Friday 12 July 2024

Lockerbie families fight for trial access

[This is the headline over a report published today on the DnG24 website.  It reads as follows:]

Relatives of the UK Lockerbie victims are being urged to register their interest for access to the US trial next year of alleged bomb maker Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi.

It is due to take place in Washington, from May 12 2025.

And all the ‘living victims’ of the 1988 terrorist attack have until July 31 to contact America’s Department of Justice requesting remote access to the proceedings.

As there were 52 UK victims, it’s expected there will be hundreds of people who qualify.

The Pan Am 103 Lockerbie Legacy Foundation are trying to contact those affected to inform them of their rights and to offer support.

They said: “Our Foundation recently learned that Pan American flight 103 Living Crime Victims are legally defined as: those with the following relationships to someone killed in the attack: aunt, cousin, daughter, fiancé/fiancée, grandparent, niece/nephew, parent, partner, sibling, sibling-in-law, son, spouse, step-parent, step-child, uncle, next-of-kin, guardian.

“If one of these categories applies to you, you are entitled to specific rights, including case investigation and criminal trial information, court access, and restitution. These rights are supposed to be made without regard for your global geographical location.”

The Foundation is battling to ensure everyone affected can view the trial.

Last year they pressed the US Congress to pass legislation that provides individualised, direct, remote trial access to Pan Am 103 family members.

And on January 26 this year, President Biden signed a public law to guarantees such access.

However, Mas’ud’s defence team is arguing that access should be limited to live feeds at US Federal Courthouses, embassies and consulates.

But the Foundation are against this and said: “To view the trial at one of these designated sites, hundreds of us would have to travel great distances, some crossing oceans and continents, at our own expense and endure, more publicly than if we log in through Zoom, a trial that is expected to last months.

“The defence’s position is an outrage and a clear denial of our rights.”

It’s now “a critical moment” and they need to demonstrate to the court the extent of living crime victims globally.

Anyone who believes they are affected is thus asked to enroll in the Department of Justice’s Victim Notification System by email at

The Foundation team added: “Even if you do not plan to view the trial, declaring your interest could help all family members receive direct, virtual trial access.

“We implore you to give voice to your murdered loved ones and bear witness to justice.”

Friday 5 July 2024

Lee Kreindler and Lockerbie

I have just become aware of the recent publication in the United States of The Fight For Justice: Lee Kreindler and Lockerbie by Ruth Kreindler (Lee Kreindler's widow) and Chris Angermann. The book description on Amazon reads:

"This gripping account of the civil litigation regarding the Lockerbie terrorist bombing of Pam Am Flight 103 - the most significant air disaster case of the 20th century - features conspiracies, surprising discoveries, intense negotiations, and riveting courtroom drama. Along the way, it commemorates Lee Kreindler, a deeply passionate attorney who was willing to risk everything to get justice and fair compensation for the victims' families and to make air travel safer for everyone." 

I have not had an opportunity to read the book and I can find no reviews online.

Kreindler and Kreindler, a New York firm of attorneys, represented many of the families of US and other victims of the Lockerbie disaster in litigation against Pan Am and in negotiations for a compensation settlement with Libya after the conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.

Lee Kreindler died in February 2003. His obituary in The Times can be read here, and that in the Los Angeles Times here. A relevant blogpost, referring to an article in The Spectator in 1992, is headed Lies, Libya and Lockerbie and features interesting comments below the line.

Sunday 12 May 2024

Britain rejected secret deal to prosecute Lockerbie bomber in Ireland

[This is the headline over a report published in today's edition of The Sunday Times. It reads in part:]

Officials feared Irish courts were ‘soft on terrorism’ and more likely to acquit Libyan agent Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi, previously classified papers reveal

Britain rejected a secret deal to put the Lockerbie bomber on trial in Dublin amid suggestions that Ireland was “soft on terrorism” and more likely to acquit him, it has emerged.

Previously classified diplomatic documents disclose that Colonel Gaddafi, the Libyan dictator, expressed a willingness to hand over Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi to the Irish authorities.

The US and British governments maintained that al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence agent, was responsible for the bombing in December 1988 which led to the deaths of 270 people when Pan Am flight 103 exploded over Scotland.

Gaddafi refused to hand him and fellow suspect Lamin Khalifa Fhimah to the authorities in Washington or Edinburgh, leading to years of sanctions and negotiations.

Albert Reynolds, the Irish prime minister, met John Major, his British counterpart, in an attempt to broker a deal to end the stalemate.

However, Downing Street ruled the proposal was too risky after a senior diplomat claimed Irish courts were prone to making “inexplicable” decisions and raised fears that any hearing would be targeted by terrorists.

Gaddafi, who ruled Libya from 1969 when he seized power until he was overthrown and murdered in 2011, was outspoken in his support for the IRA. (...)

Previously unpublished documents from 1994, seen by The Sunday Times, have been opened and placed at the National Archives at Kew.

One, written by Sir Roderic Lyne, Major’s private secretary, confirms for the first time that a clandestine Anglo-Irish summit took place.

“During the tete-a-tete conversation between the prime minister and the taoiseach on May 26, the latter surfaced a Libyan proposal to hold the Lockerbie trial in Ireland,” he wrote.

A handwritten addendum states: “Ireland would be preferable to Canada. But given the Provisional IRA connection a trial there would be piquant to say the least!”

The following month John Dew, deputy head of mission at the UK embassy in Dublin, said the proposal posed unacceptable risks and raised particular concerns about the possibility of al-Megrahi being cleared by a sympathetic Irish court.

“This should not be taken lightly,” he wrote. “Irrespective of the independence of the Irish judiciary — and we all know of some strange rulings in the past — an acquittal would have major implications for Anglo-Irish relations.

“Our public opinion would inevitably interpret it as confirmation that Ireland was soft on terrorism.

“Her Majesty’s government would face serious questioning about why it had allowed the trial to take place in Ireland in view of inexplicable and unpredictable past rulings.” (...)

A separate memo written in the same month by UK Foreign Office civil servants said Reynolds’s suggestion should be taken seriously.

“A trial in Ireland would have some distinct attractions; it is a compatible legal system, it is nearby and it is not a realm or even in the Commonwealth,” it said.

“A number of Irish citizens were on board flight Pan Am 103. It seems that trial in Ireland might be acceptable, both to the Irish government and Libya.

“However, in view of the Provisional IRA connection it would be a more controversial venue than, for example, Australia.”

The British government ultimately rejected the Irish offer, along with an invitation from Nelson Mandela months later for a trial to take place in South Africa.

Eventually, the Libyan suspects went on trial in May 2000 in a Scottish court set up in a former US air base in the Netherlands.

After eight months Lord Cullen, the presiding judge, pronounced a guilty verdict on al-Megrahi. [RB: The presiding judge was actually Lord Sutherland. Lord Cullen presided over the 2001 appeal at Camp Zeist.]

