Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Masud. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Masud. Sort by date Show all posts

Monday 13 February 2023

Human rights concerns in Lockerbie suspect’s rendition

[What follows is excerpted from a report published today on the Human Rights Watch website:]

United States and Libyan authorities should clarify the legal basis for the abusive arrest and subsequent extradition to the US of a Libyan suspect in the 1988 deadly airplane bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, Human Rights Watch said today. US authorities on December 12, 2022, announced that they had custody of and intended to prosecute Abu Agela Masud Kheir Al-Marimi, a former official of the government of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, after an armed group seized him from his home in Tripoli.

“It appears that no Libyan court ordered or reviewed Masud’s transfer to the US, and he had no chance to appeal, raising serious due process concerns,” said Hanan Salah, associate Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The political impasse and chaos in Libya don’t allow US authorities to disregard violations of fundamental rights.”

The Tripoli-based Libyan prime minister, Abdelhamid Dabeiba, said his Government of National Unity (GNU) collaborated with the US on the transfer, while Libyan judicial authorities have challenged the handover’s legality and opened an investigation. Libya and the US have no extradition treaty.

The US should uphold international fair trial standards and grant Masud access to his family members, including by promptly processing visas for them. US authorities should also grant him the right to challenge his extradition. As Prime Minister Dabeiba promised, Libyan authorities should provide consular visits, help Masud get effective legal counsel, and coordinate his family’s visits. They should also investigate and hold accountable members of the armed group responsible for violently seizing Masud from his home.

Masud is the third Libyan in the last decade transferred to the US under murky legal circumstances to stand trial on a terrorism-related charge.

The US had long sought Masud’s arrest for his alleged role in the Lockerbie bombing. The apparent basis for the charges are confessions he allegedly made in 2012 to a Libyan interrogator. A relative of Masud told Human Rights Watch that family members had no prior notification of the extradition, and learned about it from social media posts about his appearance in a US court on December 12. They said they knew of no judicial procedures before he was sent from Libya, and spoke with him by phone for the first time on February 10, two months after his transfer to the US. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. (...)

Masud was not under an arrest warrant in Libya, said his relative, when he was seized on November 17 in his home in the Abu Salim district of Tripoli by an armed group whose members refused to identify themselves during the arrest, wore no insignias, and came in cars that were unmarked. They took him to an undisclosed location, his relative said. However, Abu Salim district is controlled by the Stability Support Apparatus, which also controls parts of the Libyan capital and is aligned with the GNU prime minister.

Armed group members arrived at around 1:30 a.m., the relative said. The group stationed armed men in front of the homes of Masud and of other family members nearby, barring everyone from leaving. Members of the group shoved Masud’s wife and beat his daughter, who needed medical attention for her hands after the incident, the relative said. They also beat one of Masud’s sons with a rifle. They dragged Masud, 71, whose mobility was reduced due to illness, across the floor, refusing help from family members to carry him.

The Abu Salim police refused to record a kidnapping complaint brought by the family the next day, prompting the family to contact armed groups and the General Prosecutor’s Office to try to find out where he was, the family member said.

On November 24 or 25, a week later, Masud called to tell his family he was being held in Misrata, 200 kilometers east of the capital, by an armed group allied with Prime Minister Dabeiba known as the Joint Force, and under Omar Bughdada’s command. The group permitted Masud to call his relatives and permitted the family to visit him twice in Misrata before his transfer to the US. On December 11, authorities in Scotland announced that Masud had been taken into US custody.

On December 12, the US Department of State announced that Masud had been taken before a court in Washington, DC, to face two criminal counts, including destruction of an aircraft resulting in death, based on charges filed by the Justice Department in December 2020.

US authorities gave no details on Masud’s arrest and transfer in the absence of an extradition treaty. The US Embassy in Tunis, which covers Libya, tweeted that Masud’s transfer “was lawful and conducted in cooperation with Libyan authorities,” and that it “followed Interpol publishing a Red Notice for Masud in January 2022,” requesting member countries to arrest him for transfer to the US.

In a Statement of Facts from 2020, the US Justice Department maintains that there is probable cause that Masud conspired with others, and aided and abetted them, in causing the destruction of Pan Am flight 103. This affidavit, submitted to support the charges, said that the US appears to build its case around a confession allegedly made by Masud to an unidentified Libyan operative on September 12, 2012, while Masud was detained in Libya. US authorities obtained an English translation of the transcript of the interrogation in 2017. Anti-Gaddafi fighters had detained Masud in 2011 after the revolution in Libya. In 2015, following a mass trial marred by serious due process violations, a Tripoli criminal court sentenced him to 10 years in prison for his role in booby trapping cars during the 2011 revolution and 31 other former Gaddafi officials to various prison terms. Masud was ordered released in 2021 on medical grounds.

During his years in Libyan custody, Human Rights Watch documented the use of torture, intimidation, and other abuses in Libyan facilities, often to extract confessions. Libya’s justice system was and remains marked by serious due process violations. US authorities should ensure that no coerced confessions, including confessions made under torture, are used as part of the prosecution, in violation of US and international law, Human Rights Watch said.

Libyan authorities did not respond to the allegations that they participated in a possibly unlawful extradition until December 16, when Dabeiba stated on TV that he had cooperated with US authorities in the transfer. Dabeiba called Masud a “terrorist” but did not clarify the legal basis for the extradition. In a statement on December 14, Libya’s general prosecutor confirmed that his office had not been part of the extradition and that he had opened an investigation into whether Masud was extrajudicially transferred.

While Prime Minister Dabeiba pledged in the TV statement that Masud would get consular and family visits and that the Libyan government would pay his legal costs, this has yet to happen. Masud’s family has hired only a temporary legal counsel who met with Masud upon his arraignment in the US. (...)

“Justice for the many victims of Pan Am flight 103 risks being tainted unless the US and GNU governments clarify the legal basis for Masud’s transfer to US custody,” Salah said.

Sunday 18 December 2022

"Even a facade of legality was not maintained"

[What follows is excerpted from a report headlined US accused of illegal abduction of Lockerbie bomb suspect from Libya published in today's edition of The Observer:]

The abduction of a former Libyan intelligence operative accused of preparing the bomb that brought down Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 and his transfer into US custody raises concerns about a renewed willingness in Washington to flout international law to hunt alleged terrorist fugitives.

The family of Mohammed Abouagela Masud, who appeared in a US courtroom last week, have described how the 71-year-old was “kidnapped” from his home in Tripoli’s Abu Salem neighbourhood around 1am on 17 November by armed gunmen sent by a notorious local militia commander. He was then held by another militia for two weeks before being handed over to US agents.

The case recalls the excesses of the “war on terror” which saw dozens of so-called renditions – clandestine, illegal transfers of suspects by US intelligence services.

Abdel Moneim al-Muraimi, Masud’s nephew, told the Observer that his uncle had been unlawfully abducted. “We have filed a complaint with the attorney general’s office and demanded an investigation of the people who kidnapped him and those who handed him over. We want them to face justice. This is an assault on a citizen in his home,” al-Muraimi said. (...)

Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said: “We have long called for accountability for crimes [including the Lockerbie attack] under international law but this has to be done in a manner that respects due process and upholds fair trial rights. In this case even a facade of legality was not maintained … there was no hearing for [Masud] to challenge the lawfulness of his detention and transfer.”

The exact legal justification for the transfer of Masud is unclear. Libya does not have an extradition treaty with the US, no court is known to have considered any request from Washington nor from the government of Libya, and there is no record of any warrant issued for Masud’s detention. Libyan officials have cited an Interpol warrant.

