Thursday, 26 November 2020

Who made the bomb? The full truth about Lockerbie is still not being told

[This is the headline over a long report by David Horovitz published today on the website of The Times of Israel. It reads in part:]

Megrahi went to his grave protesting his innocence, and his family continues to fight to clear his name. This week, Scotland’s highest criminal court is hearing his relatives’ latest appeal against his conviction, after an independent review determined that he might have been the victim of a miscarriage of justice. Among other flaws, the defense is highlighting that the Maltese shopkeeper who identified Megrahi as the man who purchased the incriminating clothing in the suitcase, and whose evidence has always been controversial, was paid for his testimony, a fact that was not disclosed to the defense in the original trial.

I have followed the Lockerbie case since the time of the bombing, when I was working for The Jerusalem Post as its London correspondent, and when I happened to see material in the early stages of the investigation that pointed not to Col. Gaddafi’s Libya, but rather to Iran and the Palestinian terrorist organization PFLP-GC — the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command. Earlier in 1988, the US Navy’s guided-missile cruiser USS Vincennes had shot down an Iran Air Airbus in the Persian Gulf, killing all 290 passengers and crew, in a tragic case of mistaken identity. The US said it had misidentified the civilian airliner as a fighter jet. Iran had promised to avenge the deaths. Ayatollah Khomeini had vowed that the skies would “rain blood.” (...)

Just weeks before the Lockerbie blast, four devices strikingly similar to the one that would soon be utilized to such devastating effect on Flight 103 had been found in the possession of PFLP-GC members arrested in a Frankfurt suburb. That PFLP-GC cell was reported at the time to have been planning to blow up planes heading to the US and Israel. Its bombs, like those the PFLP-GC had used in the past, and like the Lockerbie device, were detonated by a barometric pressure device and timer, activated when a plane reaches a certain altitude. A fifth bomb in the Frankfurt cell’s possession was said to have disappeared; this was presumed to be the device that blew up Flight 103.

The Lockerbie investigators were initially following these leads; then they shifted their focus to Libya. In 2003, Gaddafi accepted responsibility for the bombing — though he denied ordering it — and paid compensation to the victims’ families, in accordance with UN demands for the lifting of sanctions on his country.

Almost seven years ago, a colleague of mine at The Times of Israel noticed that a man named Marwan Khreesat, a Jordanian national, maintained an Arabic-language Facebook page in which he had taken to posting pictures of the Lockerbie bombing. Khreesat was the PFLP-GC’s bombmaker-in-chief, the alleged maker of those barometric-pressure devices. He was one of those who was arrested by the German authorities in Frankfurt, only to be inexplicably released soon afterward. Now he was promising to reveal the truth about Lockerbie — to “write about Pan Am 103,” including “who was on the flight and the circumstances of the incident.”

In his posts, Khreesat also connected himself to the bombing of an El Al plane from Rome to Tel Aviv in 1972, describing that attack as “a challenge to the Israeli intelligence agents who are responsible for searching luggage and everything that goes on a plane.” The 1972 El Al bomb — another barometric-pressure device — had been hidden in a record player that two British women were duped into carrying by two Arab men who were later arrested. Although the bomb exploded, the pilot was able to make an emergency landing. “It was a successful blow against the Israeli enemy,” Khreesat wrote in a March 14, 2014, Facebook post, in which he also described spending time with PFLP-GC chief Ahmed Jibril in Rome as they waited for the attack to unfold.

In several 2013-4 Facebook posts relating to Lockerbie, Khreesat recalled his arrest two months before the bombing. He posted pictures of the destroyed cockpit of the 747 after the explosion, the painstakingly reconstructed parts of the plane wreckage, and a radio-cassette recorder like the one that held the bomb. He also asked a series of unanswered questions about the attack. “Who did the operation?” he mused in a post on the 25th anniversary of the blast. “Israel? Iran? Libya? Who carried the Toshiba explosive device [in which the bomb was hidden]?… Did the explosive device come from Malta airport like the American intelligence agencies say?… When will these riddles be solved.”

