West over al-Megrahi’s failure to die sooner distasteful. I always felt very sorry for him and never doubted his innocence. What reason did he have to lie to me, an agent of the regime?

In a moment of desperation, he once told me in prison: ‘They would be very happy for me to die here.’ There is a suspicion in my mind that al-Megrahi did not receive very good medical attention in prison, because prostate cancer usually responds well to treatment if it is caught early. He died at his villa in the suburbs of Tripoli, in May 2012, aged 60. I hope he found peace and was able to enjoy precious time with his family. In my eyes al-Megrahi was the 271st Lockerbie victim.

By then the final compensation cheques had been paid to the families, much to the dismay of Gaddafi. Although he appreciated the importance of keeping up the instalments, he often railed against the unfairness and how the handing over of compensation would be interpreted. ‘Why should I do this when Libya is innocent?’ he asked many times. 

For those working behind the scenes it was a constant battle to persuade the Colonel to take a pragmatic approach. Finally Abdul Ati al-Obeidi, one of his key advisors on Lockerbie, spelled this out in very direct terms. At one of our regular Lockerbie briefing meetings with Gaddafi, he told the leader: ‘Look, we don’t want to see you suffer the same fate as Saddam Hussein. If the cost is money, then we have a lot of money. Let’s just pay them, get rid of this issue, open up our country and keep it stable. America can do anything it wants. Do you want us to end up watching you on TV like Saddam Hussein?’

It was a very blunt reference to Saddam’s capture and humiliation by US forces, which had so rattled Gaddafi. For all his bluster he knew that America and its allies could topple him at the drop of a hat. The bombing of his compound in 1986 by the Americans was a constant reminder of the West’s power. After al-Obeidi’s intervention the Colonel didn’t make such a fuss about the blood money.

The burning question remains: if al-Megrahi was innocent, as I firmly believe, then who brought down the Pan Am flight?

At the time of the Lockerbie bombing there were loose alliances between various states and organisations. They were generally opposed to the ideals of the West, and pooled resources. Bombing an aircraft is no easy matter, so if one country didn’t have the expertise to carry out an attack it simply funded a group that did. I don’t carry a smoking gun but al-Megrahi, who knew the case inside out and had access to Libya’s files on Lockerbie, was convinced that it was a joint enterprise between Iran, Syria and The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine [-General Command]. The shooting down of the Iranian passenger jet by the American warship Vincennes, six months before Lockerbie, was too much of a coincidence. It was the crucial link, but by the time the evidence began to stack up no one wanted to point the finger at Iran or Syria, who had helped Western coalition forces in the first Gulf War. My time on the fringes of international diplomacy taught me that politicians are like shifting sands in the desert.

Sadly I never got the opportunity to see al-Megrahi following his release but I know he intended to present fresh evidence at his appeal, insisting he had nothing to fear or hide. ‘I had most to gain and nothing to lose about the whole truth coming out,’ he said.

I am sure the British intelligence services know the truth about Lockerbie, but it has been covered up. Al-Megrahi’s early death was convenient, although his family did eventually get a posthumous appeal. It came as no surprise to me that it was rejected, or that al-Megrahi’s family have called on the British government to release secret files which implicate Iran. Justice has not been done and, for political reasons, I fear we may never learn the truth.

In another recent development the US has named and charged another so-called suspect, Abu Agila Mohammad Masud. I don’t claim to know every member of the Libyan intelligence services but I can tell you I never encountered him during my many years in Libya, or heard his name mentioned by Gaddafi. Why did the Americans choose to make this announcement on the 32nd anniversary of Lockerbie? In my opinion it is nothing more than another crass political stunt.

Thursday, 21 October 2021

A matter of sorrow, disappointment and anger

[What follows is a further extract from chapter 15 of The Colonel and I: My Life with Gaddafi by Daad Sharab. Articles about this book can be found in The National here and here. The previous extract on this blog can be read here.]