“This is clearly illegal under Libyan law. It was very obviously an extraordinary rendition contrary to international law,” said Jason Pack, author of Libya and the Global Enduring Disorder. But in a televised broadcast on Thursday evening, Libya’s prime minister, Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, said Masud’s extradition was lawful and his government was cooperating with an “international judicial framework to extradite accused citizens”.

Libyan officials with knowledge of the case told the Observer that Masud was seized by gunmen loyal to Abdel Ghani al-Kikli, known as “Gheniwa”, an infamous local militia commander who controls the capital’s poor, crowded Abu Salem neighbourhood.

“Several armed vehicles filled with armed men arrived at his house … and kidnapped him. My father and my uncle’s other brothers live on the same street so we went out to see what was going on, but they threatened us with weapons. It was terrorism, real terrorism,” said al-Muraimi.

Al-Kikli has been accused of human rights abuses. Amnesty has documented disappearances, torture and unlawful killings while a UN report earlier this year described “beating by guards, denial of medical care, starvation and enslavement practices” by al-Kikli’s militia at a migrant detention centre west of Tripoli.

Libyan sources in Tripoli said Donald Trump’s administration officials had been in discussions with local authorities about bringing Masud to the US to stand trial since 2019. These “conversations” had continued under Joe Biden.

In July, powerful individuals within the Tripoli-based Government of National Unity (GNU) contacted US government officials and offered to hand Masud over despite his recent release from prison. The 71-year-old had been serving a 10-year sentence for crimes while an intelligence operative under the regime of Muammar Gaddafi, who was ousted in 2011,

After being abducted from his home, Masud was transferred to a heavily armed paramilitary unit called the Joint Force in the port city of Misrata. The Joint Force was set up a year ago by Dbeibeh to act as a personal praetorian guard and has been accused of human rights abuses, including an extra-judicial execution earlier this year, torture, arbitrary detention and forced disappearances.

After around 10 days in Misrata, Masud called his family who were allowed to visit him in a militia base. “They said, ‘Don’t worry about him, we are taking care of him and will not hand him over’,” al-Muraimi, told the Observer. Two weeks later, US officials collected Masud and flew their captive to Malta on a secret flight and then on to the US, Libyan officials said. (...)

Dbeibeh’s mandate expired last December and he may have hoped to win favour from the Biden administration by giving Masud to the US.

Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, said last week that Masud had been brought to the US “in a lawful manner according to established procedures”. But Amnesty’s Eltahawy said that relying on “commanders of abusive militias and armed groups … for law enforcement or special operations only further entrenches their power and emboldens them to commit further horrific crimes”.

Masud’s relatives are concerned about the health of an “old, sick man”. “As a family, we have been in complete shock. We did not expect this to happen at all,” al-Muraimi said.

Friday 18 December 2020

“Is this an American attempt to influence the judges?"

[What follows is excerpted from an article by Tom Peterkin in today's edition of The Press and Journal:]

The FBI agent who led the original Lockerbie investigation has revealed the atrocity’s latest suspect was on his “radar” 30 years ago but there was a struggle to prove the case against him.

Richard Marquise said it was strongly suspected Abu Agila Mohammad Masud was the “technician” responsible for the bomb that killed 270 people in the worst terrorist outrage committed on UK territory.

Mr Marquise was reacting to reports suggesting that US prosecutors will seek the extradition of Mr Masud and he will be charged in a matter of days, to stand trial in America.

As the man who led the US side of the inquiry into the bombing, Mr Marquise welcomed reports that Mr Masud could face justice, claiming any progress would be appreciated by the families who lost loved ones on Pan Am Flight 103.

“If there is going to be another trial, I’m sure the families will be… I’m not going to use the word thrilled…. because it doesn’t bring a loved one back. But I am sure they will be grateful,” Mr Marquise said. (...)

“He’s been on my radar for around 30 years,” Mr Marquise said. “He was someone we were very interested in, but we never quite found out who he was. The Libyans disavowed any knowledge of him. We knew he existed but he was never really identified.

“Back in 1991, we knew his name. We knew what he looked like and we knew what he allegedly was responsible for. He was the technician.”

The retired FBI agent added: “In my mind I always felt he was connected to it somehow But we didn’t have the clues to prove it.”

Kenny MacAskill, the former Justice Secretary who controversially released Megrahi on compassionate grounds, agreed.

“He was the one with the skills. He was on the original indictment, I’m led to believe. So he was always a wanted man,” Mr MacAskill said. “The idea that Megrahi did this on his own was absurd.”

Reports from the other side of the Atlantic suggest Mr Masud had been in custody in Libya on unrelated charges but his current whereabouts are unknown.

Since Mr Marquise’s official involvement in the investigation, there have been some developments. At the forefront of these have been the work of Ken Dornstein, a journalist whose brother David was on the London to New York flight.

In 2015 Mr Dornstein produced a investigative documentary, Lockerbie: My Brother’s Bomber, which linked Mr Masud to the bombing of Berlin’s La Belle nightclub in 1986.

Mr Dornstein interviewed a Libyan intelligence officer who said Mr Masud was involved in the bombing before the unification of Germany, which killed two US servicemen.

The same source alleged Mr Masud, by then in jail in Tripoli, was involved in the Lockerbie bombing and said he was still alive.

Mr Dornstein also claimed Mr Masud met Megrahi after the latter was freed from a Scottish jail in 2009 and given a hero’s welcome when he landed back in Libya. (...)

Mr MacAskill has already made it plain that he believes that people other than Megrahi should be held to account for the bombing.

“Question arise as to why, if they are going for Masud, aren’t they going for Senussi?” asked the former Justice Secretary. 

Mr MacAskill was referring to Abdullah Al Senussi, the late Libyan dictator Colonel Gaddafi’s brother-in-law and former spy chief who has long been associated with the crime. (...)

“I heard over recent years the view of the Libyans was they don’t like Senussi and they don’t like Masud, but giving them up to the Americans is a step too far,” Mr MacAskill said.

“I think this is probably the juncture for Britain and America to be a bit more open in information they do have and produce it, as opposed to hiding it.”

What can be read into the timing of Masud’s extradition?

That is an interesting question, according to Professor Robert Black, an the Edinburgh University legal academic who has been a keen student of the Lockerbie case.

Professor Black is regarded as the architect of the Scottish court that was set up in Camp Zeist, Netherlands, to try Megrahi and his co-accused, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, who was found not guilty.

“I wonder…. why now?” asked Professor Black. “Masud’s name has featured in the Lockerbie case since the very beginning, when charges were brought against Megrahi and Fhimah in 1991.”

“I think the answer to that is William Barr, the US Attorney General, is wanting to go out with a bang.”

This week it was announced that Mr Barr, who has been one of Donald Trump’s staunchest allies, is to step down as head of the US’s Justice Department.

Professor Black pointed out that Mr Barr was actually acting Attorney General way back in 1991 and was the one to announce that Megrahi and Fhimah were being charged.

“Now that he’s about to leave the scene, I think he wants to go out and his name to be remembered: Lockerbie at the beginning and Lockerbie at the end,” Professor Black said. (...)

Professor Black, who has long argued that Megrahi should not have been convicted on the evidence brought before Camp Zeist, suggested cynics might view attempts to extradite Musad as an attempt to make an impact on the appeal process.

“The other possibility is that it is a blatant attempt to influence the Scottish judges because they have got the latest Megrahi appeal before them and we await their judgement,” Professor Black said.