He was sentenced to 27 years in a Scottish prison but released on compassionate grounds while terminally ill in 2009.

He maintained his innocence until his death in 2012 and his family are still fighting to have his conviction overturned.

Fhimah was found not guilty and returned to Libya.

More than three decades on, another man who is suspected of building the bomb that downed Pan Am flight 103 is being prosecuted in the US.

A court in Washington DC fixed a date of May 12, 2025, for the trial of Abu Agila Mohammad Masud, a Libyan citizen who maintains he is not guilty.

In 2018 relatives of Lockerbie victims told The Times that they had been repeatedly bugged by the security services after official documents suggested that they needed “careful watching”.

The Rev John Mosey, a church minister who lost his teenage daughter Helga in the atrocity, said that after speaking publicly his phone calls were often disrupted and documents relating to the bombing had gone missing from his computer.

Jim Swire, an English GP who lost his daughter Flora and became the public face of the campaign to secure an independent inquiry into the atrocity, reported similar intrusions and deliberately included false information in private correspondence, only for it to appear in the press days later.

The claims were corroborated by Hans Köchler, an Austrian academic appointed by the United Nations to be an independent observer at the Netherlands trial, who alleged that data had been taken from his computers.

Monday 22 April 2024

"He now had 270 murders to solve"

[What follows is excerpted from the obituary of John Boyd published today on the website of The Times:]

Four days before Christmas 1988 John Boyd was balanced precariously on a chair, hanging wallpaper in the kitchen of his village home. At about 7.30pm a news flash interrupted the programme playing on the television in the next room: an aircraft had crashed over the Border town of Lockerbie. “My God, that’s wrong; there’s something wrong there,” the chief constable of Dumfries and Galloway muttered to himself. Moments later his control room called confirming the incident.

Boyd, who was once described as “a slight man with an unfashionable crew cut and a perpetually quizzical look”, threw on his uniform, jumped in his car and drove the 14 miles to Lockerbie. There he learnt that Pan Am flight 103 from London to New York, a Boeing 747 known as Clipper Maid of the Seas, had crashed carrying 243 passengers and 16 crew. Bodies had rained down on the rooftops of Lockerbie and a fireball had destroyed several houses, killing 11 of the town’s 3,500 residents.

As chief constable of one of the smallest police forces in the country Boyd, a diffident figure, was not accustomed to dealing with many major crimes. He had never dealt with an air crash; in fact, he had rarely flown. With the crash site falling under his jurisdiction, he now had 270 murders to solve.

Using emergency police powers he called in the army, the air force and officers from neighbouring forces. He also requisitioned all private helicopters at Glasgow airport. With Lockerbie police station damaged in the explosion and too small for the role, he set up a control room at Lockerbie Academy. Recalling the bombing of an Air India flight from Montreal to Delhi via London off the Irish coast in 1985, he was suspicious that the crash was the work of terrorists and from the outset urged his officers to treat the case as such.

Within hours the town had been invaded by hundreds of police, military investigators and representatives of the press. Soon their numbers were augmented by intelligence teams from Britain and the US, though Boyd remained unruffled. “He appreciated every bit of amazing help and support that the FBI gave him,” said Brian Duffy, co-author of The Fall of Pan Am 103 (1990).

Boyd understood the need to share as much information as possible. Speaking with dignity at an emotionally charged late-night news conference, he told how debris had been spread over many miles. “Wreckage has fallen at six different locations both within Lockerbie and some miles outside the town. There are bodies at each of these locations,” he said. Within a week evidence had been found of an explosive device, creating what he described as “a criminal inquiry of international dimensions”.

Inevitably there was pressure for answers, with some of the American press demanding immediate results and questioning Boyd’s abilities. A Pan Am pilot whose wife died in the attack claimed that Dumfries and Galloway police were “paralysed by inexperience and incompetence”, adding that the force “reach their upper limit of competence directing traffic and issuing parking tickets”. It was not a view shared by Pan Am or others involved in the investigation.

Reflecting on the disaster during the subsequent judicial inquiry, Boyd described the difficulties his officers encountered when giving information to grieving relatives. [RB: The "judicial inquiry" referred to is probably the fatal accident inquiry held in Dumfries by Sheriff Principal John Mowat QC in 1990.] Because of the severe damage to the victims, they had to be dissuaded from seeing the bodies. Most of their loved ones had to be identified from X-rays, dental records and fingerprints. (...)

The Lockerbie bombing was by far Boyd’s biggest case and he remained determined to investigate it thoroughly, insisting that there would be no shortcuts. “With all the help and assistance from so many different parties, good, solid police work will get us there,” he told The New York Times two years after the crash. “It has not been easy and it won’t be easy. But it will happen.”

He was true to his word and in 2001 Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence officer, was convicted in connection with the attack. Al-Megrahi was released in 2009 on compassionate grounds, having been diagnosed with prostate cancer, and died in Libya in 2012. [RB: The only evidence at his trial that Megrahi was an intelligence officer came from Abdul Majid Giaka whose evidence on every other matter was rejected by the court as incredible and unreliable. The judges gave no reasons for accepting his evidence on this single issue.]

John Boyd CBE, QPM, chief constable of Dumfries and Galloway, 1984-89, was born on October 14, 1933. He died on April 9, 2024, aged 90

Saturday 17 February 2024

Jim Swire is a force of nature

[What follows is excerpted from a report published yesterday evening on the website of The Sun:]

Retired GP Jim Swire is a force of nature – a man with balls of steel.

His search for justice after his daughter was murdered in the Lockerbie bombing has been so intense that at times he has put his own life in danger.

The 87-year-old campaigner faced down the late “mad dog” Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s guards armed with AK-47s, sneaked a fake bomb on a plane to expose security flaws and fears he could be a target for Iranian assassins.

But 35 years after 270 people were murdered in the attack over Scotland, on the Pan Am passenger jet flying from London to New York, thoughts of his 23-year-old daughter Flora break his indomitable spirit.

When Jim tries to remember the last words he said to medical student Flora before she left to catch the plane, tears flood his eyes and we pause the interview.

We are speaking in the conservatory of his Cotswolds home because he hopes an upcoming TV drama about the terror bombing will create the same public outcry seen when ITV’s Mr Bates Vs The Post Office, starring Toby Jones highlighted the organisation’s IT scandal.

Oscar-winning actor Colin Firth will play Jim in the Sky series, Lockerbie, which is being filmed now. (...)

Apart from his grief — and bravery — there is also anger at the bungling officials who failed to stop the fateful bomb getting on to the Boeing 747 on December 21, 1988, at Heathrow Airport before it exploded shortly after 7pm. (...)

He tells The Sun: “I am satisfied Colin will do his utmost to portray someone who has been searching diligently for the truth in the name of the murder of his daughter and all those other people.” getting on to the Boeing 747 on December 21, 1988, at Heathrow Airport before it exploded shortly after 7pm. (...)