In 2005, al-Megrahi was transferred to the more relaxed surroundings of Greenock prison, where he served the rest of his sentence. I wasn’t surprised to find that he was depressed. In the early days of his captivity his family relocated to Scotland to be near him, but they encountered hostility from locals and soon moved back to Libya. The separation from his loved ones had clearly affected his mental health and he was not sleeping well. Al-Megrahi, who had five children, was most upset about missing the wedding of his only daughter. He told me that she’d come to Scotland with the marriage papers, for him to sign according to Arab custom. He’d cried for a week after her visit, he told me, adding: ‘Every day I spend here my children are growing up. My daughter was a child when I left Libya and now she is a woman. Please remind President Gaddafi.’

We spoke about al-Megrahi’s journey from Malta, where he worked for Libyan Arab Airlines, to the special court at Camp Zeist in The Netherlands where he was convicted in 2001. He was alleged to have used his position to evade lax security and smuggle the bomb into a suitcase on a flight which connected with Pan Am 103. At the prison I was interested to learn that he’d never met Gaddafi face-to-face and all his dealings, prior to being handed over for trial, had been with Abdullah Senussi in the intelligence office.

Al-Megrahi told me: ‘Senussi came to see me and said to me: “There is an agreement with the West to send you for trial, which the leader says you are free to accept or reject. No one will force you to go and you will be protected by us.”’

He gave himself up for his country but at the time he was sure he would not spend long behind bars, and this was eating away at him. He did not believe he’d received the fair trial that had been promised.

From what I observed, al-Megrahi was well treated and, in return, was a model prisoner. He was able to cook his own Halal food and sometimes used the prison gym, although he devoted most of his spare time to reading and researching his case. Satellite television was installed in his cell so that he could watch Arab stations, delighting other inmates who also had access to a host of new channels. Rather predictably, his unit became known as ‘the Gaddafi café’.

I was allowed to take a camera into my meeting with al-Megrahi at Barlinnie. Returning to Libya to present my report, I first showed Gaddafi photographs of myself with the prisoner. Until I explained his identity, the Colonel seemed to show no recognition of the man at my side. For anyone who still believes Gaddafi personally instructed the Lockerbie bomber, interpret that how you will.

I told Gaddafi of his countryman’s dismay about the passing years and apparent inaction by the Libyan government. He replied: ‘Meet him again. Tell him that I received his message and I will find a solution. Tell him that I promise he will be home soon.’ From that moment, the Colonel did everything possible to keep his case in the spotlight, also funding lawyers for his appeal and paying for investigators to gather new evidence.

When I next visited al-Megrahi, he was a frightened man. He’d become convinced there was a plot to assassinate him, by deliberately leaving the doors to his secure unit unlocked. ‘The other prisoners hate me,’ he told me. If what he was saying was true I knew he had good reason to be terrified, because the Lockerbie bomber was a prize scalp. I promised to pass on his concerns and, to the best of my knowledge he never suffered any harm in either prison.

In Libya he was regarded as a martyr. The Colonel’s wife, Safia, took Al-Megrahi’s wife, Aisha, under her wing. She was treated like a VIP, often appearing at functions and on Libyan television.

I liked al-Megrahi and we kept in touch. He had my mobile telephone number and occasionally I’d receive calls. We’d speak for a few minutes about the case and we exchanged letters. I used to urge him to keep his spirits up, and reassure him that he was always in Gaddafi’s thoughts.

Al-Megrahi was ultimately granted a second appeal, which I’m convinced would have cleared his name. The already weak case against him was gradually being dismantled, as it emerged key witnesses had been paid millions of dollars to testify. Tony Gauci, the Maltese shopkeeper who picked out al-Megrahi as the man who bought the clothes which were found in the suitcase containing the bomb, was discredited. There was doubt he was even in Malta at the time, which would have blown the entire case out of the water.