The argument would be that the existence of another high-profile Libyan suspect, alongside Megrahi, would back up the case for Libyan involvement in the crime.

“Is this an American attempt to influence the judges to uphold the Megrahi conviction? That’s a very, very cynical view.”

But cynicism was how the development was greeted by Megrahi family’s lawyer, Aamer Anwar.

“It’s difficult not to be cynical about the motivation of the Americans, that on the eve of the anniversary of the Lockerbie bombing as well as the appeal decision, the US now wish to indict an individual, 32 years after the bombing, what exactly have they been doing up until now?” said Mr Anwar

“Why would the Attorney General William Barr wait until just as he is about to step down from the Justice Department, considering that he was involved with this case since 1991.”

Thursday 24 November 2022

Libyan commentator's assessment of the Masud affair

[I am grateful to the distinguished Libyan journalist and commentator Dr Mustafa Fetouri for supplying this assessment of the Masud affair.]

Over the last two weeks I have tried to figure out what is going on in Libya concerning the situation of Libyan Abuajila Masud accused by the United States of being a culprit in the Lockerbie disaster. Since William Barr, the US Attorney General, publicly named him in December 2020 the man disappeared and little information has been obtained as to what is happening to him. Sorting out the real news from what is fake and lies in Libya today is very hard. It appears the entire political elite, government and the media they just addicted to lies. They simply lie even when there is no interest to do so. In the end I can say with a degree of certainty that: 

1.  Abu Agela Masud is indeed alive and he is living in the Abu Salim area just south of the capital Tripoli. He was released from Al-Hadba notorious prison sometime in 2017 after spending years there. That prison, until taken over after a day-long heavy fighting in 2017, was under the control of the terrorist group Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG). After he was forced to flee to Turkey I caught up with Kahlid Sherif, who used to be the director and top LIFG leader. I went to Istanbul in 2020 to meet him but he failed to show up. Through written message I asked him questions but he mostly refused to answer. In 2021, if I remember correctly, he was hosted on Clubhouse for a long session. I was kicked out of the room before I could ask all my questions. Even after that he refused to sit for an interview with me. 

2.  On the early morning of 17 November 2022, a group of armed men came to Masud’s house and took him away. His family, friends, and neighbours never knew where he is. They still do not. The government in Tripoli is silent. The House of Representatives, the Higher Council of State (consultative body), and the National Security Advisor (former judge) have rejected, in statements, all attempts to open the Lockerbie case while condemning the disappearance of Mr Masud. Ironically, their separate statements never actually, with certainty, said what is going on. None of them produced any reasonable narrative nor proof that the man indeed has been kidnapped let alone his whereabouts.  

3.  Mr Masud, has indeed been taken away. Who took him and where is pretty difficult to figure out. His family, in a statement, have confirmed this. But I suspect that the statement may not be true and authentic and actually written by the family. It simply does not sound right. I have been trying to contact the family but so far failed to do so.  

4.  The narrative/rumours (nothing is certain) go like this: the Tripoli government wants to please the US to remain in power. Foreign minister Al-Mangoush in November 2021 did hint in a BBC interview about the possibility of handing over Masud to the US. This is the first time the corrupt Tripoli government ever talked about Lockerbie. At the time I led a social media campaign, including several TV appearances on prominent Libya TV channels. The public reaction supporting me was huge and the minister was forced to clarify her comments. She even denied what was attributed to her in that BBC interview, despite the fact a video clip of that conversation was aired!  And then silence until the news/rumours broke last week. 

5.  Finally: I never believed that the US is serious about extraditing Mr Masud to stand trial. However I tried, I could not confirm that the Libyan side received any official request from the Americans to extradite the man. There are no indications that the Americans are really seeking him. One simple indication of that is the fact that, as of today, Masud’s name is not on the FBI list of most wanted. I recall in 1991 the late Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was on the top list as soon as he was indicted. Would the corrupt Tripoli government hand Masud over if it believed that could help it stay in power? It is unlikely, but such government is capable of committing almost any sin against the country and its people. 

Tuesday 22 September 2015

Jailed Libyan bombmaker 'subject of fresh Lockerbie investigation'

[This is the headline over a report published this evening on the STV News website. It reads as follows:]

One of the original suspects in the Lockerbie bombing is the subject of a renewed police investigation 26 years after the atrocity, STV News understands.
Mohammed Abouagela Masud was named in the 1999 indictment against the only man convicted of the bombing, Abdelbasset Al Megrahi, but he remained a shadowy figure and never faced charges.
A documentary made by the brother of one of the American victims has now revealed that Masud is not only still alive, but serving a ten year sentence in Libya for bomb making.
The prosecution case at the Lockerbie trial alleged the downing of Pan Am 103 was an act of state sponsored terrorism carried out by members of the Libyan intelligence service.
They claimed the Libyans smuggled a bomb onto a flight from Malta to Frankfurt. The device was then transferred onto Pan Am 103 at Heathrow before exploding in the skies over the Scottish Borders, killing 270 people.
The indictment alleged that on the day of the bombing, December 21, 1988, Megrahi had left Malta accompanied by another Libyan agent, Masud.
Richard Marquise, who investigated Lockerbie for the FBI, told STV News: "We always suspected that Masud was the technical expert who armed the device, but we could never prove it."
A three-part documentary "My Brother’s Bomber" to be broadcast on American channel PBS claims to have unearthed fresh evidence against Masud. It has been made by Ken Dornstein, whose brother David was one of the passengers on Pan Am 103.
In advance publicity about the series in The New Yorker magazine, Masud is referred to as "Abu Agila Mas'ud".
It reports that Mr Dornstein traced a former Libyan agent in Germany, who told him that Masud was still alive. It’s claimed the agent has since told American officials that Masud was involved in bombing the airliner with Megrahi.
The programme reveals that in July 2015, Masud was sentenced to a ten year prison term in Libya for making bombs.
In response to the documentary, the Crown Office would only say that it has been aware of the contents of the programme for some time.
The Crown had hoped that the collapse of Colonel Gaddafi's regime would provide fresh opportunities to investigate the bombing, which remains the biggest mass murder in British legal history. The Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland visited Libya for talks with officials and two local prosecutors were appointed to liaise with Scottish and American investigators.
Libya has since descended into violent chaos, but senior figures at the Crown insist that the Lockerbie inquiry is very much alive.
STV News understands that Masud is one of those under investigation. The Crown will not say whether it hopes to bring charges against him.
Mr Marquise said: "We always thought Masud played a role in the Lockerbie bombing and if it could be proven, I would love to see him prosecuted."
British campaigner Dr Jim Swire lost his daughter Flora on Pan Am 103. He believes Megrahi was innocent, and that the bomb started its journey at Heathrow rather than Malta, but he also suspects that Gaddafi's regime may have had some kind of involvement in the bombing.
Speaking at the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday, Dr Swire said: "Anybody who tries to get out more information that might be relevant should be congratulated I think.
"The only trouble is that information from these sources needs corroborated, and that’s the hard part."

Friday 23 December 2022

Libya aborted plan to hand Gaddafi spy chief to US at last minute

[This is the headline over a report in today's edition of The Guardian. It reads in part:]

Extradition of Abdullah al-Senussi over Lockerbie bombing would have closely followed that of Mohammed Abouagela Masud

The extradition to the US of Muammar Gaddafi’s most trusted and notorious aide was abruptly halted by Libya at the 11th hour this week for fear of public anger after the handover of another ex-senior Libyan intelligence operative, officials in Tripoli have told the Guardian.

