Sunday 17 October 2021
Thursday 15 June 2023
[Today's edition of the Daily Record contains an article about the letter written by Abdelbaset Megrahi in July 2003 to King Hussein of Jordan and delivered to him by Gaddafi aide Daad Sharab. The article contains the following:]
Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi’s adviser Daad Sharab, 61, visited Abdelbaset al-Megrahi three times in Scotland. She took a letter from Megrahi which he wrote to the King of Jordan in Barlinnie jail in a desperate bid to be freed.
Megrahi told how Nelson Mandela had visited him and supported his campaign for release. He claimed Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, the man cleared of the bombing when he faced trial alongside Megrahi in 2001, “put the suitcase on the flight”.
Megrahi wrote: “I have to write because of the great suffering condemned to imprisonment for false accusation. I am an Arabic Libyan unfairly convicted in the case of what is called Lockerbie. It was a false accusation based on the allegation I was the suspect who bought the clothes from a storekeeper in Malta.
“They were found in the remains of the suitcase bomb that was the cause for the plane crash over Lockerbie... my colleague, the second suspect who was acquitted by the court, is the one who put the suitcase on the flight from Malta.”
[RB: This remarkable allegation - that Megrahi admitted that his co-accused Lamin Fhimah put the suitcase containing the bomb on the Air Malta flight - does not match the translation of the relevant passage of the letter given on page 128 of Daad Sharab's book The Colonel And I: My Life With Gaddafi. The passage there reads (with emphasis added):
"I am an Arabic Libyan unfairly convicted in the case of what is called Lockerbie on a false accusation based on the allegation I was the suspect who bought the clothes from a storekeeper in Malta that were found in the remains of the suitcase bomb that was the cause for the plane crash over Lockerbie, and that I was available in Malta and that my colleague the second suspect who was acquitted by the court is the one who put the suitcase on the flight from Malta."
The Daily Record article contains a facsimile of the original Arabic version of Megrahi's letter, so those with a knowledge of the language can decide for themselves whether Megrahi was simply conveying the allegations made against himself and his co-accused, and whether the newspaper's version is grossly misleading.]
Saturday 2 April 2022
In a wide-ranging interview with Middle East Eye following publication of her memoir, The Colonel and I: My Life with Gaddafi, [Daad] Sharab talked about how the Libyan leader sent her on secret missions around the globe, during which she dealt directly with US President George HW Bush and visited alleged Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi in jail. (...)
Talking to MEE at her London home, Sharab excoriates former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who she says spoke highly of Gaddafi when the pair met privately over an intimate dinner in New York - only to publicly gloat later when the dictator was killed. (...)
She dismisses another western leader who embraced Gaddafi, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, as “a vulture hovering over Libya”.
When asked by MEE to explain, she said that Blair “made a deal with Libya to make money for his country, and not to be fair” - an apparent reference to the so-called “deal in the desert”, agreed with a handshake between the leaders in a tent outside Tripoli in 2004.
The deal cemented security and intelligence ties between the countries, including the British-orchestrated rendition of Libyan dissidents by the CIA to Tripoli - and also secured trade and oil deals for British firms.
Sharab says she “never fully trusted” Blair’s motives, even though she says he had a warm relationship with Gaddafi. (...)
Blair’s relationship with Gaddafi had been made possible by Libya’s admission of responsibility in 1999 for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 from London to New York in 1988, which exploded over the Scottish town of Lockerbie, killing all 259 passengers and crew, along with 11 people on the ground.
With Libya identified as a possible culprit in the weeks after the bombing, Gaddafi sent Sharab as his envoy to then-US President George HW Bush, who told her to deal not with the United States but with the British.
Eventually a deal was struck, with Libya accepting responsibility and paying $10m to each of the families of the dead in return for the removal of sanctions.
Megrahi, an alleged former Libyan intelligence officer who had been made a suspect in the case since 1991, was handed over to stand trial at a special Scottish court convened in the Netherlands and jailed for life in 2001.