Few people who have studied the evidence in any depth truly believed al-Megrahi was the bomber, or that Libya was behind the attack. Had the appeal gone ahead it would have been very embarrassing for the West and there was a good chance al-Megrahi would have ended up receiving compensation for wrongful imprisonment. There was also talk in Libya of suing Britain for the economic damage caused by the years of sanctions against Libya. Can you imagine that?

I was shocked when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2008. He was released by the Scottish government on compassionate grounds on 20 August 2009, when he was said to be terminally ill. Six days earlier he withdrew his appeal, explaining: ‘I have been faced with an appalling choice: to risk dying in prison in the hope that my name is cleared posthumously or to return home still carrying the weight of the guilty verdict, which will never now be lifted. The choice which I made is a matter of sorrow, disappointment and anger, which I fear I will never overcome.’ It was just one more political deal over Lockerbie and his early release, after eight and a half years in prison, brought condemnation from the US. ‘We think it is a mistake,’ said President Barack Obama.

Many of the relatives of the Lockerbie victims were also angry but the decision was welcomed by Jim Swire, the doctor whose daughter was among the dead. As usual he gave a measured response, stating: ‘I feel despondent that Scotland and the West didn’t have the guts to allow this man’s second appeal to continue because I am convinced that had they done so it would have overturned the verdict against him.’

A survey in The Times revealed that 45 per cent of British people believed his release had more to do with oil. I don’t disagree. I’d urge anyone who is interested in the case to look at Dr Swire’s website,

[to be continued]

Tuesday, 19 October 2021

Unfairly convicted on a false accusation

[This is the first of a number of extracts from chapter 15 of The Colonel and I: My Life with Gaddafi by Daad Sharab that I shall be posting on this blog. Articles about her book can be found in The National here and here.]

A prison guard ushers me into a small room, containing only a table and a couple of chairs. Already seated is a bespectacled man, in his early fifties and with grey flecks in his brown hair, who is wearing a baggy tracksuit. Before him there’s a large file of documents and as I enter he stands to shake my hand. His grip is gentle and he appears a little nervous. When he speaks it’s almost in a whisper, although we are not being overheard.

During my time working for Gaddafi, the Lockerbie bombing and its aftermath provided a constant backdrop. It was the single issue that most occupied the Colonel’s mind and in 2003 I was summoned to the leader’s office, to be told he was sending me to Scotland to meet Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi. As far as most people were concerned this man had the blood of 270 innocent people on his hands. Outside Libya he was better known simply as the Lockerbie bomber.

Al-Megrahi spent the first three years of his sentence at Barlinnie, a high security prison in Glasgow, where he was incarcerated in a purpose-built unit. Other than family members and lawyers, Nelson Mandela was one of his few visitors. Barlinnie has the reputation as ‘Scotland’s toughest jail’ and is also the country’s largest, holding more than 1,000 inmates.

The Libyan government had a small office in Glasgow, solely to support Al-Megrahi, and one of the five staff greeted me at the city’s airport. Next day we drove the short distance from my city centre hotel to Barlinnie, where memories of my previous prison visits came flooding back as I passed through security.

The prisoner was expecting me and had been briefed that I was representing Gaddafi directly. Al-Megrahi resembled a mild-mannered accountant but, if the Scottish justice system is to be trusted, he still remains the biggest mass killer in British history. He didn’t look like a murderer, but how do you tell? Of course, Libya always had a very different view and regarded him as a sacrificial lamb. The West needed a figure to blame and to be able to claim justice had been done; Gaddafi needed to find a way out of the mess of sanctions. Everyone benefited except Al-Megrahi and his family. He already had one failed appeal behind him, but when we first met was working on another. In the West there was growing unease about the safety of his conviction, and the expectation in Libya was that he would soon be coming home. Britain wanted rid of him but, unusually, was in disagreement with the US which was taking a much harder line.