Jim, a BBC soundman turned GP, believes documents are still being withheld from relatives which could reveal either a cock-up in the investigation or a cover-up.

The worst terror atrocity ever to be visited upon the UK is still shrouded in mystery and controversy.

Only one person has been convicted of carrying out the attack — Libyan Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. His country-man Abu Agila Mohammad Masud is awaiting trial.

A call had been made to the US embassy in Finnish capital Helsinki warning that a bomb would be loaded on a Pan Am flight in Frankfurt, Germany, bound for Heathrow then New York.

That information was not passed on to regular travellers.

The threat should have been taken seriously because in October that year terrorists from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine — General Command were found with bombs in Neuss, Germany, designed to trigger once a plane reached a certain height. (...)

Understandably, Jim cannot hide his rage over this fatal delay. He says of the bomb: “It was in the baggage compartment, almost beneath the feet of my daughter and all of those innocent passengers. It exploded almost 48 hours from the warning having been passed on by the Department of Transport. Have we had an apology? No, we have not.

“Whatever you believe about Libya or all the rest of it, that’s where the explosion occurred, that was the warning they had and that was the way they handled it.

“If that doesn’t make a relative of anyone murdered in that atrocity angry, it bloody well should.” (...)

The late Paul Channon, Transport Secretary at the time, under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, denied there had been a security failure but lost his job.

In the wake of Lockerbie, airlines claimed far more stringent inspections of luggage were put in place.

Keen to put that promise to the test, Jim, who had explosives training during a stint of military service, built a replica of the Lockerbie bomb with the Semtex explosive replaced by marzipan.

He managed to get it past Heathrow’s security even though a member of security found the Toshiba tape recorder containing the fake device.

Jim recalls: “The lady who opened up the suitcase said, ‘Sir, have you taken out the batteries?’ and I said, ‘Yes’, and she put it back.

“That poor lady had not been trained in what might and might not be dangerous.”

The Lockerbie crime scene was the largest ever in UK history. (...)

Initially, the finger of suspicion pointed toward Iran, because it had close links to the PFLP-GC and its leaders had sworn revenge for the accidental shooting down of an Iranian passenger jet in July 1988 by a US warship.

Then the FBI investigation, carried out in unison with Dumfries and Galloway Police, pivoted instead toward Libya.

Detectives concluded that Libyan Arab Airlines security chief Al-Megrahi and his colleague Lamin Khalifah Fhimah were responsible for the atrocity. (...)

[F]ollowing pressure from sanctions, the two Libyan suspects were tried in Holland in 2000. As the trial went on Jim started to doubt they had been responsible for Flora’s murder. When Al-Megrahi was found guilty — although Fhimah was cleared and let go — he collapsed from shock.

Jim says: “My son sitting next to me in the courtroom thought that I had died.”

He now believes the late PFLP-GC leader Ahmed Jibril was the true mastermind of the horror that claimed his daughter’s life.

Jibril died of heart failure in July 2021 in Syrian capital Damascus, and Jim says: “I can’t conceal from you I am delighted he is dead.”

He suspects that Jibril’s ultimate paymasters were Iran’s security services.

Pointing the finger at Tehran’s murderous ayatollahs shows how fearless Jim is. He says: “It has often occurred to me that I might get bombed. The more the truth comes out the more possible it is that I might get killed by Iran for wanting revenge.

“It seems to me the direct line came from Iran.”

But Scottish judges have twice upheld the murder convictions of Al-Megrahi, who died from cancer in 2012.

Next year US prosecutors will bring Masud to trial, accusing him of making the bomb that destroyed Pan Am Flight 103.

Whatever any court decides, nothing will take away the pain from Jim and his wife Jane.

As Jim puts it: “When someone close to you in your family gets murdered, you get handed a life sentence.

“Jane and I will go to our graves still mourning the loss of Flora.”

Thursday 18 January 2024

MacAskill reiterates belief Megrahi involved at "low level"

[What follows is excerpted from a long article about former Cabinet Secretary for Justice Kenny MacAskill published on the website of Holyrood magazine on 15 January:]

MacAskill was perceived by some as a solid pair of hands in justice, to others as far too close to its institutions, but he came to global prominence in 2009 when he made the decision to release the so-called ‘Lockerbie bomber’, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, from prison on compassionate grounds so he could return to Libya to die having been diagnosed with prostate cancer.

MacAskill took sole responsibility for the controversial decision and delivered it to a specially recalled parliament with all the gravity of a Presbyterian minister giving a sermon. He said Megrahi faced a sentence imposed by a “higher power”, adding: “It is one that no court, in any jurisdiction, in any land, could revoke or overrule. It is terminal, final and irrevocable. He is going to die.”

It felt at the time that the decision to free Megrahi was a truly momentous one and that the eyes of the world were on Scotland. Opprobrium was heaped on the justice secretary from the relatives of the US victims of the bombing and political figures, including President Obama and the then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, spoke out against it. (...)

Almost 35 years to the day that Pan Am Flight 103 came down over Lockerbie, I ask MacAskill how heavy that decision had weighed on him.

“It didn’t, I just did what was my job to do,” he says, dismissively, in his distinctive sing-song tone. “I remember going to speak to special advisers when we found out Megrahi was ill and it was all agreed this would be my decision alone, you could lose a cabinet secretary, but you cannot lose the government. So that put a firewall around it in terms of the correct procedures. You also have to remember, it was actually a very short period of time because although he was diagnosed earlier, there was a frenetic summer that basically went, June, July, and that was it, it was over. (...)

“At the end of the day, I stand by the decision I made. I think history has proven that, and Abu Agila Masud is currently in a US prison having been charged with making the bomb. The only thing that continues to irritate me is those that view Megrahi as some, you know, Arab saint – he was involved. He was low level, he was the highest-ranking Libyan that the Libyans were prepared to hand over, and he was the lowest down the rung that the West was prepared to accept. But he was released following all the rules and guidance and on a point of principle. He lived longer than expected, which caused some difficulties, but equally, that was because he was getting treatment that we didn’t offer on the NHS and, more importantly, as everybody knows, if you’ve got a reason to live, then you do live longer, as opposed to being sad in a lonely prison cell on your own and you turn your face to the wall. I’ve seen that with family in hospital, they just decide life isn’t for them, and so that’s what happened. I have no doubts that the right decision was made, none.”

[RB: Kenny MacAskill's contention that Megrahi was involved in the Lockerbie bombing, albeit at a low level, has been advanced by him before. A detailed rebuttal can be found here: The unravelling of Kenny MacAskill ... and the case against Megrahi.]

Wednesday 27 December 2023

Masud's family says lawyer believes he can be acquitted

[What follows is excerpted from a report published yesterday on the website of The Libya Observer:]

The family of Abu Ajila Masud al-Marimi, the Libyan citizen suspected in the Lockerbie case, said that the defense team tackling the case file reviewed its details and expressed satisfaction at the possibility of Masud's being found not guilty of the charges against him.