Sharab insists that the deal was “all about money, not justice,” adding that the West needed a “victim to blame”, while Gaddafi wanted “a way out of the mess of sanctions”.
She told MEE that Gaddafi told her “they framed Libya and he had done nothing. He said if he had done it, he would admit it, but he didn’t do it.”
Speculation over who was responsible for the Lockerbie bombing has continued in the decades since Libya admitted responsibility.
In 2014, an Al Jazeera investigation alleged that an Iranian-funded Syria-based Palestinian organisation, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), had carried out the attack to avenge the shooting down of an Iranian airliner by a US warship in the Gulf in 1988.
Sharab is deeply sympathetic to Megrahi, who she visited in prison in Scotland prior to his release on compassionate grounds in 2009 after a terminal cancer diagnosis. He died at home in Tripoli in 2012.
Today she says that the West framed an “innocent man” who resembled a “mild-mannered accountant”.
She attacks Gaddafi’s son Saif for publicly taking credit for Megrahi’s return to Libya. She says he was barely involved in his release and “never once bothered” to visit Megrahi in jail.
MEE put to Sharab the claim, made by Libya’s former justice minister Mustafa Abdel-Jalil in 2011, that Gaddafi personally ordered the bombing.
She replied: “He knows nothing. He was minister when Gaddafi was president. Why would you work with the guy if you were sure he did that?”
“In my eyes,” states Sharab, “Al-Megrahi was the 271st Lockerbie victim.”
She accuses British intelligence of knowing the truth about Megrahi - but covering it up. Asked by MEE for evidence to support this assertion, she said it was “based on what Gaddafi told me and what Megrahi told me in prison. Both said he was innocent. And if Megrahi was guilty Britain would not have released him.”
Sunday 11 June 2023
[What follows is excerpted from a report published today on the Mirror newspaper website:]
A confidante of Colonel Gaddafi, who was assassinated in 2011 by Libyan rebel forces, said he allowed the Lockerbie bomber to be jailed for the attack despite knowing of his innocence
Colonel Gaddafi knew the Lockerbie bomber was innocent of mass murder but let him rot in prison in a political deal, his close adviser has said.
Daad Sharab, 61, was the Libyan dictator’s confidante for 22 years and visited Abdelbaset al-Megrahi three times in prison in Scotland.
The Libyan intelligence officer agreed to drop his appeal against his life sentence in return for his return to Libya on health grounds in 2009.
Now another former Libyan intelligence officer, Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi, 71, is to go on trial in the US over the attack.
He is accused of building the bomb that downed Pan Am flight 103 on December 21, 1988, killing all 259 on board and 11 people in Lockerbie. (...)
Sharab fears the trial will again implicate al-Megrahi. Speaking from her home in Jordan, Sharab said: “I believe that Megrahi was framed.
“He fulfilled his commitment to Gaddafi and went to trial even though he knew he was innocent.
“Gaddafi made a deal with the British then to lift sanctions.” Megrahi was jailed in 2001.
A Maltese shopkeeper testified he sold him clothing found in the case that held the bomb.
But writing to the King of Jordan in a letter Sharab delivered, al-Megrahi said: “I never in my life bought any clothes from any store in Malta.”
Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was a victim, said of al-Megrahi and a co-defendant: “I went into court thinking I was going to see the trial of those responsible for the murder.
“I came out thinking he had been framed.”
Gaddafi had Sharab imprisoned but she escaped, after 19 months, amid 2011’s Arab Spring uprising and went on to write The Colonel and I: My Life with Gaddafi.
Megrahi died aged 60 in 2012.
[The Daily Express has now picked up this story: Lockerbie bomber was framed by Colonel Gaddafi and took the fall for Pan Am atrocity.]
Saturday 23 October 2021
[What follows is the third and final extract from chapter 15 of The Colonel and I: My Life with Gaddafi by Daad Sharab. Articles about this book can be found in The National here and here. The previous extracts on this blog can be read here and here.]