My brief was simple: to check-up on Al-Megrahi and offer reassurance that he had not been forgotten. He was pleased with the new trainers and two tracksuits that I brought, and over the next two hours we spoke openly about his case and prospects for release. Al-Megrahi told me that he had not been coerced by Gaddafi to hand himself in for trial, but I couldn’t help wondering: how could he have refused? The pressure must have been unbearable because Libya’s future relations with the US and Britain, not to mention the entire issue of sanctions, were hanging on finding a solution to the Lockerbie problem.

It took years to find a compromise, which entailed handing over Al-Megrahi and another suspect for trial at a neutral venue, and agreeing to pay $2.7 billion compensation to the families of the 270 victims. The final piece of the jigsaw was a carefully worded statement. In it Libya ‘accepted responsibility for the actions of its officials’ but did not admit guilt for bringing down Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988. It was often wrongly interpreted as a full admission, but anyone reading the words closely could see that was not the case. It was a fudge and, in my view, represented diplomacy at its most cynical. Libya bought peace with the West, which framed an innocent man.

When the Lockerbie verdict came through in January 2001, delivered by three Scottish judges, I was in Tripoli. The second suspect, Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah, was acquitted and I remember Gaddafi telling me: ‘It’s what I expected. They could not lose face by releasing both men.’

The Colonel was determined to secure Al-Megrahi’s early release but, speaking to the prisoner, it was clear that he felt let down by his country. Al-Megrahi urged me to use my connections with the royal family of Jordan, handing me a letter addressed to King Abdullah in which he protested his innocence and pleaded to be transferred to a prison in any Arab territory until his innocence was proved. Here is an excerpt:

‘Your Majesty, I am an Arabic Libyan citizen who was unfairly convicted in the case of what is called Lockerbie on a false accusation based on the allegation that I was the suspect who bought the clothes from a storekeeper in Malta that were found in the remains of the suitcase bomb that was the cause for the plane crash over Lockerbie, and that I was [present] in Malta and that my colleague the second suspect who was acquitted by the court is the one who put the suitcase on the flight from Malta.

‘Your Majesty, I am a rational Muslim; I am not an extremist at all. I have a family and children who I do love more than any other thing. I swear to Allah the One, the Almighty, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful, the Holy, the Bestower, the Alive, The Lord of Majesty and Bounty, I swear with all the beautiful tributes of Allah that I have never in my life bought any clothes from any store in Malta. I have never seen the clothes, nor the storekeeper in my life except during the trial when the witness presented his deposition. I have never dealt in my life with a suitcase that contains an [explosive device] at any airport in the world. My presence at Malta, if it were really the beginning of this crime, as claimed by the allegation, was merely to get some necessities.

‘Your Majesty, I beg you on behalf of my family and my children to raise my problem with those concerned in the United Kingdom and the United States of America to be transported to a prison in my homeland, or in your country or in any other Arabic country (as I consider any Arabic country as my own homeland) until the time when Allah Almighty will show my innocence to the entire world.

‘Your Majesty, I conclude my letter with this verse: By the name of Allah, the Merciful our Lord! Rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from thee one who will protect, and raise for us one who will help.’

[to be continued]

Sunday, 17 October 2021

Former Gaddafi aide 'never doubted that Megrahi was innocent’

[What follows is taken from a report by Greg Russell in today's edition of The National:] 

A Jordanian business-woman who was Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s chief troubleshooter and fixer for more than 20 years has said she never doubted that Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was innocent. 

Daad Sharab visited the only man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing several times during his time in prison. 

Sharab has told how the Libyan leader appeared not to recognise al-Megrahi when she showed him a picture of the two of them taken when she visited him in Glasgow’s Barlinnie prison. 

However, she said that when she told Gaddafi of his countryman’s dismay about the passing years and apparent inaction by the Libyan government, he told her: “Meet him again. Tell him that I received his message and I will find a solution. Tell him that I promise he will be home soon.” 

From that moment, Sharab said he did everything possible to keep the spotlight on the case, funding lawyers for his appeal and paying for investigators to gather new evidence. 