The family said in a press statement that the court postponed the ruling in the case until mid-2025, citing the short time to follow up on the case in detail, listen to witnesses, and inform the team of all the documents, announcing the final formation of the team to defend the case, awaiting the [disbursement] of its fees from the [Benghazi-based] government (...).

The Federal Court announced May 12, 2025, as the date for the trial of Abu Ajila, who faces three charges, including his participation in manufacturing the bomb that was on board the Pan Am plane that crashed in Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988.

Regarding Abu Ajila's health condition, the family indicated that the defense team will submit a request to the court to consider the possibility of transferring him to house arrest outside the prisons, as he suffers from chronic diseases.

Meanwhile, the American lawyer [Kobie Flowers] of Brown Goldstein [& Levy] visited Abu Ajila in prison and listened to his health conditions and his treatment inside the prison.

The family stated that the team will also submit a request, immediately after starting its work, for them to attend the trial session, similar to what the families of the plane victims requested, pointing out that the US Congress had passed a law allowing attendance at the sessions before the federal court rejected their request.

Wednesday 20 December 2023

"The final mysteries of the Lockerbie terrorist attack"

[This is an English version of the headline over a report published today on the website of the Austrian newspaper Kronen Zeitung. The report, translated into English, reads as follows:]

On December 21, 1988, a jumbo jet belonging to the iconic American airline Pan Am crashed into the small Scottish town of Lockerbie after a bomb exploded on board. 270 people lost their lives in a cruel way three days before Christmas. A Libyan was convicted of this terrorist attack, but not least thanks to the work of the Tyrolean university professor Hans Köchler, who critically observed the trial for the UN over 20 years ago, it is now considered very likely that a scandalous miscarriage of judgment was made at the time. The real perpetrator or perpetrators may still be at large. On the 35th anniversary of the attack, a book about this tragedy has now been published for the first time in German. It's called [translation from German] "Pan Am Flight 103: The Lockerbie Tragedy - Christmas Voyage to Death."  It was written by the Austrian aviation photographer and flight expert Patrick Huber. Krone+ publishes excerpts from it and spoke to the author.

The airline Pan American World Airways, better known as Pan Am, which slipped into bankruptcy in 1991 after 64 years of operation, was considered a pioneer of scheduled air travel and an American institution par excellence for decades. Whether New York, San Francisco, Tokyo, Berlin, Frankfurt, Beirut, Johannesburg, Salzburg, Vienna or Sydney - the aircraft with the distinctive blue and white globe and the US flag on the vertical tail were a familiar sight at airports all over the world.

The other side of the coin: as a prominent figurehead of the US, Pan Am was also a ‘popular’ target for terrorists. The worst attack on society occurred 35 years ago, on December 21, 1988, and simultaneously sealed its demise.

[A longer description of the book, also in German, appears on the Austrian Wings website. What follows is a translation into English:]

On December 21, 1988, a cold, inhospitable Wednesday three days before Christmas, a bomb exploded over Lockerbie at 7:02:50 p.m. in the front cargo hold of a Pan Am jumbo that was at an altitude of around 9,450 meters on the night flight from London Heathrow New York JFK was located. Some of the debris from flight PA103 fell directly into the residential areas of the small Scottish town of Lockerbie. The huge explosion of almost 100,000 kilograms of kerosene when the center part of the fuselage and the wings with the fuel tanks hit the ground set numerous houses on fire in a fraction of a second and ignited a veritable sea of ​​flames in the small community. In addition to the wreckage of the plane, passengers' luggage, freight containers and more than 200 human bodies fell from the dark sky and landed in meadows, in forests, on roofs, in garden hedges, on fences or in the middle of the front gardens of Lockerbie houses.

Inferno on the ground

It took the fire department until the early hours of the morning to put out the fires. Their use was made more difficult, among other things, by the fact that numerous power and telephone lines were destroyed when the plane crashed.

In addition to all 243 passengers and 16 crew members on board the Boeing 747-121 with the illustrious name “Clipper Maid of the Seas” (...) 11 residents also died in the incident. The youngest victim of this disaster was just 2 months old, the oldest was 82 years old. For some of the unfortunate, the flaming inferno left only ashes and charred bones. Since these dead could no longer be identified, their remains were finally buried in a common grave.

While the cause of the crash was quickly determined, it is still not clear who was actually behind the bomb attack. Although the Libyan Abdel Basit Ali al-Megrahi was sentenced to life imprisonment for the terrorist act in 2001, this guilty verdict was met with sharp criticism from both experts and many of the victims' relatives. The Austrian UN trial observer Hans Köchler, for example, immediately spoke of a “miscarriage of justice”. Nevertheless, the convicted man was imprisoned in Great Britain, and an initial appeal was promptly rejected.

Convicted Libyan probably victim of a miscarriage of justice

Around six and a half years after the guilty verdict, on June 28, 2007, a Scottish commission for the review of criminal convictions, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC), declared that there was a “possible miscarriage of justice” in this case. cannot be ruled out. The widely accepted view is now that Al-Megrahi's conviction represents a miscarriage of justice. The SCCRC therefore authorized Al-Megrahi to bring new legal remedies, which he did.

In 2008, Al-Megrahi, who was still in prison at the time, was unexpectedly diagnosed with cancer. Officially for “humanitarian reasons,” he was offered release in 2009, but only if he withdrew his second appeal beforehand - which the desperate man then did so as not to have to risk dying in a Scottish prison without his To see his children and his wife in freedom once again. Shortly afterwards, the father of five, who was already severely affected by his illness, was actually released and was able to return home to his family in Libya.

Al-Megrahi died there of cancer on May 20, 2012, in the midst of the turmoil of the Libyan civil war - not without first protesting his innocence on his deathbed. He has not yet been legally rehabilitated. 

But if Al-Megrahi actually had nothing to do with the terrorist attack on Pan Am 103 - and there is indeed a lot to be said for his innocence - then who was it? Iran, as numerous indications pointed to? After all, the radical Islamic mullah regime had sworn bloody revenge for the accidental shooting down of an Iranian passenger plane (290 fatalities) by the American warship “USS Vincennes” in the summer of 1988 - six months before the attack on the Pan Am Jumbo. The Palestinians? Syria? Maybe Libya? Or was it ultimately about secret drug shipments from the Middle East to the USA, which were supposedly tolerated by the US authorities out of intelligence interests? There are witness statements that drugs were found at the scene of the accident. In any case, it was noticeable that a number of important politicians, military officials and secret service employees did not board flight PA103 at short notice that day, including the then South African Foreign Minister Pik Botha and his 22-member delegation.