As he was released, al-Megrahi said he bore the people of Scotland no ill will, and thanked the prison staff at Barlinnie and Greenock for their kindness. He received a hero’s welcome back in Tripoli. [RB: Saif al-Islam Gaddafi in an article in The New York Times denied that there had been a hero's welcome.] I was in Jordan at the time but watched on television, noticing that al-Megrahi flew home on the same jet I’d helped Gaddafi buy from Prince al-Waleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia. Also on board was the Colonel’s son, Saif, in his white robes and holding al-Megrahi’s arm aloft as he stepped on to Libyan soil.
Saif was basking in the glory of the triumphant homecoming, although in reality I knew he’d barely been involved. I was seething inside as I watched him steal all the credit, while the real hard workers were nowhere to be seen. Saif regularly went to London, but he never once bothered to hop on a domestic flight to Glasgow to visit al-Megrahi in prison at either Barlinnie or Greenock. The jubilant scenes didn’t go down well in the West, which had requested a restrained welcome, but this was too good an opportunity to pass up. It was rare that Libya got the upper hand against America.
However, when he came home I hardly recognised al-Megrahi who was walking with a stick and had to be helped down the steps of the aircraft. He looked nothing like the healthy man I’d last visited a few years earlier. It was said at the time of his release that he would die within three months. In fact he lingered on for another three years, even outliving Gaddafi which no one could have envisaged at the time. I found the outcry from the West over al-Megrahi’s failure to die sooner distasteful. I always felt very sorry for him and never doubted his innocence. What reason did he have to lie to me, an agent of the regime?
In a moment of desperation, he once told me in prison: ‘They would be very happy for me to die here.’ There is a suspicion in my mind that al-Megrahi did not receive very good medical attention in prison, because prostate cancer usually responds well to treatment if it is caught early. He died at his villa in the suburbs of Tripoli, in May 2012, aged 60. I hope he found peace and was able to enjoy precious time with his family. In my eyes al-Megrahi was the 271st Lockerbie victim.
By then the final compensation cheques had been paid to the families, much to the dismay of Gaddafi. Although he appreciated the importance of keeping up the instalments, he often railed against the unfairness and how the handing over of compensation would be interpreted. ‘Why should I do this when Libya is innocent?’ he asked many times.
For those working behind the scenes it was a constant battle to persuade the Colonel to take a pragmatic approach. Finally Abdul Ati al-Obeidi, one of his key advisors on Lockerbie, spelled this out in very direct terms. At one of our regular Lockerbie briefing meetings with Gaddafi, he told the leader: ‘Look, we don’t want to see you suffer the same fate as Saddam Hussein. If the cost is money, then we have a lot of money. Let’s just pay them, get rid of this issue, open up our country and keep it stable. America can do anything it wants. Do you want us to end up watching you on TV like Saddam Hussein?’
It was a very blunt reference to Saddam’s capture and humiliation by US forces, which had so rattled Gaddafi. For all his bluster he knew that America and its allies could topple him at the drop of a hat. The bombing of his compound in 1986 by the Americans was a constant reminder of the West’s power. After al-Obeidi’s intervention the Colonel didn’t make such a fuss about the blood money.
The burning question remains: if al-Megrahi was innocent, as I firmly believe, then who brought down the Pan Am flight?
At the time of the Lockerbie bombing there were loose alliances between various states and organisations. They were generally opposed to the ideals of the West, and pooled resources. Bombing an aircraft is no easy matter, so if one country didn’t have the expertise to carry out an attack it simply funded a group that did. I don’t carry a smoking gun but al-Megrahi, who knew the case inside out and had access to Libya’s files on Lockerbie, was convinced that it was a joint enterprise between Iran, Syria and The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine [-General Command]. The shooting down of the Iranian passenger jet by the American warship Vincennes, six months before Lockerbie, was too much of a coincidence. It was the crucial link, but by the time the evidence began to stack up no one wanted to point the finger at Iran or Syria, who had helped Western coalition forces in the first Gulf War. My time on the fringes of international diplomacy taught me that politicians are like shifting sands in the desert.