Her narrative comes in an autobiography, The Colonel and I: My Life with Gaddafi, due to be published next week – 10 years after Gaddafi was killed in his home city of Sirte during the Arab Spring uprisings – and to which The Sunday National has had access. 

Professor Robert Black QC, the architect of the Camp Zeist trial in the Netherlands, where al-Megrahi was convicted and his co-accused Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah cleared, told this newspaper it strengthened his belief that al-Megrahi was wrongly convicted. 

He said: “What Daad Sharab says completely matches the views that I formed through my many meetings with Libyan government officials, including Gaddafi himself, my meetings over many years with the Libyan and Scottish lawyers representing al-Megrahi, and in the course of my one meeting (in HMP Greenock) with al-Megrahi himself. 

“It reinforces my view that al-Megrahi was not only wrongly convicted but had no involvement at all in the Lockerbie bombing. 

“It remains a disgrace that the Scottish criminal justice system has failed to rectify this clear injustice.” 

Sharab said the Lockerbie bombing was the single issue that most occupied Gaddafi’s mind and, in 2003, she was sent to Scotland to meet Megrahi. 

She said he had been supported by a small Libyan government office in Glasgow, and when she arrived one of the staff took her to Barlinnie, where a prison guard ushered her into a small room, where “a bespectacled man, in his early 50s with grey flecks in his brown hair and wearing a baggy tracksuit” was sitting in one of the room’s two chairs. 

“Before him there’s a large file of documents and as I enter he stands to shake my hand,” she said. “His grip is gentle and he appears a little nervous. When he speaks it’s almost in a whisper, although we are not being overheard.” 

She said Libya had always regarded him as a sacrificial lamb, with the West needing someone to blame to be able to claim justice had been done and Gaddafi seeking a way out of the mess of sanctions. This benefited everyone except for al-Megrahi and his family. 

“In the West there was growing unease about the safety of his conviction, and the expectation in Libya was that he would soon be coming home,” said Sharab. 

“Britain wanted rid of him but, unusually, was in disagreement with the US which was taking a much harder line.” 

Al-Megrahi said he had not been coerced by Gaddafi to hand himself in for trial, said Sharab, but she said the pressure must have been unbearable because solving the Lockerbie problem was key to Libya’s future relations with the US and Britain, as well as securing the removal of sanctions against the country. 

The compromise entailed handing over the two accused for trial at a neutral venue, agreeing that Libya paid $2.7 billion (£1.9bn) in compensation and a “carefully worded statement” in which she said: “Libya ‘accepted responsibility for the actions of its officials’ but did not admit guilt for bringing down Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988. 

“It was often wrongly interpreted as a full admission, but anyone reading the words closely could see that was not the case. It was a fudge and, in my view, represented diplomacy at its most cynical. 

“Libya bought peace with the West, which framed an innocent man.” 

Sharab said that when the January 2001 verdict was delivered by three Scottish judges, she was in Tripoli, where Gaddafi told her: “It’s what I expected. They could not lose face by releasing both men.” 

Al-Megrahi felt let down by his country, she said, and urged her to use her connections with the royal family of Jordan. He gave her a letter to King Abdullah, protesting his innocence and pleading to be transferred to a prison in any Arab territory until he was proved innocent. 

In 2005, Megrahi was transferred to Greenock prison where he served the rest of his sentence while battling depression and then prostate cancer, before being released on compassionate grounds by then Scottish justice secretary Kenny MacAskill, who told The Sunday National

“It confirms the international nature of the tragedy and the role that oil played in UK/USA attitudes. 

“I agree that Megrahi wasn’t the bomber but he had a role in the action perpetrated by Libya.” 

The pressure group Justice for Megrahi (JFM) said there was nothing Sharab had written that contradicted their position over the years, and her first-hand account of the stance of Gaddafi and Abdullah Senussi, Libya’s intelligence chief, lent weight to their position. 

JFM said: “On many levels The Colonel and I provides us with a fascinating and plausible insider’s insight into the culture and philosophy of the Gaddafi regime and reveals how the dictator was wooed by the oil hungry British and American leaders like Tony Blair and George Bush. 