The non-fiction book “Pan Am Flight 103: The Tragedy of Lockerbie - Christmas Voyage to Death” meticulously traces the last flight of the “Clipper Maid of the Seas” and illuminates the biographies of crew members, passengers and residents of Lockerbie down to the smallest detail. The author also focuses on the accident experts' investigations, the work of the judiciary and those people who did not take flight Pan Am 103 or who missed it by lucky coincidence - including the well-known British actress Kim Cattrall ("Police Academy", "Sex and the City”). The technical aspects of the accident are also discussed in detail.

Friday 24 November 2023

The conspiracies are as plausible as the official explanation

[What follows is a review published in yesterday's edition of the London Evening Standard:]

For a disaster that happened 35 years ago, the story of Pan Am Flight 103’s destruction over Lockerbie has a very 21st-Century feel.

This bombing, which caused the deaths of 270 people over a quiet Scottish town, has a confused and controversial epilogue. Moving from the attack itself and the immediate aftermath, this four-part Sky documentary traces the hunt for the bombers and the personal and public struggles of the victims’ families. 

This sense of protracted tragedy is entangled with espionage and geopolitics of the most amoral and conflicted kind, where concepts of national interest supersede individual human lives, so it was inevitable that the bombing has become a focus for conspiracy theories. That the conspiracies are as plausible as the official explanation only makes it murkier. 

At 7.03pm on 21 December 1988, residents of Lockerbie in Dumfries and Galloway heard the explosion. Those out in the fields would have seen a fireball falling to earth. Those unlucky enough to have been in its path were vaporised by exploding aviation fuel.

The Boeing 747 crashed through the edge of the town spraying debris and the dead over many miles. All 259 on board died that night along with 11 on the ground. Even given the sensitivity of the producers, the cumulative grief is hard to watch and harder to forget.

Viewers have no reference point for a golf course strewn with a hundred corpses or bodies rained on to the roofs of terraced houses. The image of a red suitcase embedded in Scottish mud and the sound of screaming families at JFK airport conveys the unimaginable.

The intimate stories begin with the families and Lockerbie residents, traumatised yet finding an odd comfort in communal loss. Among them is the English doctor Jim Swire, who has spent his life since the crash in pursuit of the truth about those responsible for the death of his 23-year-old daughter Flora.

Swire’s grief evolves into obsession (in 1990 he smuggled a fake bomb on to a flight to New York to prove the inadequacy of Heathrow security) and his testimony, including how his interpretation of events changed over time, provides the moral frame of the film and a necessary touchstone of human dignity and love amid realpolitik at its most cynical. 

The film talks to FBI agents who began their investigation at the end of a decade of state-sponsored terrorism linked to anti-American regimes in the Middle East. The agents are led away from the prime suspects, Iranian proxies the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Council (PFLP-GC), towards Libyans via Malta and Frankfurt.

It had been suggested that Iran used this Palestinian group based in Lebanon (where US and UK hostages had been taken) to exact revenge for the accidental shooting down of an Iranian passenger plane by an American warship a year before, but evidence from the crime scene lead the FBI to two Libyan intelligence agents, including the man eventually convicted of mass murder by Scottish judges in a Netherlands court, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. 

For eight years the Libyan dictator Colonel Gaddafi (“Mad Dog”, as Ronald Reagan called him), refused to hand over the two suspects. Swire went to see him in an extraordinary act of recklessness. “I was pretty crazy because of the freshness of the bereavement and I’d have done anything I could.”

In Tripoli, surrounded by Gaddafi’s female bodyguards with AK47s, he showed the dictator a briefcase full of pictures of his daughter and he asked him to allow the two men to go on trial, before pinning a badge that said “Lockerbie, The Truth Must be Known” on Gaddafi’s lapel.

By the time of the trial in 2000, the consensus about who was guilty had collapsed. The CIA and the FBI operated in suspicion and sometimes outright contempt for each other, a Libyan supergrass was discredited, the shopkeeper who sold clothes in which the bomb was wrapped was paid $2m by the FBI and the Swiss manufacturer of timers allegedly used in the bomb changed his testimony at the trial.

That Gaddafi’s son Saif stated Libya accepted responsibility but didn’t admit to actually doing it does lend credence to the view that they paid $2.86bn in compensation as the price of readmittance to the global oil trade after years of crippling US sanctions. 

What is left behind are two starkly defined camps who believe either justice was served or there was a cover-up – and between them are families in a state of purgatorial uncertainty. Among the politics, the film shows one of the recurring visits to Scotland of the Ciulla family from New York, who come to remember Frank Ciulla and to be reunited with the Lockerbie couple Hugh and Margaret Connell who discovered Frank’s body still strapped to his seat. 

Many of these families, predominantly American, mix their anger with suspicion about the conduct of their own government. Swire says he believes the al-Megrahi trial was a sham and the PFLP-GC were responsible. Rev John Mosey from Birmingham, whose 19-year-old daughter Helga died, says he is 99.9% certain al-Megrahi was innocent. The FBI insist they got their man. An ex-CIA operative says they were wrong all along. 

The moral authority of Swire is so powerful it is almost overwhelming – he is only really challenged once to which he reacts with the anger of a man who has spent more than 30 years fighting for something not yet realised. Lockerbie plays to the idea that government agencies are incapable of telling the truth, something corroding trust in institutions in the US and increasingly in Britain. 

This is a poised and sensitive documentary. It’s moving in so many ways that at times it’s hard to ready yourself for the blows, even when you know they’re coming. What is left are open wounds: grief that does not rest and no sense of an ending.

Lockerbie is available to watch on Sky Documentaries and Now from 25 November

Thursday 16 November 2023

Dismayed by a 35-year-long miscarriage of justice

[What follows is excerpted from a report published yesterday evening on the website of The Telegraph:]

Ever since Flora was killed on Pan Am Flight 103, Dr Jim Swire has been searching for answers – and says the FBI has the wrong man

Flora Swire is everywhere in her parents’ home. There are sketches and photos of her pinned to a board in the kitchen, on the mantelpiece, on the cover of a book; her portrait fills the wall across from their bed. There remains too a lock of her hair – a heartbreaking keepsake taken when the Swires saw her last, almost 35 years ago, after a bomb exploded beneath her feet in the Lockerbie disaster.

It was on 21 December 1988, the eve of her 24th birthday, that Flora, a promising neurology student who had just been accepted to do a PhD at Cambridge, took her seat on a plane bound for New York. She had hoped to spend Christmas with her boyfriend, but would never make it.

Thirty-eight minutes after taking off at Heathrow, Pan Am Flight 103 exploded in the sky over the town of Lockerbie in Dumfries and Galloway, with such force on a windy night that the debris landed across an 845-square-mile radius from southwest Scotland to the east coast of England. The fairylights on Christmas trees all over Lockerbie blew their fuses, along with the rest of the grid; smoking orange flames illuminated the town, which quickly filled with the stench of jet fuel. (...)