This week’s appeal by the Megrahi family was green-lighted by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission in part because of “nondisclosure” of evidence to the defense team in the original trial. Some of that documentary evidence is widely reported to have been provided by Jordan’s late King Hussein and to not only to implicate the PFLP-GC in the Lockerbie atrocity, but to specify that Marwan Khreesat built the bomb.

On Friday, however, the head of the Scottish judiciary, Lord Carloway, ruled that the documents must still be withheld on the grounds of national security. Accepting a secrecy order signed by British Foreign Secretary Dominic Rabb [sic], Carloway explained, “[Rabb’s] clear view is [that the release of the documentation] would cause real harm to the national security of the UK because it would damage counter-terrorism liaison and intelligence gathering between the UK and other states… The documents had been provided in confidence to the government. Their disclosure would reduce the willingness of the state, which produced the documents, to confide information and to co-operate with the UK.”

All manner of conspiracy theories surround the Lockerbie bombing, some of which do not rule out the involvement of Libya and Megrahi, most of which revolve around the fact that nobody has been prosecuted for making the bomb, and many of which focus on the PFLP-GC and Marwan Khreesat.

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to raise the question of the Lockerbie bombing with several former Israeli intelligence figures, who were in office at the time of the bombing and well aware of the activities of the PFLP-GC at the time. Two of them insisted without elaboration that “Libya did it” and brushed away further questions. A third, by contrast, told me it was “clear that Jibril prepared the operation.”

Israel was “listening in” on the PFLP-GC during the months prior to Lockerbie, he said, and hearing about preparations for what “we thought was a plan to target an Israeli plane.” There was a “huge alert” in the Israeli security establishment because of indications that the PFLP-GC was about to strike, this source went on. “We told the British and the Americans what we knew, which was that there was an intention to hit an Israeli plane… We didn’t warn about a British or an American plane because we didn’t know that,” he said.

The new appeal hearing is expected to continue until Friday, with a ruling at a later date. “It is submitted in this case that no reasonable jury, properly directed, could have returned the verdict that it did, namely the conviction of Mr Megrahi,” the defense lawyer Claire Mitchell told the judges on Tuesday. But that argument will be harder to make without those “Jordanian” documents, which the defense has said are central to the appeal. If his relatives fail to have Megrahi’s conviction overturned, their allegation of a miscarriage of justice will linger.

Marwan Khreesat died in 2016.

His Facebook page is still online.

But he never did tell the truth about Lockerbie.


  1. Why would the Iranians want to avenge the shoot-down of their airliner? Once the US had admitted they did it, the global opprobrium was entirely on them and their deadly negligence. The Iranians had no motive to forfeit their moral high-ground. The shoot-down was not a matter of 'mistaken identity' but of the diabolical incompetence of the gung-ho, trigger-happy USS Vincennes skipper. Conspiracy theorists could argue that Western agents or their go-betweens blew up Pan Am 103 in order to retrospectively assuage the US of its guilt for the Vincennes missile strike.
    As for the 'rain blood' speech from Ayatollah Khomeini was no more of a threat than Khrushchev's "we will bury you" message to the US or Enoch Powell's "rivers of blood" prediction in the 1960s. When George W Bush vowed vengeance days after 9/11, he meant it, subsequently taking apart Iraq and Afghanistan, neither of whose leaders had been responsible for that debacle. The fatalities resulting from these adventures are uncountable.
    An investigation backed by all the intelligence resources of the western world have been unable to substantiate a Palestinian, Iranian, (or Syrian or East German) connection to the Lockerbie bombing. It is not a secret that Marwan Khreesat was an agent of Jordanian intelligence, itself a protégé and ally of the CIA. This helps explain how Khreesat and all the prime-movers in the 1988 Frankfurt bomb factory were either let go or disappeared into thin air.

  2. Apart from some interesting speculation as to what Marwan Khreesat might have been hinting at in his Facebook page, there is nothing new in this article by David Horovitz, except for a new factual error. He says that the Samsonite suitcase carrying the bomb travelled on a flight from Malta to London Heathrow where it was transferred to Pan Am flight PA103. Actually, as everyone interested in this case knows, the official version is that the suitcase travelled from Malta to Frankfurt, from where it travelled to Heathrow, to be tranferred onto the Pan Am 747 aircraft which was destroyed over Lockerbie.