“Sadly, after 33 years, Scotland’s Court of Appeal appears more interested in obscure points of law than in removing this indelible stain on the Scottish justice system.” 

For Sharab, and others, one burning question remains – if al-Megrahi was innocent, who brought down Pan Am flight 103? 

“At the time of the Lockerbie bombing there were loose alliances between various states and organisations,” she said. 

“They were generally opposed to the ideals of the West, and pooled resources … I don’t carry a smoking gun but al-Megrahi, who knew the case inside out and had access to Libya’s files on Lockerbie, was convinced that it was a joint enterprise between Iran, Syria and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

The shooting down of the Iranian passenger jet by the American warship Vincennes, six months before Lockerbie, was too much of a coincidence. 

“It was the crucial link, but by the time the evidence began to stack up no one wanted to point the finger at Iran or Syria, who had helped Western coalition forces in the first Gulf War … Sadly I never got the opportunity to see al-Megrahi following his release but I know he intended to present fresh evidence at his appeal, insisting he had nothing to fear or hide. 

“He said: ‘I had most to gain and nothing to lose about the whole truth coming out’.” 

[A more general article by Greg Russell on the book also appears in today's edition of The National under the headline Colonel Muammar Gaddafi memoir author: ‘Judge him for yourself’.]

Tuesday, 14 September 2021

"Is this a case of deflected culpability for US military attacks?"

[What follows is excerpted from an article headlined Victoria Cummock on the Lessons of the Pan Am 103 Litigation published yesterday on the website of Corporate Crime Reporter:]

It was December 21, 1988 and Victoria Cummock was in Miami awaiting the return of her husband John Cummock from London for Christmas. (...)

Victoria Cummock was the mother of three young children, aged three, four and six.

Her husband never made it home.

Pan Am 103 was blown out of the sky over Lockerbie, killing all 259 people on board. A bomb was put on the plane before takeoff and detonated over Lockerbie.

John Cummock was at the front of the plane in seat 3A.

Victoria knew her husband was on the plane when she saw the iconic photograph of the crashed nose cone of the plane lying in a field in Lockerbie. 

In front of the plane on the ground, Victoria could see John’s attache case. She had given it to her husband as a gift.

For thirty-three years, Victoria Cummock has been seeking justice for her husband and for her family.

She is the founder and CEO of the Pan Am 103-Lockerbie Legacy Foundation.

“On December 21, 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 was blown out of the sky,” Cummock recalled to Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview last month. “It was a flight from London to New York that blew up over Lockerbie, Scotland. It scattered the contents of the plane and the people in the plane over 845 square miles. Eleven people on the ground in Lockerbie, Scotland were killed when two residential neighborhoods were set ablaze.”

“This attack against America created the largest recorded crime scene and remains the oldest cold case of mass murder in US and UK history.”

“Terrorists have targeted the United States for decades. And threats still remain a constant today. The response by our government to this attack has impeded due process, justice and accountability for those who perpetrated this act.”

“Tragically, the US government has never led the investigation or prosecuted anyone regarding this case. The US government abdicated the lead role of the investigation and prosecution to the Scottish police, which happened to be the smallest police force in the UK as well as the least funded.”

“There was a criminal trial in 2003 at the International Court at the Hague, under Scottish law. That was in 2003.” [RB: The trial ran from 3 May 2000 to 31 January 2001 and was held in a Scottish court sitting at Camp Zeist near Utrecht.]

“I have always wondered, with America’s vast reach, power and might, why that wasn’t utilized to pursue justice and accountability for the murder of American citizens aboard Pan Am 103.”

“Aside from issuing criminal indictments in 1991 and criminal charges in 2020, the US has never pursued, arrested or prosecuted any suspect.”