Abdullah al-Senussi, a former intelligence chief and brother-in-law of Gaddafi, is blamed for a series of lethal bombings directed at western aviation as well as other targets.

The US want the 72-year-old, currently held in prison in Tripoli, to answer questions connected to the attack which brought down a US-bound aircraft over Lockerbie in Scotland in 1988. Senussi has long been suspected of masterminding the operation, which killed 270 people.

Earlier this month the US announced that another Libyan suspect in the Lockerbie bombing, Mohammed Abouagela Masud, was in its custody. Masud was taken from his Tripoli home by armed men on 17 November, held for two weeks by a militia and then handed over to US government agents in the port city of Misrata.

His family said he had been unlawfully abducted. In a statement on Tuesday, the US embassy in Libya said the process had been “lawful and conducted in cooperation with Libyan authorities”.

The handover of Masud has provoked outrage in Libya, putting the government of interim prime minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh under severe pressure and leading to the shelving of plans to transfer Senussi to US custody.

“The idea was to have Masud sent to the US first and then give them Senussi. There have been discussions for months about this. But then officials got worried,” said one Libyan official source with knowledge of the case. A second said Senussi was meant to be handed over at the weekend.

Known as “the butcher”, Senussi is being held in the Rawawa prison in Tripoli and is thought to be in ill health. He was sentenced to death in a mass trial that concluded in 2015.

Senussi was considered Gaddafi’s most trusted aide. (...)

The effort to secure the transfer of Masud and Senussi was launched under Donald Trump’s administration but has been revived over the last nine months through discussions between US officials and the Libyan government, the sources said.

In August an agreement about the transfer of Senussi and Masud was reached with Dbeibeh. Dbeibeh’s mandate expired last December and he has a clear incentive to win favour with the US, analysts say.

As Senussi is currently behind bars, a transfer by Libya to the US would have been administratively more straightforward than that of Masud, who was detained without a warrant by militia loyal to a commander accused of systematic human rights abuses.

“This is a completely different case,” said one Libyan official.

Senussi is also a widely reviled figure in Libya, and cannot be portrayed as a pawn simply following orders, as Masud has been by his supporters.

In the early 1980s, while Senussi ran Gaddafi’s internal security services, many opponents of the regime were killed in Libya and overseas. Libyans hold him responsible for the 1996 massacre of about 1,200 inmates at the Abu Salim prison while a court in France convicted him in absentia in 1999 for his role in the 1989 bombing of a passenger plane over Niger that killed 170 people.

Senussi, then head of Libya’s external security organisation, has long been accused of recruiting and managing Abdel-Baset al-Megrahi, the man convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. (...) [RB: In August 2011 The Wall Street Journal published a letter from Megrahi to Senussi that was found in the latter's archives after the fall of the Gaddafi regime. Megrahi wrote "I am an innocent man" and blamed his conviction on "fraudulent information that was relayed to investigators by Libyan collaborators".]

Successive Libyan governments insisted on prosecuting Senussi on home soil. The ICC decided in 2013 that as Libya had put Senussi on trial it would halt its own proceedings against him. The former intelligence chief was eventually condemned to death in July 2015 in a process that was severely criticised by human rights campaigners.

It is unclear if the transfer of Senussi to the US has been shelved indefinitely, or merely postponed.

Alia Brahimi, an expert on Libya with the Atlantic Council, said the case demonstrated a tension between the demands of the law and the demands of justice.

“Senussi is suspected of a great many crimes and the possibility that he might answer for one of them, an act of mass murder no less, is extraordinary,” Brahimi said. “Any transfer would generate enormous controversy, whatever the circumstances, as did that of Masud, and rightly so. But the lasting story will be about the long arm of American justice, and it will be heard around the world.

“Successive transitional governments [in Libya] have struggled to hold members of the old regime accountable in a transparent and ordered way, because of the chaos which has prevailed since the revolution but also because of the continuing power of regime interest groups.”

The family of Senussi and tribes still loyal to him have threatened unrest if he is transferred to the US.

Sunday 10 January 2021

Private Eye on the Masud charges

[What follows is the text of an article that appears in the latest edition of Private Eye:]

Late charges 

The parting shot by US attorney-general William Barr just before Christmas that another Libyan, Abu Agila Masud, was to be charged over the Lockerbie bombing will have delighted Scotland's prosecutors. The Crown Office is nervously awaiting the outcome of a posthumous appeal against the copviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the only man convicted of the 1988 atrocity, which killed 270 people. 

The case against Megrahi was always riddled with holes, and since his 2001 conviction more evidence - some withheld from his trial - has emerged to cast further doubt (Eyes passim). Last March the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission referred his case back to the appeal court on the basis that no reasonable court could have reached a guilty verdict "beyond all reasonable doubt" and significant non-disclosure of evidence. 

Both grounds related to the damning evidence of the key prosecution witness, Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci, who said Megrahi resembled a man who bought the clothes found wrapped around the bomb. It subsequently emerged that Gauci was paid $2m by the US Department of Justice (DoJ). But other troubling evidence was excluded from the appeal. That included forensic material suggesting that a circuit board fragment found at the scene could not have originated from the batch of timers said to incriminate Libya and Megrahi, and new evidence indicating that the bomb almost certainly originated from Heathrow rather than Malta (adding to the fact of a break-in at Heathrow the night before the flight).  

Masud, the third Libyan to be charged (Lamin Fhimah who stood trial alongside Megrahi, was acquitted), is now said to be the Lockerbie bombmaker. He is also alleged to have made the bomb for the 1986 La Belle Disco attack in Berlin, which killed two US servicemen and a Turkish woman.  

The new charges are based on an investigation by American film-maker Ken Dornstein,  who lost his brother m the Lockerbie bombing, and on an affidavit by an FBI agent, which describes a confession allegedly made by Masud to "a Libyan law enforcement officer". That "confession" names Megrahi, a fellow intelligence officer, as a co-conspirator. It dates from 2012, when Masud was in prison awaiting trial for making booby-trapped bombs for use against opponents of the Gaddafi regime, which fell in 2011. As it came during a time of revenge and score-settling, key questions will be what side the Libyan law officer was on and under what circumstances the confession was made. 

US prosecutors might also seek to rely on a key witness in Dornstein's documentary, Musbah Eter, a Libyan former diplomat who was convicted in 2001 of the La Belle bombing. He claims Masud told him he was involved in Lockerbie. However, as declassified East German Stasi documents revealed, Eter has a credibility problem - not least because he was a CIA "asset" who had never previously claimed any knowledge of Lockerbie. 

Nevertheless, the news has received a guarded welcome by those convinced of Megrahi's innocence. Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora died in the blast, would like any evidence properly tested in open court to try to get to the truth about Lockerbie and what US and UK investigators knew. But he tells the Eye that if the case is linked to Megrahi and Malta it is already fatally flawed. 

The DoJ has been sitting on Masud's damning confession and evidence gathered by Dornstein for years, so why did it wait until last month before charging Masud? Might the answer be, as Swire suggests, that it is Barr's attempt to salvage his own credibility? Or, as those representing Megrahi's family believe, a timely attempt to add to the already considerable pressure on the Scottish appeal judges to uphold the only conviction? 

Sunday 3 February 2013

Lockerbie: Seven new Libyans named (by Sunday Express)

[This is the headline over an article by Ben Borland and Bob Smyth in today’s edition of the Sunday Express. It reads as follows:]

A new 'all-star' squad of Scottish detectives will take over the Lockerbie bombing investigation, with the pursuit now likely to focus on seven key Libyan fugitives from justice.