Sadly I never got the opportunity to see al-Megrahi following his release but I know he intended to present fresh evidence at his appeal, insisting he had nothing to fear or hide. ‘I had most to gain and nothing to lose about the whole truth coming out,’ he said.
I am sure the British intelligence services know the truth about Lockerbie, but it has been covered up. Al-Megrahi’s early death was convenient, although his family did eventually get a posthumous appeal. It came as no surprise to me that it was rejected, or that al-Megrahi’s family have called on the British government to release secret files which implicate Iran. Justice has not been done and, for political reasons, I fear we may never learn the truth.
In another recent development the US has named and charged another so-called suspect, Abu Agila Mohammad Masud. I don’t claim to know every member of the Libyan intelligence services but I can tell you I never encountered him during my many years in Libya, or heard his name mentioned by Gaddafi. Why did the Americans choose to make this announcement on the 32nd anniversary of Lockerbie? In my opinion it is nothing more than another crass political stunt.
Thursday 21 October 2021
[What follows is a further extract from chapter 15 of The Colonel and I: My Life with Gaddafi by Daad Sharab. Articles about this book can be found in The National here and here. The previous extract on this blog can be read here.]
In 2005, al-Megrahi was transferred to the more relaxed surroundings of Greenock prison, where he served the rest of his sentence. I wasn’t surprised to find that he was depressed. In the early days of his captivity his family relocated to Scotland to be near him, but they encountered hostility from locals and soon moved back to Libya. The separation from his loved ones had clearly affected his mental health and he was not sleeping well. Al-Megrahi, who had five children, was most upset about missing the wedding of his only daughter. He told me that she’d come to Scotland with the marriage papers, for him to sign according to Arab custom. He’d cried for a week after her visit, he told me, adding: ‘Every day I spend here my children are growing up. My daughter was a child when I left Libya and now she is a woman. Please remind President Gaddafi.’
We spoke about al-Megrahi’s journey from Malta, where he worked for Libyan Arab Airlines, to the special court at Camp Zeist in The Netherlands where he was convicted in 2001. He was alleged to have used his position to evade lax security and smuggle the bomb into a suitcase on a flight which connected with Pan Am 103. At the prison I was interested to learn that he’d never met Gaddafi face-to-face and all his dealings, prior to being handed over for trial, had been with Abdullah Senussi in the intelligence office.
Al-Megrahi told me: ‘Senussi came to see me and said to me: “There is an agreement with the West to send you for trial, which the leader says you are free to accept or reject. No one will force you to go and you will be protected by us.”’
He gave himself up for his country but at the time he was sure he would not spend long behind bars, and this was eating away at him. He did not believe he’d received the fair trial that had been promised.
From what I observed, al-Megrahi was well treated and, in return, was a model prisoner. He was able to cook his own Halal food and sometimes used the prison gym, although he devoted most of his spare time to reading and researching his case. Satellite television was installed in his cell so that he could watch Arab stations, delighting other inmates who also had access to a host of new channels. Rather predictably, his unit became known as ‘the Gaddafi café’.
I was allowed to take a camera into my meeting with al-Megrahi at Barlinnie. Returning to Libya to present my report, I first showed Gaddafi photographs of myself with the prisoner. Until I explained his identity, the Colonel seemed to show no recognition of the man at my side. For anyone who still believes Gaddafi personally instructed the Lockerbie bomber, interpret that how you will.
I told Gaddafi of his countryman’s dismay about the passing years and apparent inaction by the Libyan government. He replied: ‘Meet him again. Tell him that I received his message and I will find a solution. Tell him that I promise he will be home soon.’ From that moment, the Colonel did everything possible to keep his case in the spotlight, also funding lawyers for his appeal and paying for investigators to gather new evidence.
When I next visited al-Megrahi, he was a frightened man. He’d become convinced there was a plot to assassinate him, by deliberately leaving the doors to his secure unit unlocked. ‘The other prisoners hate me,’ he told me. If what he was saying was true I knew he had good reason to be terrified, because the Lockerbie bomber was a prize scalp. I promised to pass on his concerns and, to the best of my knowledge he never suffered any harm in either prison.