“The family members wonder why the US quietly abdicated the lead role to Scotland, not even to the UK, and handed over full authority to Police Scotland, which had the smallest staff and least funded police force in mainland Britain, to lead an investigation and prosecution of international scope into multiple state terror sponsors and dozens of inter-continental suspects.” [RB: Police Scotland was formed on 1 April 2013. The Lockerbie investigation was conducted by Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary.]

“Knowing the limitations of Scottish law, the differences between Scottish and American law in terms of admissibility of evidence as well as witnesses, and the fact that the terrorists did not attack Lockerbie, we have always wondered why allow Scotland to ultimately decide who, how and when to criminally prosecute the mass murderer of Americans.” 

“To date, only one Libyan suspect – al-Megrahi – was convicted and then released after eight years on compassionate grounds.” 

“There is still an ongoing posthumous appeal to this conviction. No one believes that if al-Megrahi did have a hand in this, that he could have acted alone to perpetrate an attack of this magnitude. But after decades of US pragmatic foreign policy, the true perpetrators of this attack will probably never be known. Informants and witnesses die, memories fade, and evidence deteriorates or disappears.” 

“We wonder if the real culprit for all terrorism is capitalism and the corruption and violence it fosters? Is political expediency for commerce, or business as usual, the only brand of American justice? Is this a case of deflected culpability for US military attacks such as the July 3, 1988 USS Vincennes warship missile shooting down of Iran Air flight 655, which killed 290 civilians in Iranian airspace?” 

Friday, 10 September 2021

Tony Blair, the deal in the desert and terrorism

[What follows is excerpted from an article by Aneela Shahzad headlined Tony Blair’s crimes that appears today on the website of Pakistan's The Express Tribune newspaper:]

Since US Forces started their final evacuation from Afghanistan, Britain’s ex-PM Tony Blair has been more distraught than anyone. Calling the withdrawal “tragic, dangerous, unnecessary” and “in a manner that seems almost designed to parade our humiliation”, Blair reminded a retreating West that “Islamism… is a first-order security threat”, and this time the radical Islamist will be using ‘bio-terrorism’.

Mr Blair is being hailed by some as a possible replacement of Boris Johnson in the next elections, but Blair’s recent statements on Afghan withdrawal are surely more than just an election stunt, as they come from a man who has been instrumental in seeding wars around the Islamic world, like in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya. (...)

Going back to 2004, three years after the US invasion of Afghanistan and one year after the invasion of Iraq, Blair connived with Barack Obama to intervene in Libya; and suddenly after decades of suspended diplomacy between the US/UK and Libya, it was decided that Blair would visit Libya to make the infamous ‘deal in the desert’, wherein in exchange for an oil deal with BP and cooperation on the War on Terror, the UK would return Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi to Libya and moreover all Libyan dissidents from Europe would be returned to Libya. In making this deal Blair laid the seeds of replanting UK-nurtured LIFG [RB: Libyan Islamic Fighting Group] into Libya, which would eventually become the rebel force that would topple Libyan cities on ground as Nato airpower would pound them from the skies.

This LIFG was composed of al-Qaeda members who had returned from the Afghan front after the end of the Russo-Afghan War, and had been given asylums in the UK. Meaning that Blair was the person responsible for the lodging and funding of these ‘Islamist’ ‘terrorists’ on Britain’s soil and their export into Libya!

Wednesday, 11 August 2021

The Forensic Explosives Laboratory and the Lockerbie case

The UK Government has today published an encomium on the Forensic Explosives Laboratory (FEL), now part of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), but between 1986 and 2020 part of the Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment (RARDE).  Anyone familiar with the forensic scientific evidence provided by FEL in the Lockerbie case may be forgiven for regarding today's tribute with a distinct measure of scepticism.

Material relating to FEL's involvement in the Lockerbie investigation can be found in this blog's items relating to Dr Thomas Hayes and Allen Feraday.

Wednesday, 4 August 2021

MST-13 timer designer Ulrich Lumpert dies in Zürich

Edwin Bollier has announced on Facebook that Ulrich Lumpert died in Zürich this morning. Lumpert was the engineer employed by MEBO who designed the MST-13 timer that was allegedly used in the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie. 