The investigation has remained open ever since, with one man, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, a Libyan national, the only person ever to be convicted of the atrocity. He was convicted in 2001 and given a life sentence, and died in 2012. But in February this year, the case returned to the courts for the first time in more than two decades.

Another Libyan national, Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi (known as Mas’ud) has been accused of making the Lockerbie bomb, and is now awaiting trial (he has pleaded not guilty). The development should offer some shred of hope for the families whose lives irreparably changed that night. Yet Dr Jim Swire, Flora’s father, ‘has no interest’ in the prospect of Mas’ud’s conviction.

‘I know he didn’t make the bomb,’ Jim tells me. ‘I know who made the bomb.’

As such, the official criminal verdict on events to date – upcoming trial included – is, in his view at least, nothing more than ‘twaddle’.

Jim, now 87, had been writing Christmas cards on that December night in 1988 when his wife Jane told him that a plane had just come down over Scotland. He tried calling Heathrow, where Flora had been dropped off by her younger sister, Cathy, a few hours earlier – he spent five hours on hold to Pan Am as news coverage blared, showing body parts hanging from a roof, the 30ft hole a chunk of the 747 had left in a Lockerbie street, and relatives howling in anguish at JFK Airport. When he finally got through, staff confirmed the worst possible news: Flora had been on the flight. (...)

Jim, an old Etonian who went to Cambridge, is still spry in his late 80s – part-raconteur, part activist, wearing a sharp grey suit and trainers. Today, Jim, who became a GP but ultimately left the profession after his daughter’s death, and Jane, 84, take turns bustling between the kitchen and back garden of their home in the Cotswolds town of Chipping Camden with offers of cheese sandwiches and cups of tea. It is a cosy idyll that conceals the sea of names and dates and evidence-tag numbers still etched on their minds.

Some 35 years on, the Swires’ agony remains barely beneath the surface, the memories of their eldest child both a precious gift and cruel reminder of what they have lost. ‘To lose a close family member gives you a life sentence immediately,’ Jim says. ‘Your whole life is altered. And you have to start asking yourself how, how can you go on living, or how can Jane go on living, with a loss so terrible as this?’

Their experiences are documented in Lockerbie, a new four-part documentary that airs on Sky next week. It is a panoptic watch, following the lives of the residents in the town that was, until that day, just a fish ’n’ chip pitstop, 75 miles from Glasgow, before it was completely upturned. The documentary follows the families of UK and US victims, and officials from across the town’s police force, the FBI and the CIA, too. But it also lays bare how devastation led to remarkable acts of humanity, as residents mounted a volunteer effort to wash the clothes and teddies scattered thousands of miles from where they should have ended up, and sent them back to passengers’ loved ones; some of which resulted in relationships with grief-stricken families an ocean away that remain strong. Their lives are, now, forever intertwined.

But underlying the heartfelt stories is a darker thread – for decades on, opinions about who was to blame for the disaster are more divided than ever.

Jim remains dismayed by what he sees as a 35-year-long miscarriage of justice. In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, he became the spokesperson for the UK Families Flight 103 group and in the intervening decades, he has met numerous experts and officials, and had independent reviews of evidence undertaken. All of which has convinced him that justice has not been served – and that the wrong man was imprisoned, just as another ‘wrong man’ is now about to be tried.

His theory – that Libya wasn’t responsible for the bombing – runs counter to al-Megrahi’s conviction and Mas’ud’s arrest, and has been dismissed by many. But there are others in his corner, too. ‘Enough honest, reliable and knowledgeable people have discovered the awful truth behind this to know that the truth will now be able to look after itself,’ Jim says. ‘If I die tomorrow, I know the truth will eventually come out.’

Among those people is former CIA investigator John Holt, the long-time handler for the principal US government witness at al-Megrahi’s trial, Libyan agent Abdul Majid Giaka. Holt said at the time that Giaka never provided ‘any evidence pointing to Libya or any indication of knowing anything about that nation’s involvement in the two years after the bombing’ – despite later testifying. But when accused of lying under cross-examination, Giaka replied: ‘I had no interest in telling anybody any lies.’

Others who have been vocal about what they view as Libya’s wrongful implication include solicitor Clare Connelly, director of the Lockerbie Trial Briefing Unit, an independent project established by the School of Law of the University of Glasgow, and other UK relatives, including John Moseley [sic], whose 19-year-old daughter Helga was killed on Flight 103.

Al-Megrahi’s trial took place 22 years ago at Camp Zeist, a Scottish law court set up in the Netherlands (deemed a neutral territory), where judges heard that he had placed a bomb in a Samsonite suitcase. Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, his co-accused, was acquitted.

There was no smoking gun for the prosecution, but al-Megrahi was found guilty based on a series of links they felt couldn’t otherwise be explained: including that he had an office in Switzerland down the hall from a clockmaker whose device was used to make the bomb; and that clothing fragments found alongside remains of the bomb were traced back to a Maltese shop that its owner, Tony Gauci, said al-Megrahi had visited.

At the same time, there were escalating tensions between the West and Libyan premier Colonel Gaddafi, who was suspected to have ordered the bombing of a nightclub frequented by US personnel in West Berlin in 1986. Judges in al-Megrahi’s trial conceded the case included ‘a number of uncertainties and qualifications’; yet he was sentenced to life. (Libya later paid $2.7 billion to families of Lockerbie bombing victims, though this was considered a political move rather than an admission of guilt.) (...)

Time has only bolstered his defence of ‘poor’ al-Megrahi, having formed personal relationships with both him and Gaddafi before they died. They would exchange Christmas cards, and when al-Megrahi was given compassionate release in 2009 following a diagnosis of prostate cancer – returning to a hero’s welcome on the tarmac at Tripoli airport – Jim travelled to Libya to see him on his deathbed. At the time, Jim recalled al-Megrahi’s words to him: ‘I am going to a place where I hope soon to see Flora. I will tell her that her father is my friend.’

He was, in Jim’s eyes, only ever an unwitting pawn in geopolitically motivated ‘deception’ that he says is even now preventing justice for Flora and the other victims from being served. He also took a handful of clandestine trips to Gaddafi’s compound (he did not tell any authorities, and only informed Jane imminently beforehand), in which he would hear that the regime had not been to blame. On leaving their first meeting, Jim pinned a UK Families Flight 103 badge to Gaddafi’s lapel as a show of solidarity for the truth. He believes other UK families are onside, although many have never spoken publicly. But there are certainly others, particularly those in the US, who see this affinity with Gaddafi as a grave error.

For Jim, there are two pieces of evidence that point to al-Megrahi’s wrongful conviction. The 2001 case heard that the explosive had first travelled from Malta to Frankfurt, where Flight 103 began its journey to New York. (The London Heathrow stop was a layover.) But Jim believes the bomb was planted at Heathrow. At al-Megrahi’s appeal in 2002, a baggage handler told lawyers that the baggage build-up area at Terminal 3 had been broken into the night before the bombing.

