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

Sunday 3 January 2021

Embellishing intelligence reporting to fit a preconceived outcome

[What follows is excerpted from an article by John Holt published today in The Blogs section of the website of The Times of Israel:]

As a former CIA operations officer, I am breaking 20 years of silence about one of the most heinous plane bombings on record, Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland on December 21, 1988. I can now tell you, as I have been telling the CIA and FBI since being interviewed by them in early 2000, that I and many other intelligence officers do not believe that Libya is responsible for the bombing. Iran, as the original evidence clearly showed, is the true perpetrator of this deadly attack and should be brought to justice.

Two weeks ago, just before stepping down as US attorney general, William Barr, who was also AG in 1992 and oversaw the investigation and indictment of the case, announced new charges against a Libyan man known as Masud for supposedly constructing the bomb that detonated on the plane. I believe Barr and the Justice Department announced this new indictment purely for the purpose of shoring up Barr’s original, faulty 1991 indictments.

The evidence and logic in the current case against Mr Masud are as flimsy as the cases were two decades ago when Barr steered focus away from the obvious culprit, Iran.

I know Libya is not behind the bombing because I was the long-time handler for the principal US government witness Abdul Majid Giaka, a Libyan agent who never provided any evidence pointing to Libya or any indication of knowing anything about that nation’s involvement in the two years after the bombing. Yet years later, he testified against the convicted Libyan intelligence officer, Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, at the Lockerbie bombing (Pan Am 103) trial conducted at The Hague in 2000.

The US Government prevented my testimony and hid from evidence the cables I wrote that proved Giaka knew nothing. When my cables were finally released to the trial at the demand of the defense, the court dismissed Giaka along with the two CIA operations officers sent to the trial to testify to his credibility.

Yet today, the charade continues. The FBI acknowledges they have not even interviewed Mr Masud themselves and are entirely dependent on an 8-year-old statement by an unnamed Libyan police officer from a country in the midst of a devastating civil war. Moreover, Masud had no history or signature for making the type of bomb that brought down Pan Am 103 nor for concealing bombs in Toshiba radios. The PFLP-GC (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command) did.

We just observed the 32nd anniversary of the bombing of Pan Am 103. It is time to drop the routine CIA procedure of embellishing intelligence reporting to fit a preconceived outcome rather than following the facts. The families of Pan Am flight 103 victims have suffered long enough and deserve to now be able to rest assured that the real perpetrators of this act of terrorism, Iranian actors, are brought to justice.

I am asking that the case be reexamined due to the availability of evidence against Iran and irregularities in the US government presentation of evidence at the first trial. The son of the man convicted made a similar request. He recently appealed the conviction of his father to the High Court in Scotland. The panel of five judges is currently reviewing the appeal, which was presented in late November 2020.

Now is the time for former Attorney General Barr, who signed the original warrants against Megrahi, and former FBI Director Robert Mueller, who led the DOJ investigation, to answer some questions: If Libya is truly the culprit, why did the US not indict Libyan intelligence chief Sanussi, who has reportedly been sitting in a Libyan jail since that nation’s revolution in 2011, and would have been in charge of any such high profile operation at the time of the bombing? And why was credible evidence pointing toward Iran ignored, given Iran’s clear motive for the attack as retaliation for the downing of a civilian Iran Air Airbus and its proven capacity to carry out attacks similar to the bombing over Lockerbie? (...) 

Sunday 25 October 2015

Libya may refuse to extradite Lockerbie suspects

[This is the headline over a report in today’s edition of The Sunday Times. It reads as follows:]

Two men named by the Crown Office as suspects in the Lockerbie bombing would not be allowed to stand trial outside Libya, officials in Tripoli have indicated.

Earlier this month Nicola Sturgeon signalled her support for Abdullah al-Senussi and Mohammed Abouajela Masud to face justice in this country for the 1988 attack that led to the loss of 270 lives.