On 29 August 2007 an item was published on this blog that contained the following:

"Ulrich Lumpert, an engineer at one time employed by MEBO in Zurich, gave evidence at the Lockerbie trial that a fragment of circuit board allegedly found amongst the aircraft debris (and which was absolutely crucial to the prosecution contention that the bomb which destroyed Pan Am 103 was linked to Libya) was part of an operative MST-13 timer manufactured by MEBO. In an affidavit sworn in Switzerland in July 2007 [available here] Lumpert now states that the fragment produced in court was in fact part of a non-operational demonstration circuit board that he himself had removed from the premises of MEBO and had handed over to a Lockerbie investigator on 22 June 1989 (six months AFTER the destruction of Pan Am 103).

"If this is true, then it totally demolishes the prosecution version of how the aircraft was destroyed, as well, of course, as demonstrating deliberate fabrication of evidence laid before the court."

Further information relating to Ulrich Lumpert and the Lockerbie case can be found here. 

Saturday, 31 July 2021

Many questions remain to be answered

[What follows is the text a letter by Iain McKie published in today's edition of The Herald:]

As an ex-police officer it is always fascinating to see a colleague (Chris Keegan, Letters, July 28), harking back to the good old days", while blithely ignoring the massive political, social, economic, cultural, philosophical and technological changes that have taken place in the intervening years. I certainly agree with Mr Keegan that the reliance on technology to reduce police presence on the ground in communities, while understandable, is regrettable and to my mind is likely to create an even bigger gulf between police and public.

However, he seeks to support his general thesis by pointing out that we have always had major events such as COP26 in Scotland and all were efficiently dealt with. Interestingly, he cites three such events, the 1981 Hampden football “riot’, the Papal visit in 1982 and the 1988 Lockerbie disaster, to support his alienation thesis.

Coincidentally I was involved in all three events and would be the first to agree that the police plan for the Pope’s visit was carried through efficiently and sensitively. However during the Hampden "riot", as the force media officer, I was one of the very few police officers on the pitch creating an extremely thin blue line between the rioting fans while watching, with some trepidation, various projectiles arching over my head. The next few months spent defending the police planning for the event, in the face of a barrage of political and media criticism, are still vivid in my memory.

As Secretary of the Justice for Megrahi group I am only too aware of the Lockerbie tragedy and while being the first to admit the commitment of front line staff at the scene, and during the aftermath, many questions remain to be answered in respect of the police investigation and eventual prosecution of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.

We all reflect on the past in different ways, and of course I respect Mr Keegan’s opinions, but Police Scotland has had to change with the times. When I look at its response to the unprecedented, and at times unfair, operational demands made of it during the current pandemic I believe that, while much has been lost, we still have a police force to be proud of and policing principles worth sharing with the world.


[The following is taken from an item published yesterday on the website of The Bookseller:]

Satirical magazine Private Eye will mark 60 years in October with the release of a celebratory book viewing six decades as they were recorded in its pages.

Private Eye: The 60 Yearbook, by the magazine's journalist Adam Macqueen, will be out on 2nd September 2021—the year which also marks the 35th anniversary of Ian Hislop's tenure as editor.

“From the Beatles to Brexit, JFK to Trump, the moon landings to the Mars landings, it tells the story of the past six decades as they were recorded in the Eye’s pages,” the synopsis reads. “The news stories you remember—and plenty you may have forgotten—are retold in cartoons, covers and the magazine’s legendary spoofs as well as extensive extracts from some of its best-loved features like Mrs Wilson’s Diary, Dear Bill and The Secret Diary of John Major.”

The book also tells the story of the headlines Private Eye made itself, from the earliest stirrings of investigative journalism exposing the Poulson Scandal and Ronan Point, through major miscarriages of justice like the Stephen Lawrence case and the Lockerbie cover-up.