In Libya he was regarded as a martyr. The Colonel’s wife, Safia, took Al-Megrahi’s wife, Aisha, under her wing. She was treated like a VIP, often appearing at functions and on Libyan television.
I liked al-Megrahi and we kept in touch. He had my mobile telephone number and occasionally I’d receive calls. We’d speak for a few minutes about the case and we exchanged letters. I used to urge him to keep his spirits up, and reassure him that he was always in Gaddafi’s thoughts.
Al-Megrahi was ultimately granted a second appeal, which I’m convinced would have cleared his name. The already weak case against him was gradually being dismantled, as it emerged key witnesses had been paid millions of dollars to testify. Tony Gauci, the Maltese shopkeeper who picked out al-Megrahi as the man who bought the clothes which were found in the suitcase containing the bomb, was discredited. There was doubt he was even in Malta at the time, which would have blown the entire case out of the water.
Few people who have studied the evidence in any depth truly believed al-Megrahi was the bomber, or that Libya was behind the attack. Had the appeal gone ahead it would have been very embarrassing for the West and there was a good chance al-Megrahi would have ended up receiving compensation for wrongful imprisonment. There was also talk in Libya of suing Britain for the economic damage caused by the years of sanctions against Libya. Can you imagine that?
I was shocked when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2008. He was released by the Scottish government on compassionate grounds on 20 August 2009, when he was said to be terminally ill. Six days earlier he withdrew his appeal, explaining: ‘I have been faced with an appalling choice: to risk dying in prison in the hope that my name is cleared posthumously or to return home still carrying the weight of the guilty verdict, which will never now be lifted. The choice which I made is a matter of sorrow, disappointment and anger, which I fear I will never overcome.’ It was just one more political deal over Lockerbie and his early release, after eight and a half years in prison, brought condemnation from the US. ‘We think it is a mistake,’ said President Barack Obama.
Many of the relatives of the Lockerbie victims were also angry but the decision was welcomed by Jim Swire, the doctor whose daughter was among the dead. As usual he gave a measured response, stating: ‘I feel despondent that Scotland and the West didn’t have the guts to allow this man’s second appeal to continue because I am convinced that had they done so it would have overturned the verdict against him.’
A survey in The Times revealed that 45 per cent of British people believed his release had more to do with oil. I don’t disagree. I’d urge anyone who is interested in the case to look at Dr Swire’s website, Lockerbietruth.com.
[to be continued]
Tuesday 19 October 2021
[This is the first of a number of extracts from chapter 15 of The Colonel and I: My Life with Gaddafi by Daad Sharab that I shall be posting on this blog. Articles about her book can be found in The National here and here.]
A prison guard ushers me into a small room, containing only a table and a couple of chairs. Already seated is a bespectacled man, in his early fifties and with grey flecks in his brown hair, who is wearing a baggy tracksuit. Before him there’s a large file of documents and as I enter he stands to shake my hand. His grip is gentle and he appears a little nervous. When he speaks it’s almost in a whisper, although we are not being overheard.
During my time working for Gaddafi, the Lockerbie bombing and its aftermath provided a constant backdrop. It was the single issue that most occupied the Colonel’s mind and in 2003 I was summoned to the leader’s office, to be told he was sending me to Scotland to meet Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi. As far as most people were concerned this man had the blood of 270 innocent people on his hands. Outside Libya he was better known simply as the Lockerbie bomber.
Al-Megrahi spent the first three years of his sentence at Barlinnie, a high security prison in Glasgow, where he was incarcerated in a purpose-built unit. Other than family members and lawyers, Nelson Mandela was one of his few visitors. Barlinnie has the reputation as ‘Scotland’s toughest jail’ and is also the country’s largest, holding more than 1,000 inmates.
The Libyan government had a small office in Glasgow, solely to support Al-Megrahi, and one of the five staff greeted me at the city’s airport. Next day we drove the short distance from my city centre hotel to Barlinnie, where memories of my previous prison visits came flooding back as I passed through security.