The other piece of evidence relates to the bomb fragments. According to John Ashton, a researcher on al-Megrahi’s legal team, documents not disclosed during the original trial found differences between the metals of the timers being supplied to the Libyans at the time and those within the fragments police recovered from the Lockerbie site. The circuit-board patterns, however, did align, deemed to be the more important evidence.

Clare Connelly of the Lockerbie Trial Briefing Unit also questions the veracity of shopkeeper Tony Gauci’s evidence, as there have been claims that he was paid in connection with his participation in the inquiry, which she says would be ‘totally contrary to the interests of justice’. But in November 2013 the Crown Office said: ‘No witness was offered any inducement by the Crown or the Scottish police before and during the trial and there is no evidence that any other law ­enforcement agency offered such an inducement.’

As for who was actually responsible, Jim argues it was Iran, not Libya. He goes on to suggest that it might have been a retaliatory attack for the US shooting down an Iranian passenger plane, thought to have been incorrectly identified as a fighter jet in July 1988, which killed 290 innocent civilians. In his view, with American hostages held in Iran at the time and an upcoming election, the finger had to be pointed elsewhere. ‘What we’re being told is absolute nonsense from beginning to end. It was designed to protect the relationship between Britain and America and to help in getting home American hostages held by Iranian interests back in ’88.’

Jim insists that the bombmaker was not Mas’ud, as the US alleges, but ‘a Jordanian who was a double agent, or even a triple agent’ – feeding intelligence both to his own country and the CIA, while making explosives for a militant group active in Palestine at the time, called the PFLP-GC. Others have theories of their own around Iran’s involvement: Holt has also said ‘there was a concerted effort, for unexplained reasons, to switch the original investigations away from Iran and the PFLP-GC’ – backing Jim’s belief that the focus on Libya was politically motivated.

For the officials who spent years putting together their case, however, Jim’s theory is not credible enough to upend ‘the biggest case the FBI ever had… I don’t believe, in the history of law enforcement, there was a crime quite like Pan Am 103.’ So says Richard Marquise, who led the FBI investigation. ‘I will never attack [Jim], I will never tell him he’s a liar or wrong. I will never say a negative thing, because I cannot feel his pain; I am sure it’s enormous. But I disagree with his assessment of the evidence.’ (...)

For Jim, his ‘obsession’ has been an outlet for the pain of losing Flora. As he puts it: ‘It has provided me with a way of coping with my grief.’

As for Jane, she has had little choice but to accept her husband’s dogged pursuit of answers; something Jim is painfully aware of. ‘[I often think] what is it doing to Jane, that I’m still doing this?’ he admits. (...)

There is another source of anguish for the Swires – a series of missteps without which Flora may never have boarded Flight 103 in the first place.

In late October 1988, West German police found a bomb hidden inside a Toshiba radio cassette player in an apartment in Neuss, believed to have been manufactured to detonate mid-air. The British Department of Transport (DoT) went on to warn airports and airlines of its existence via telex the next month.

Then, on 5 December, an anonymous threat was phoned in to the US embassy in Helsinki, stipulating that within two weeks, someone would carry a bomb on to a Pan Am flight from Frankfurt to the US. Notices were put up on embassy walls, and US officials were told they could rebook on another flight home for Christmas if they so wished; Interpol informed 147 countries, Britain included – yet the ‘Helsinki warning’ was never made public.

Two days before Lockerbie, a circular featuring images of the explosives authorities feared had been designed to blow up planes was signed by the DoT’s principal aviation security advisor, but never sent out. (...)

Jim would like there to be an examination of the evidence in the International Criminal Court. He sees this as the only possible route to justice now – but each passing year makes it less likely.

‘Our numbers are dropping all the time from people dying off from old age,’ he says of the families’ group, ‘and I’m amazed that I haven’t long ago because the stress all this has been over the last 35 years – why I haven’t died of a heart attack, I don’t know… But I would love it if [the truth] were to come out while we were still around.’

John Dower, director of the new documentary, says that his main hope is that those involved in it will ‘get some resolution, some peace, because that’s what struck us most making this, the ongoing trauma. It’s 35 years later, but that trauma is still there.’

Lockerbie will be on Sky Documentaries and Now from 25 November

Tuesday 24 October 2023

Legal bid to give Lockerbie families access to Masud trial

[This is the headline over a report published today on the BBC News website. It reads in part:]

US politicians are being asked to allow people from 21 countries to listen live to the second Lockerbie bombing trial.

A Libyan man is currently in US custody, accused of making the device that destroyed Pan Am 103 on 21 December, 1988.

Of the 270 victims, 190 were from the US, 43 from the UK and the remaining from 19 other nations.

American prosecutors say their families should have access to a phone line to allow them to follow the case.

Trials in US federal courts are not televised and a judge has previously ruled there is no legal basis for allowing such a move.

Abu Agila Masud was handed over to the US authorities in as yet unexplained circumstances in Libya in December 2022.

Appearing in a Washington court under his full name Abu Agila Mohammed Mas'ud Kheir Al-Marimi, the convicted bomb maker faces several charges, including destruction of an aircraft resulting in death.

He has entered a not guilty plea and so far no date for a trial has been set. (...)

Prosecutors from the US Department of Justice say many of the relatives of the victims are too old or infirm to travel to Washington to watch the court proceedings in person.

In their request to US lawmakers, they said: "This combination of advanced age and geographic distance and dispersion from Washington DC means that many victims face significant obstacles to obtain meaningful access to the court proceedings."

The application by the US prosecutors defines "victims" as anyone who suffered "direct or proximate harm" by the bombing, was present at or near the scene when it occurred or immediately afterwards, and their relatives.

On one view, that could include people in Lockerbie who witnessed the crash and its aftermath, along with members of the emergency services and military.

The American prosecutors also argue that the US investigation has involved international co-operation, in particular from police and the Crown Office in Scotland.

They are seeking statutory authority for the court to allow "remote video and telephone access" to preliminary evidential hearings and the trial itself.

Although video is mentioned, the application specifically requests the approval of a dedicated listen-only telephone line. (...)

The first Lockerbie trial took place at a specially-convened Scottish court sitting at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands. Relatives of the victims were able to watch via remote video feeds in Scotland and the US.

That case ended with the conviction of Abdulbasset al-Megrahi, who was found guilty of mass murder and jailed for life. (...) 

Scottish and American prosecutors alleged that the bombing was the work of the Libyan intelligence service and others were involved along with Megrahi.

The US justice department first announced criminal charges against Abu Agila Masud in December 2020.

They have alleged that he confessed to making the Lockerbie bomb after he was taken into custody following the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi's government in 2012.