At least two of the men are now dead, killed during the 2011 uprising against Colonel Gaddafi, but the search for the remaining suspects is set to become an unprecedented international manhunt.

Prime Minister David Cameron announced last week that British police will conduct inquiries in Libya for the first time, in a bid to clear up the remaining questions surrounding the December 1988 atrocity.

When the new Police Scotland force is formed on April 1, the case will pass from Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary to a team of specialist officers gathered from every area of Scottish law enforcement working directly for Chief Constable Stephen House.

So far, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi - who died of cancer last year - remains the only man ever convicted of murdering the 270 people who died on board Pan Am Flight 103 and in Lockerbie.

His co-accused and fellow Libyan intelligence officer, Lamin Fhimah, was found not guilty after a historic trial under Scots Law at The Hague in 2000.

However, the prosecution also named seven other co-conspirators - at least two of whom are now dead - who were also involved in planning the attack.

These agents in Colonel Gaddafi's feared secret service, the JSO, can today be named as Nasser Ali Ashour, Mohammed Abouagela Masud, Said Rashid, Ezzadin Hinshiri, Badri Hussan, Mohamed Marzouk and Mansour Omran Saber.

In 2009, Stuart Henderson, a former detective chief superintendent who led the Lockerbie probe for four years, said his team had asked to interview eight other "strong suspects" but been blocked by the Gaddafi regime.

He said: "We submitted eight other names of people that we wished to interview that were strong suspects. Unfortunately, we never got that opportunity."

The eighth man is thought to be former spy chief Abdullah Senoussi, who is facing imminent trial and a possible death penalty in Libya alongside Saif Gaddafi.

In addition, now that the law on double jeopardy has been scrapped, the Crown Office could bring fresh charges against Fhimah, who is known to still be in Tripoli.

The Lord Advocate, Frank Mulholland QC, has already travelled to Libya, along with US investigators, to meet members of the new Libyan regime.

Detectives from Dumfries and Galloway are expected to follow in March, before the case comes under the remit of the new nationwide force.

A Police Scotland spokesman said: "The Lockerbie investigation will clearly continue beyond the transition date of the current forces including Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary into the single service. The service is committed to the investigation.

"The experience and knowledge of officers who have been involved in the case as well as the expertise and specialisms from other parts of the wider service will continue to be applied to the inquiry as has always been the case."

Meanwhile, it has emerged that a series of secret court hearings in Malta were focused on gathering evidence about the additional bombing suspects.

The hearings, requested by Scottish prosecutors, were held in September behind closed doors, with security so tight that courtroom peepholes were covered over with envelopes.

A source close to the Maltese judicial authorities has now revealed the probes were focused on gathering evidence into a mystery "third man".

The most likely candidate is Masud, who worked with Megrahi and Fhimah in Malta - where prosecutors said the bomb that brought down Flight 103 was planted at Luqa Airport.

One Lockerbie expert said: "It's possible they are looking at Masud, who allegedly arrived in Malta with Megrahi and was said to have been with him when he flew out of the country on the day of the bombing.

"He was also accused of plotting with Megrahi to mount an operation in Africa.

"I don't think the police ever found him."

Masud and several of the other suspects were first linked to the Lockerbie case by controversial CIA informant Majid Giaka.

The junior Libyan intelligence officer, who was on secondment at Libyan Arab Airlines (LAA), claimed he saw Masud arriving at the airport in Malta with Megrahi in December 1988.

He alleged they met Fhimah and collected a suitcase from baggage reclaim resembling the Samonsite case which contained the bomb.

Justice for Megrahi campaign member Professor Robert Black, a lawyer who was the architect of the original Lockerbie trial in the Netherlands, said:

"It looks like the Crown Office is trying to shore up the Malta connection, which is pretty weak."

A Crown Office spokeswoman said: "The investigation into the involvement of others with Megrahi in the Lockerbie bombing remains open and Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary continues to work with Crown Office and US authorities to pursue available lines of inquiry."

The seven agents:

- Nasser Ali Ashour, the 'Armourer'. A "smooth, cultured" spy who supplied Semtex and guns to the Provisional IRA for Gaddafi in the 1980s. Adrian Hopkins, the Irish skipper who helped smuggle the arms, told French police: "He spoke English with a very distinguished accent. He never looked you in the face, likes to parade, has small feet, wears Italian shoes, drinks whisky but does not smoke." He managed Libya's network of agents in the Mediterranean and hunted down Libyan dissidents throughout Europe. Now aged 68, his whereabouts are unknown.

- Mohammed Abouagela Masud, the 'Technician'. Introduced to a CIA undercover agent as an airline technician, he worked with Megrahi and Fhimah in Malta where the bomb was allegedly planted on a feeder flight in an unaccompanied Samsonite suitcase. The evidence against Masud is thought to have been the subject of secret court hearings held behind closed doors in Valletta last year, at the request of the Crown Office. His whereabouts are unknown.

- Said Rashid, the 'Assassin'. A former head of JSO's operations section and close friend of Gaddafi who went on to become a powerful government figure. He was killed in a shoot-out with rebels in February 2011 following a speech by the dictator's son, Saif. In 1983, Rashid was arrested in France in connection with the murders of Libyan dissidents in London, Bonn and Rome, but later released.

- Ezzadin Hinshiri, the 'Diplomat'. Another senior JSO figure who became a top official and one of Gaddafi's most loyal lieutenants. He was killed along with 52 other regime supporters in an infamous massacre at a seafront hotel in Sirte in the final days of the uprising in April 2011.

- Badri Hussan, the 'Businessman'. Set up a front company with Megrahi and rented an office in Zurich from Mebo, the Swiss firm linked to the timers used in the bombing. The firm's co-founder, Edwin Bollier, told the Lockerbie trial that he delivered a suitcase from Hussan to Hinshiri in Tripoli on December 17, 1988 - just days before the terror strike. Whereabouts unknown.

- Mohamed Marzouk and Mansour Omran Saber, the 'Missing Links'. Arrested at Dakar airport in Senegal in February 1988 with Semtex, TNT and bomb triggers. They were released without charge. In 1991, a "brilliant, young" CIA analyst realised the triggers matched those used in the Lockerbie bombing, changing the entire course of the investigation. Whereabouts unknown.

[A long article entitled Lifting the lid on Libya's secrets by Eddie Barnes is to be found in today's edition of Scotland on Sunday.

An interesting addendum to the Sunday Express article is to be found on the Malta Today website.  The relevant paragraphs read as follows:]

Scottish detectives are said to be focusing their inquiries on seven key Libyan fugitives from justice, among whom a 'third man' who allegedly arrived in Malta with convicted terrorist Abdelbaset Megrahi, and was said to have been with him when he flew out of the country on the day of the bombing in 1988.

A series of secret court hearings in Malta were reportedly focused on gathering evidence about the additional bombing suspects.

The hearings - requested by Scottish prosecutors - were held last September behind closed doors, and was said to have been aimed at  gathering evidence into a mystery 'third man' connected to the bombing.

According to sources, the most likely candidate is Masud, who worked with Megrahi and Fhimah in Malta - where prosecutors still insist that the bomb that brought down Flight 103 was planted at the old Luqa Airport.

Known as 'the technician' after being introduced to a CIA undercover agent as an airline technician, Masud worked with Megrahi and Fhimah at the Libyan Arab Airlines offices in Malta, where the bomb was allegedly planted onto a feeder flight inside an unaccompanied suitcase.

