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.

No comments:

Post a Comment