Monday 27 April 2015

Pan Am 103: Why Did They Die?

[On this date in 1992 Time magazine published a long article by Roy Rowan headlined Pan Am 103: Why Did They Die? The full text can be read here. What follows is a brief excerpt:]

Almost immediately after the Pan Am bombing, which killed the 259 people aboard the plane and 11 more on the ground, the prime suspect was Ahmed Jibril, the roly-poly boss of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC). Two months earlier, West German police had arrested 16 members of his terrorist organization. Seized during the raids was a plastic bomb concealed in a Toshiba cassette player, similar to the one that blew up Flight 103. There was other evidence pointing to Jibril. His patron was Syria. His banker for the attack on the Pan Am plane appeared to be Iran. US intelligence agents even traced a wire transfer of several million dollars to a bank account in Vienna belonging to the PFLP-GC. Iran's motive seemed obvious enough. The previous July, the USS Vincennes had mistakenly shot down an Iranian Airbus over the Persian Gulf, killing all 298 aboard.

Suddenly, last November [1991], the US Justice Department blamed the bombing on two Libyans, Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah. The scenario prompted President Bush to remark, ''The Syrians took a bum rap on this.'' It also triggered an outcry from the victims' families, who claimed that pointing the finger at Libya was a political ploy designed to reward Syria for siding with the US in the gulf war and to help win the release of the hostages. Even Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA's investigation of the bombing, told The New York Times it was ''outrageous'' to pin the whole thing on Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

A four-month investigation by Time has disclosed evidence that raises new questions about the case. Among the discoveries:

-- According to an FBI field report from Germany, the suitcase originating in Malta that supposedly contained the bomb may not have been transferred to Pan Am Flight 103 in Frankfurt, as charged in the indictment of the two Libyans. Instead, the bomb-laden bag may have been substituted in Frankfurt for an innocent piece of luggage.

-- The rogue bag may have been placed on board the plane by Jibril's group with the help of Monzer al-Kassar, a Syrian drug dealer who was cooperating with the US's Drug Enforcement Administration in a drug sting operation. Al- Kassar thus may have been playing both sides of the fence.

-- Jibril and his group may have targeted that flight because on board was an intelligence team led by Charles McKee, whose job was to find and rescue the hostages.

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