The prisoner was expecting me and had been briefed that I was representing Gaddafi directly. Al-Megrahi resembled a mild-mannered accountant but, if the Scottish justice system is to be trusted, he still remains the biggest mass killer in British history. He didn’t look like a murderer, but how do you tell? Of course, Libya always had a very different view and regarded him as a sacrificial lamb. The West needed a figure to blame and to be able to claim justice had been done; Gaddafi needed to find a way out of the mess of sanctions. Everyone benefited except Al-Megrahi and his family. He already had one failed appeal behind him, but when we first met was working on another. In the West there was growing unease about the safety of his conviction, and the expectation in Libya was that he would soon be coming home. Britain wanted rid of him but, unusually, was in disagreement with the US which was taking a much harder line.
My brief was simple: to check-up on Al-Megrahi and offer reassurance that he had not been forgotten. He was pleased with the new trainers and two tracksuits that I brought, and over the next two hours we spoke openly about his case and prospects for release. Al-Megrahi told me that he had not been coerced by Gaddafi to hand himself in for trial, but I couldn’t help wondering: how could he have refused? The pressure must have been unbearable because Libya’s future relations with the US and Britain, not to mention the entire issue of sanctions, were hanging on finding a solution to the Lockerbie problem.
It took years to find a compromise, which entailed handing over Al-Megrahi and another suspect for trial at a neutral venue, and agreeing to pay $2.7 billion compensation to the families of the 270 victims. The final piece of the jigsaw was a carefully worded statement. In it Libya ‘accepted responsibility for the actions of its officials’ but did not admit guilt for bringing down Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988. It was often wrongly interpreted as a full admission, but anyone reading the words closely could see that was not the case. It was a fudge and, in my view, represented diplomacy at its most cynical. Libya bought peace with the West, which framed an innocent man.
When the Lockerbie verdict came through in January 2001, delivered by three Scottish judges, I was in Tripoli. The second suspect, Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah, was acquitted and I remember Gaddafi telling me: ‘It’s what I expected. They could not lose face by releasing both men.’
The Colonel was determined to secure Al-Megrahi’s early release but, speaking to the prisoner, it was clear that he felt let down by his country. Al-Megrahi urged me to use my connections with the royal family of Jordan, handing me a letter addressed to King Abdullah in which he protested his innocence and pleaded to be transferred to a prison in any Arab territory until his innocence was proved. Here is an excerpt:
‘Your Majesty, I am an Arabic Libyan citizen who was unfairly convicted in the case of what is called Lockerbie on a false accusation based on the allegation that I was the suspect who bought the clothes from a storekeeper in Malta that were found in the remains of the suitcase bomb that was the cause for the plane crash over Lockerbie, and that I was [present] in Malta and that my colleague the second suspect who was acquitted by the court is the one who put the suitcase on the flight from Malta.
‘Your Majesty, I am a rational Muslim; I am not an extremist at all. I have a family and children who I do love more than any other thing. I swear to Allah the One, the Almighty, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful, the Holy, the Bestower, the Alive, The Lord of Majesty and Bounty, I swear with all the beautiful tributes of Allah that I have never in my life bought any clothes from any store in Malta. I have never seen the clothes, nor the storekeeper in my life except during the trial when the witness presented his deposition. I have never dealt in my life with a suitcase that contains an [explosive device] at any airport in the world. My presence at Malta, if it were really the beginning of this crime, as claimed by the allegation, was merely to get some necessities.
‘Your Majesty, I beg you on behalf of my family and my children to raise my problem with those concerned in the United Kingdom and the United States of America to be transported to a prison in my homeland, or in your country or in any other Arabic country (as I consider any Arabic country as my own homeland) until the time when Allah Almighty will show my innocence to the entire world.
‘Your Majesty, I conclude my letter with this verse: By the name of Allah, the Merciful our Lord! Rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from thee one who will protect, and raise for us one who will help.’
[to be continued]