Friday 29 January 2016

FBI document shows Lockerbie case flaws

[This is the headline over a report that appeared on the website of The Independent on this date in 1995 and in the print edition of the newspaper the following day. It reads as follows:]

The case against two alleged Libyan bombers is ‘crumbling to dust’ John Arlidge reports

A secret FBI document has demolished a key part of the case against the two Libyans accused of the Lockerbie bombing. The internal US Government document was leaked to The Independent on the eve of a House of Commons debate on claims that Iran, not Libya, ordered the terrorist attack.

The five-page official briefing paper, marked "Director FBI/Priority", reveals that vital prosecution evidence that the airline bomb began its fatal journey in Malta is flawed. Its release, which follows the disclosure last week that American intelligence sources blamed Iran, not Libya, for the terrorist attack, will increase the pressure on investigating authorities to re-open the case against Tehran.

In the House of Commons on Wednesday, Tam Dalyell, the Labour MP, will call on the Government to establish an independent commission of inquiry to investigate Iranian links with the atrocity. He will also urge Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, to approve a trial of the Libyan suspects in an international court.

The FBI paper challenges prosecution evidence that the bomb, which destroyed Pan Am Flight 103 on 21 December 1988 and killed 270 people, was loaded on to the aircraft in Frankfurt after arriving in Germany on a flight from Malta.

During the Lockerbie investigation, detectives from Britain, the United States and Germany examined computer records at Frankfurt airport which, they said, revealed that an unaccompanied suitcase, thought to have contained the bomb, arrived on 21 December on Air Malta Flight KM 180 before being transferred on to Flight 103. The evidence led Britain and the US to charge two Libyan Arab Airlines employees who worked in Malta, Lamen Khalifa Fhimah and Abdel Basset Ali Al-Megrahi, with putting the suitcase on Flight KM 180.

The Frankfurt airport baggage records are vital to the prosecution case because they provide the only direct link between Malta and Germany and, therefore, between the suspects and the unaccompanied bag.

But the FBI briefing paper discloses that there is no documentary evidence that the suitcase was on Flight KM 180. The only link with the Maltese flight was that some transfer baggage from KM 180 had been unloaded at the luggage processing point where the suitcase was first sighted. It says: "There is no concrete indication that any piece of luggage was unloaded from Air Malta 180, sent through the luggage routing system at Frankfurt airport, and then loaded on board Pan Am 103."

The document says the baggage records are "misleading" and that the bomb suitcase could have come from another flight or was simply a "rogue bag inserted into the system".

Last week, BBC Radio's File on Four and The Independent revealed that vital prosecution eye-witness evidence from a Maltese shop-owner, which links one of the Libyan suspects to the bomb bag, was unreliable.

Lawyers for the pair said yesterday that the latest revelations, coupled with the American intelligence leak, called into question the prosecution case. One solicitor said: "The eye-witness statements in Malta and the documentary evidence from Frankfurt are absolutely crucial to the case against the two accused. We know that the eye-witness evidence is flawed. We now also know that the same is true of the documentary evidence. This case is crumbling to dust - raising fundamental questions as to why it was brought in the first place."

Fhimah, 38, and Al-Megrahi, 42, who deny the charges against them, have refused to surrender for trial in the UK or the US, but have offered to go to court in the Netherlands. The Government has rejected the offer.

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