One Lockerbie expert told a Scottish newspaper today that "it's possible they are looking at Masud, who allegedly arrived in Malta with Megrahi and was said to have been with him when he flew out of the country on the day of the bombing. He was also accused of plotting with Megrahi to mount an operation in Africa. I don't think the police ever found him."

Masud and several of the other suspects were first linked to the Lockerbie case by controversial CIA informant Majid Giaka. [RB: The Zeist judges held Giaka to be wholly unworthy of credit and excluded the whole of his evidence from consideration -- except his evidence relating to the structure and personnel of the Libyan intelligence services. The judges gave no reason for accepting his evidence on these matters.]

The junior Libyan intelligence officer, who was on secondment at Libyan Arab Airlines (LAA), claimed he saw Masud arriving at the airport in Malta with Megrahi in December 1988.

He alleged they met Fhimah and collected a suitcase from baggage reclaim resembling the Samonsite case which contained the bomb.

[What follows is an excerpt from a report on the website of The Malta Independent:]

Former FBI assistant director Buck Revell, who oversaw that agency’s Lockerbie investigation until 1991, told The Scotsman newspaper this week: “The two individuals initially charged were not the only people involved. So there’s no doubt that this was approved by Gaddafi and everyone in the chain of command below him.

“There are documents, witnesses and other evidence that they can obtain in the intelligence service, or the military, or from other individuals involved in support organisations.

“I expect much, if not most, of it has been destroyed, but maybe some was saved.”

He added: “The crime itself is such that I don’t believe this case should ever be closed.”

However, British relatives of victims of the bombing of the Pan Am flight 103 who have protested that Megrahi was innocent are sceptical of what might be achieved in Libya.

Mr [Frank] Mulholland [the Lord Advocate] told the families that he intended to send police to the country in February last year, two months before he himself visited.

Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora, 23, died in the bombing, said: “He told us how he was going to send officers to Tripoli to try and find out more.

“Anyone who tries to gather evidence from modern day Libya should be careful. The interim government wishes to place every conceivable blame on the Gaddafi administration.”

Reverend John Mosey, who lost his daughter, Helga, 19, in the bombing, added: “I would be extremely sceptical about what could be found in those blasted and burned out offices.

“The former regime probably shredded anything it had.”

The campaign group Justice for Megrahi, which wants an independent inquiry into the conviction, was scathing about the continued focus on Libya.

“As far as I am concerned, the conviction was a gross miscarriage of justice and the efforts the police and Crown Office are making to locate other Libyans who may have colluded in the bringing down of Pan Am flight 103 amount to little more than eye-wash,” said group secretary Robert Forrester.

But the Crown Office remains convinced Libya is key to their investigation. One man widely believed to know the secrets of the Gaddafi government is Moussa Koussa, who briefly sought refuge in the UK, following the Libyan revolution.

John Ashton, author of Megrahi: You are my Jury, and former FBI agent Richard Marquise – two men with very different views on whether Megrahi was guilty – have both said investigations should focus on the former intelligence chief.

In his book, Mr Ashton argued Megrahi could not have been the bomber because the timer used in the explosion contained a different coating to circuit boards sold to Libya.

Abdallah Senussi, Gaddafi’s brother-in-law and head of the intelligence services, who was Megrahi’s immediate boss, is another man the FBI have looked at in connection with Lockerbie.

Other potential suspects include Saeed Rashid, whom an FBI report previously claimed “managed a sustained Libyan effort to conduct terrorist attacks against US interests since the early-1980s”, and Izz Aldin Hinshiri, who was suspected of buying the trigger for the Lockerbie bomb.

Thursday 12 November 2015

Fresh twists in the Lockerbie case

[This is the headline over a long article by John Ashton on the Consortium News website. It reads in part:]

On Oct 15, Scotland’s prosecuting authority, the Crown Office, announced that two Libyan men are being treated as suspects in the 28-year-old Pan Am 103 bombing case. They were widely reported to be Abu Agila Masud, an alleged bomb-maker, and Abdullah Senussi, Muammar Gaddafi’s former security chief. Both were associates of the only person convicted of the bombing, Abelbaset al-Megrahi, who died in 2012.

The development came almost 15 years after Megrahi’s trial, but only two days after the broadcast by PBS Frontline of a three-part documentary My Brother’s Bomber. Trailed by a long article in the New Yorker, the film was made by Ken Dornstein, a former Frontline staffer whose older brother David was one of 270 who died when Pan Am 103 was destroyed over the Scottish town of Lockerbie on Dec 21, 1988.

The documentary reveals that Masud was named by a German judge as the technical expert responsible for the 1986 bombing of the La Belle nightclub in Berlin. That attack, which killed three, including two US servicemen, and injured many more, led to the US air strikes on Libya, for which Libya allegedly took revenge with the bombing of Pan Am 103.

Megrahi flew with Masud from Malta to Libya on the morning of the Lockerbie bombing having, according to the prosecution, placed a suitcase containing a bomb on an Air Malta flight to Frankfurt. The unaccompanied suitcase was allegedly transferred to a feeder flight to London Heathrow and again at Heathrow on to Pan Am 103.

Megrahi denied knowing Masud, yet the two men were on other flights in the run-up to Lockerbie and, according to the film, Masud was in the car that met him on his return to Libya in 2009, following his release from prison in Scotland. (...)

There is no doubt that Libya supported terrorist groups and that at least one Libyan, Musbah Eter, who was an official at the Libyan People’s Bureau in East Berlin, was involved in the La Belle bombing. Eter was convicted for his role following a confession in which he implicated his co-accused, Palestinian Yassar Chraidi, Lebanese-born German Ali Chanaa (both of whom worked at the People’s Bureau) and Chaana’s wife Verana.

He implicated a number of others, including Masud, whom he described as a bomb technician. Masud was never apprehended for the bombing and when German prosecutor Dethlev Mehlis went to Libya to interview witnesses all denied his existence — as did the Libyan witnesses in the Lockerbie case.

Less Straightforward
There is also no doubt that the La Belle case is far less straightforward than portrayed in the film. At the time of the bombing, the Reagan administration was involved in a large, secret and dirty war against Libya. From the time Reagan took office in 1981 his government exaggerated the country’s role in terrorism, which it claimed — falsely — was central to a Soviet-directed global conspiracy against the West.

At the same time, the Reagan administration downplayed the role of equally active terrorist states Syria and Iran. There were two reasons for this: firstly, those countries held far greater strategic power in the Middle East than Libya; and secondly, their militant proxies held US hostages in Lebanon. The hostages’ safe return was an obsession that led the administration into the Iran-Contra scandal.

Under the direction of CIA’s rabidly neocon director, William Casey, the Agency launched a massive covert campaign against Libya, aimed at toppling Gaddafi. It was run from the National Security Council by the same people who ran the Iran-Contra operation, including Oliver North.

Disinformation was central to the campaign. In 1981, the CIA put out a false story that Gaddafi has sent a hit squad to the US to assassinate Reagan. The White House played along using an unmarked car to drive Reagan while decoy limousines were used to dupe the non-existent gunmen.

By the mid-1980s, the White House hardliners were hungry for an excuse to attack Libya and NSC staff drew up plans to provoke Libya in to a response that would provide the excuse they needed. Naval exercises were conducted off the Libyan coast in which Libyan vessels were hit and territorial water repeatedly violated.

Gaddafi appeared not to take the bait. Then, on April 5, 1986, came the La Belle bombing. The White House soon announced that it had irrefutable evidence of Libya’s involvement. Nine days later came the air strikes against Libya, which came within a whisker of killing Gaddafi.