Thursday 5 October 2023

Further preliminary steps in US prosecution of Abu Ajila Masud

The US Department of Justice has recently released the following information about the criminal proceedings in Washington DC against alleged Lockerbie bomb maker Abu Ajila Mohammad Mas'ud Kheir Al-Marimi:

"On September 29, 2023, the parties filed a joint status update, informing Judge Dabney L Friedrich of the status of discovery.  The  parties informed Judge Friedrich that the government had provided four productions to the defense and would shortly be providing a fifth, and that it was working on getting additional materials from Scotland and various countries.  The defense stated that it had received the discovery to date and was reviewing it. 

"On October 2, 2023, Judge Friedrich set a 'tentative' status hearing for December 15, 2023, at 1:00 pm in Courtroom 14.  At this point, we have no reason to believe that this status date will change, despite its 'tentative' status.  If it does change, we will notify you as soon as we are able to." 

Saturday 16 September 2023

Death announced of Abdul Ati al-Obeidi

I am deeply saddened to learn of the death at the age of 83 of Abdul Ati al-Obeidi, who held many offices in Libya during the Gaddafi era, including Prime Minister and Foreign Minister. From the time in November 1991 that the UK and the US brought charges against Libyan citizens in respect of the Lockerbie bombing, until the eventual compassionate release and repatriation of Abdelbaset Megrahi in August 2009, Obeidi was intimately involved in the Lockerbie case as chairman of the Libyan Government's Lockerbie committee. 

Over the years leading up to the voluntary surrender of Megrahi and Fhimah for trial in the Scottish Court in the Netherlands, and in the years following Megrahi's conviction, I had numerous meetings with Obeidi and invariably found him honest, trustworthy and transparent in all his dealings. He was always part of the solution, not part of the problem. I wish I could say the same about the British and American officials that I came in contact with over that period. But it would not be true.

Abdul Ati al-Obeidi has featured in many items posted on this blog. They can be accessed here.

Thursday 7 September 2023

Masud and "US counterterrorism's long arm of justice"

[What follows is excerpted from an article by Christopher P Costa headlined 9/11, Benghazi and US counterterrorism’s long arm of justice published yesterday on the website of The Hill, the house magazine of the United States Congress:]

Conventional wisdom in policymaking circles is that the US counterterrorism enterprise is nonpartisan. I agree. I saw firsthand how the Trump administration benefited from continuity grounded in professionalism and threaded to sound counterterrorism policy prescriptions passed on from previous administrations, both Democrat and Republican. 

After years of painstaking counterterrorism work, talking with both former terrorists and victims of terrorism, as well as attending terrorism trials, I’ve come to realize that continuity comes from a long institutional memory between administrations, and justice in these cases is often at the crossroads of law enforcement and counterterrorism operations. 

As FBI Director Christopher Wray noted, it took 34 years of painstaking investigative work to bring the maker of the Lockerbie bomb tied to the destruction of Pan Am flight 103 to justice this year. That effort is the province of foreign partners, the Department of Justice, the FBI and, eventually, a US court. Legal arrows – in terms of investigations, extraditions and trials – can be more potent than simply killing terrorists on battlefields overseas. The rule of law remains an indispensable tool for policymakers. 

This dedication to continuity drives the tenacity of the legal system to finish the work of prior administrations. (...)

First, policy continuity across political administrations has kept the nation safe from terrorism. Second, in light of the Lockerbie bomber’s extradition last December, justice and continuity matter deeply and are two sides of the same coin. (...)

Sometimes this continuity would have to carry on for decades before reaching closure.  

The Christmastime bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, for example, killed 270 passengers, including 190 Americans, on Dec. 21, 1988, and last December, the FBI was finally able to take custody of a suspect for building the explosive device that downed the flight. As a result of the Justice Department’s focus and tenacity in concluding a case that began more than 30 years earlier, Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud was then extradited to the United States to face prosecution for one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in American history. (...) 

[RB: Masud was not "extradited" to the United States. He was kidnapped by a local militia and later, with the connivance of the Tripoli "government" handed over to US agents. Libyan law does not permit extradition of citizens to a foreign country for trial, only voluntary surrender by the suspect; and there is, and can be, no suggestion that Masud volunteered.]

In a time of political polarization, we can be sanguine about the professionalism of the US counterterrorism enterprise, and the long memory of United States justice, regardless of administration. Maybe that’s worth reflecting on this Sept 11 anniversary.

Tuesday 22 August 2023

Libyan PM meets family of Lockerbie suspect

[This is the headline over a report published today on the Libya Review website. It reads as follows:]

On Monday, the Prime Minister of the Libyan Parliament-designated government, Osama Hammad met with the family of Lockerbie bombing suspect Abu Ajila Masoud Al-Marimi.

The Libyan national was a former intelligence officer. The Tripoli-based Government of National Unity (GNU) has handed over Masoud to the US administration, a move that was criticised across the country.

Hammad, along with members of the Libyan Parliament held a meeting with Masoud’s family, to discuss the latest updates regarding his extradition case and its merits.

During the meeting, Hammad expressed a firm stance against the “cowardly” extradition process executed against a Libyan citizen. The operation represents a clear violation of Libyan sovereignty.”

The PM emphasized that “this process was conducted by the US administration, with the complicity of the outgoing government, disregarding the rights of Libyan citizens shamefully.”

Furthermore, Hammad underscored the “importance of foreign countries respecting Libyan law, and highlighted the necessity of ensuring justice in the event of any accusations against a Libyan citizen.”

He affirmed that the Libyan judiciary is competent to address charges against its citizens, within Libyan territory.

The Prime Minister assured the family of Al-Marimi that the government “remains fully committed to staying updated on the developments of the case.”

Moreover, the government will “cover all the costs associated with a specialized law firm that will carefully examine the case, working towards the safe return of Abu Ajila to his family, and homeland.”

In June, the family of Abu Ajila Masoud raised concern over his deteriorating health, noting that he has recently been hospitalized due to multiple chronic illnesses.

Abdel Moneim Al-Marimi, a nephew of Abu Ajila, added the Libyan intelligence operative is set to appear before the court in October. Yet, he expressed grave concern over the lack of a defence team assigned to Abu Ajila’s case so far.

He explained that they are “unable to afford the fees of the legal team. We hired a new lawyer, at our own expense, other than the one assigned to follow up the case, to obtain information about the next session.”

Al-Marimi stated, “The US authorities have transferred Abu Ajila to a hospital. Regrettably, no family member has been able to make the trip to the US to be by his side.”

He also mentioned that Abu Ajila’s court hearing, related to the Lockerbie case, has been postponed until October.

Masoud, 71, could appear before US courts without an attorney, his family confirms. They noted that all parties that vowed to pay the costs of the legal team paid nothing and abandoned their pledges and promises.

Masoud’s family recently issued a statement denouncing the silence of the GNU, for not cooperating in knowing the fate of the Libyan citizen, as he is suffering from a chronic disease.