The “irrefutable evidence” was intercepts of incriminatory messages sent between the Libyan government and the East Berlin People’s Bureau. Libyan intelligence traffic was normally processed and evaluated by a group known as G-6 at the National Security Agency, before being forwarded elsewhere.

An investigation by Seymour Hersh for The New York Times established that the La Belle intercepts were never sent to G-6. An NSA official told him “The G-6 section branch and division chiefs didn’t know why it was taken from them. They were bureaucratically cut out and so they screamed and yelled.”

Another explained, “There is no doubt that if you send raw data to the White House, that constitutes misuse because there’s nobody there who’s capable of interpreting it. . . . You screw it up every time when you do it –– and especially when the raw traffic is translated into English from a language such as Arabic, that’s not commonly known.”

The eventual prosecution of Eter and his three co-accused was reliant upon Eter’s confession and corroborating material from the files of the former East German security service, the Stasi. (Chaana also confessed but his evidence was not considered as important and Eter’s.) The Stasi had a number of informants within Berlin’s Arab communities, including Chaana, and kept a close watch on the East Berlin Libyan People’s Bureau.

During the 1980s, Berlin was a pit of Cold War double-dealing. The Stasi files indicate that among the Arab communities survival and personal advancement often trumped loyalty to any particular cause. The information relayed to the Stasi by its Arab informants might be cast iron, but against this background it’s also possible that they were recycling each other’s inventions.

The East Berlin Libyan People’s Bureau, in particular, hosted numerous personal rivalries and little mutual trust. Eter was one of the more interesting vipers in the nest. According to the Stasi and a 1998 investigation by the German TV channel ZDF, he was a CIA asset. ZDF discovered that, at the time he made his confession in 1996, he was running a CIA front company in Malta.

The year before La Belle he was named as a suspect in the assassination in West Germany of a Libyan dissident called Jibril el-Dinali. (Der Spiegel reported at the time that dissidents believed that the German federal police, the BKA, had supplied their secret addresses to Libyan officials in return for intelligence about the German terrorist group the Red Army Faction, which had received Libyan support.)

Eter is Ken Dornstein’s key witness and will be central to any prosecution of Masud and Senussi. According to the film, since Dornstein made contact, he has told the FBI that Masud and Megrahi were pivotal to the Lockerbie plot. He claims that Masud told him personally that he was responsible for both the Lockerbie and La Belle bombings.

Unfortunately for anyone tasked with prosecuting at a trial of the new suspects, the CIA connection and his murderous past leave Eter with a credibility problem. So too does the fact that he waited 19 years after confessing to talk about Lockerbie.

Other Stasi informants involved in the case had a relationship with the CIA, as did some of those originally implicated in the bombing. One was a close associate of Chraidi’s, Mahmoud Abu Jaber, who with his brother Mohamed ran a freelance Palestinian terrorist cell that was mistrusted by other Palestinians.

The Stasi learned that the CIA knew that Mahmoud Abu Jaber and another cell member, Khaled Shatta, were involved in the bombing. They mixed regularly with the Chraidi and the other defendants and hours before the attack they travelled to West Berlin. They were watched by the Stasi and KGB, both of which concluded that they were working for Western intelligence.

One declassified KGB document suggested that Mahmoud Abu Jaber was a CIA agent provocateur, who was used to create a case against Libya. Group member Mahmoud Amayiri, who was both Shatta’s brother and Mahmoud Abu Jaber’s right-hand man, confirmed to ZDF through his Norwegian lawyer that he had been working for Mossad. He had fled Germany for Norway in 1990, following the issuing of an arrest warrant, which was later dropped.

The idea that some of the La Belle plotters were western agents provocateur is not far-fetched. A 1997 investigation by British Channel 4 TV’s Dispatches series revealed that the CIA-funded anti-Gaddafi terrorist group Al-Burkan was involved in the 1984 murder of police officer Yvonne Fletcher, who was killed when staff at the London Libya People’s Bureau opened fire on a crowd of anti-Gaddafi demonstrators.

A member of a Berlin criminal gang connected to Al-Burkan described transporting the murder weapon to London and handing it over to an Al-Burkan member. The program uncovered evidence that the fatal shot was fired from a building adjacent to the People’s Bureau used by the UK intelligence services. It also claimed that Al Burkan had moles within the People’s Bureau.

Reluctant Cooperation
The US government was reluctant to share its intelligence about La Belle with the Germans and it was not until 1996 that it did. It appeared to be convincing and included transcripts of intercepted messages, allegedly between Tripoli and the East Berlin Libyan People’s Bureau. Among other things, these suggested that senior Libyan intelligence official Said Rashid, a friend and relative of Megrahi’s, coordinated the attack.

The US government may well have believed the intercepts to be genuine, but, according to former Mossad agent Victor Ostrovsky, they were an elaborate hoax. In his 1994 memoir, The Other Side of Deception, he claimed that the messages were in fact part of a Mossad disinformation operation codenamed Trojan.

Ostrovsky said that a few weeks before the bombing Israeli commandos secretly installed special communications equipment in an apartment near Colonel Gaddafi’s headquarters, which was subsequently used to broadcast phony terrorist orders. Neither German prosecutor Mehlis, nor the FBI, contacted Ostrovsky about his claims.

While none of this rules out Libyan sponsorship of La Belle, it does flash a warning that we should treat the official account with caution.

An even thicker fog surrounds Lockerbie. The CIA’s campaign against Libya did not end with the 1986 raids, indeed a few months after them President Reagan signed a secret National Security Decision Directive, which, according to a leak to Watergate journalist Bob Woodward, ordered “covert, diplomatic and economic steps designed to . . . bring about a change of leadership in Libya.”

In view of what we now know about Lockerbie, it’s not outlandish to suggest that those covert steps may have included manipulating the investigation behind the backs of the police and prosecutors.

Declassified US intelligence documents state as fact that the bombing was not Gaddafi’s revenge for the 1986 raids, but was rather Iran’s for the US Navy’s accidental shoot-down of Iran Air flight 655 over the Arabian Gulf, which killed 290 people six months before Lockerbie.

According to the documents, the Iranians contracted out the job to the Syrian-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine — General Command, which had a track record of blowing up aircraft. One document, from 1991, stated, without naming the PFLP-GC, that the Iranian interior minister Ali Akbar Mohtashemi paid the bombers $10 million.

Former CIA agent Robert Baer has provided some of the details of the Iranian/PFLP-GC plot and another, Richard Fuisz, revealed in a court deposition that he was told by numerous senior Syrian officials closely connected to the PFLP-GC that the group carried out the attack.

Two months before Lockerbie members of the group were arrested in Germany, including bomb-maker Marwan Kreesat, who had made the bombs used in previous attacks. He admitted building bombs into Toshiba BomBeat radio cassette players — the same brand that housed the Lockerbie bomb —and said the group was planning to strike a western airliner. Other members of the group and at least one of his bombs evaded detection.

A Strange Warning
Less than three weeks before the bombing, the State Department’s Office of Diplomatic Security (ODS) warned that unnamed radical Palestinians in Europe were planning to target Pan Am. The warning came three days before the better known and entirely separate warning received by the U.S. embassy in Helsinki that an attack on Pan Am was imminent.

Whereas the Helsinki warning was written off as a hoax, the ODS warning, which was not revealed until seven years after the bombing, has never been adequately explained.

The key evidence that led the investigators away from Iran and PFLP-GC towards Libya was a small piece of circuit board known as PT/35(b), found within a blast-damaged piece of a Maltese-made shirt. The prosecution case at Megrahi’s trial was that it matched boards made to order for Swiss company Mebo by its supplier Thüring.

Crucially Mebo used the boards in timers called MST-13s, which it had designed and built 20 for the Libyan intelligence service. Megrahi was a partner in a Libyan company that rented part of Mebo’s Zurich offices.

Well before Lockerbie, the CIA had an MST-13 timer that had been seized in Togo in 1986 and photos of the one seized in Senegal in 1988. Prosecution statements by a CIA technical expert, disclosed six years after Megrahi’s conviction, revealed that the Agency was also aware before Lockerbie that the timers had been made by Mebo and supplied to Libya.

The Agency had a backchannel to Mebo boss Edwin Bollier via the Swiss police, so it’s likely that it knew of Megrahi’s connection to Mebo via his company ABH. (The Stasi, who had a relationship with Bollier from at least the early 1970s, were convinced by the late 1980s that he was a direct CIA asset.)

The story of the PT/35(b) fragment is ridden with evidential anomalies. Megrahi’s trial team highlighted a number of discrepancies concerning the fragment, including the fact that the handwritten description on the police label attached to the piece of shirt had been surreptitiously changed from “Cloth” to “Debris.”

There were numerous other discrepancies not raised at trial. These included German documents that reported that the Scottish police had told the German federal police that PT/35(b) had been found in January 1990, seven months after it was officially found.

In his memoir Scotbom: Evidence and the Lockerbie Investigation, the head of the FBI’s Lockerbie investigation, Richard Marquise, revealed that he and his Scottish counterpart, Stuart Henderson, speculated that the fragment was a CIA plant. They dismissed the suggestion on the grounds that “Neither of us believed the CIA or any government official would do such a thing.”

However, Marquise also revealed that their Swiss police counterpart suspected it was a plant. This is especially interesting in view of a claim made in an affidavit by Mebo technician Ulrich Lumpert, who designed the boards and produced prototypes, that a year before the Lockerbie investigators had linked PT/35(b) to Mebo the Swiss police visited him and took with them a prototype board.

Shortly before Megrahi’s trial, the Scottish prosecutors received information from witnesses in the US suggesting that an electronics company in Florida had made replica MST-13s for the CIA, but the lead was not properly investigated.

A Miscarriage of Justice
Documents unearthed by Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) — the statutory body that investigates alleged miscarriages of justice in Scotland — highlighted more anomalies. They included a police memo stating that PT/35(b) had been tested for explosive residues and found to be negative, which contradicted the court testimony of the Crown’s forensic experts, who said that no such tests had been done.

As Frontline’s documentary, My Brother’s Bomber, points out, the SCCRC investigated Bollier’s claim that the fragment was fabricated and found it to be baseless. However, the film fails to mention that both the SCCRC and Bollier missed the most important discrepancy concerning PT/35(b), which only emerged during preparations for Megrahi’s second appeal in 2009.

Metallurgical analysis showed that the fragment’s copper circuitry was plated with pure tin, whereas the boards made by Thüring, which were used in the timers supplied to Libya, were plated with a tin-lead alloy. Crown scientists had speculated that the explosion had changed the plating, but tests commissioned for the appeal disproved the theory. The work demonstrated beyond doubt that the Lockerbie fragment was not, as the court had accepted, a match for the Libyan MST-13s.

Other important forensic items had a dubious provenance. Among them was a collection of small charred circuit board fragments that apparently originated from a Toshiba BomBeat RT-SF16 radio cassette player.

A large proportion of the global production total of the model had been bought by the Libyan General Electrical Company, which was run by Said Rashid. The fragments appeared to be compelling evidence of Libyan involvement in the bombing, but, like PT/35(b), their origin is questionable. They were discovered by an air accident investigator within a folded piece of aluminum from the luggage container that housed the bomb suitcase.

Giving evidence at Megrahi’s trial, the investigator could not suggest how the blast could have caused the fragments to become trapped within the aluminum. He was sure that the fold had not occurred at the time of the explosion, which suggested that someone had placed the fragments within the aluminum after the blast.

Also of great importance to the prosecution case was a fragment of brown checked trousers containing a sewn-in label of a Maltese manufacturer called Yorkie. The item led the police to a shop in Malta called Mary’s House, where the proprietor, Tony Gauci, recalled selling a bundle of clothes — including brown checked trousers and other items found among the Lockerbie debris — to an oddly behaved Libyan a few weeks before the bombing.

Two years later, Gauci picked out Megrahi from a photo line-up, although he was considerably younger, smaller and lighter skinned than the man described by Gauci.

When the trouser fragment was first examined, the Yorkie label was seen by neither the forensic examiner nor the police officer present despite being easily visible. When questioned about it by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, both said they could not have missed it, which suggested that the label appeared after the examination.

The CIA not only knew before Lockerbie that Mebo had supplied MST-13 timers to Libya, they also knew that Megrahi regularly travelled to Malta, that he was related to Said Rashid and others high up within Libyan intelligence and security, and that Rashid was the head of the Libyan General Electrical Company. Much of this knowledge it attempted to conceal.

No Dissident
According to the former deputy chief of the US State Department’s counterterrorism division, the Diplomatic Security Service, Fred Burton, a CIA official told him before New Year in 1988 that the bomb was in a Maltese-originating brown Samsonite.

Burton is no Lockerbie dissident — he believes Megrahi and Libya were guilty — but, if true, his indiscretions throw a big wrench into the prosecution narrative, which held that the evidence to support the claim was uncovered by the police well in to 1989.

A number of rescue volunteers have described to me arriving in Lockerbie within two hours of the bombing to find a group of American agents already present. According to the official narrative, this never happened and the first US government staff only arrived three hours later.

Police officers reported concerns that Americans had unsupervised access to the crash site and a British helicopter crew member told me that the day after the bombing his crew ferried CIA agents around the site.

Some potentially significant forensic items found at the crash site disappeared, among them an AA battery with a piece of wire soldered to one of its terminals. German police photographs of the PFLP-GC’s Toshiba bomb showed that it incorporated AA batteries with wires soldered to their terminals.

Anyone raising these evidential anomalies gets branded a conspiracy theorist by the supporters of the official narrative, yet that narrative and the one newly minted by My Brother’s Bomber are themselves elaborate conspiracy theories.

When the theories and counter-theories are cast aside in favor of hard facts, the official narrative is no longer tenable. Not only did PT/35(b) not originate from one of the timers supplied to Libya, but Megrahi was clearly not the man who bought the clothes for the bomb suitcase and that purchase took place when he was not in Malta. New analysis of the baggage evidence demonstrates that the bomb suitcase originated from London Heathrow, rather than Malta.

Perhaps the hardest fact of all for the defenders of Megrahi’s conviction — which has barely been reported in all the coverage generated by My Brother’s Bomber — is that in 2007 the conviction was referred back to the appeal court by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission on no fewer than six grounds.

One of these was that the trial court judgment, delivered by three of Scotland’s most senior judges, was unreasonable. Four of the other grounds concerned non-disclosure by the prosecution of important evidence.

The terminally ill Megrahi abandoned the appeal in the belief that it would aid his application for compassionate release from prison. Sadly, the commission this month rejected an application by family members and relatives of some of the British victims of Pan Am 103 for a further review of the conviction.

It may be that the only way to re-test the evidence against Megrahi will be a trial of the two newly announced suspects. If that happens, don’t hold your breath for a guilty verdict.