The pair — a former spy chief of the Libyan dictator Colonel Muammar Gadaffi and an explosives expert — are being held in a Tripoli prison for crimes committed during Libya’s 2011 revolution, respectively facing the death penalty and 10 years in prison.

As head of the Libyan external security service, Senussi is thought to have recruited Abdelbaset al- Megrahi, the only person so far convicted for Britain’s worst terrorist attack after Libya agreed to hand him over for trial. “Gadaffi sent Megrahi to be judged abroad but that was against the law because there was no agreement between our countries for extradition,” Jamal Zubia, head of the foreign media department in Tripoli, told The Sunday Times.

“I don’t think it would happen again. What Gadaffi did was shameful but now we must respect our laws and our state.”

Scottish investigators first tried to interview the men, along with six others, in 2009 but their request was rejected by Gadaffi. Scottish authorities have sent a new request to quiz the suspects. However, they have reportedly directed this to the internationally recognised parliament now based in the east of Libya, which has no power in the capital Tripoli — controlled by rival institutions for more than a year.

“The problem is that the Scottish court sent their demand to Tobruk, which shows they know nothing about Libya because they don’t realise the government is in Tripoli,” added Zubia. “They will be waiting maybe for ever for a reply from Tobruk because they can’t give permission for anyone to come to Tripoli and meet these prisoners.”

The Tripoli-based minister of justice, Mustafa al-Glaib, confirmed that no official request had been received by authorities in the capital. “What is circulating is media reports only. Until this time, we don’t even know for sure the names of the Libyans concerned, what the accusations are or what evidence there is against them,” he said.

“We will act according to Libyan law and we will not let the Libyan state be violated.”

The head of investigations for Libya’s general prosecutor’s office, Sadiq al-Sour, said if the UK or US made a request that was acceptable within Libyan law, it would be considered.

Senussi was given the death penalty on July 28 for a list of crimes including the killing of protestors and the distribution of weapons. The former head of a technical branch of Gadaffi’s external security agency, Masud is facing a 10-year sentence for arming vehicles with explosives and transferring these to Libya’s second largest city, Benghazi, the birthplace of the 2011 revolution.

Both men are appealing against the sentences, given in a trial that was criticised for failing to meet international fair trial standards. Legal teams say the judgment on the appeals by Libya’s supreme court could take anything from two months to two years.

Ibrahim Aboisha, one of Senussi’s lawyers, said he had only heard about the renewed interest in the Lockerbie case from the media. “I have not discussed any pre-revolution matters with my client and I can’t just go straight to him and ask him about Lockerbie as it could come as a big shock,” he said. “I would first need to see any official requests and discuss the matter with his family.”

Senussi, who has appeared gaunt at the court hearings, has been held in solitary confinement since his extradition from Mauritania in 2012.

Masud’s lawyer declined to talk to the press, saying that he was concerned the West might have a hidden agenda in reopening the Lockerbie case.

Access to either Senussi or Masud is likely to be challenging for UK or US investigators. Both men are held in Tripoli’s high-security Hadba prison, along with other senior officials from the former regime, and Gadaffi’s playboy footballer son Saadi.

Lawyers, relatives, human rights organisations and the UN have all reported difficulties with visiting high-profile prisoners in the facility. Several inmates have made allegations of mistreatment, and video footage leaked on the internet earlier this year showed the former dictator’s son Saadi being tortured.

Saturday 19 December 2020

Lockerbie files show Scots police doubted key witness

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

Scottish detectives distanced themselves from a key Lockerbie witness, it has emerged, casting further doubt on the conviction of the only person ever found guilty over the attack.

Abdul Majid Giaka, a Libyan agent turned CIA informant, gave evidence that Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi collected a brown Samsonite suitcase from a Maltese airport the day before the 1988 bombing.

However, newly declassified files show that Scottish officers investigating the case admitted that his involvement had put them in a “delicate position”.

“The ‘birth’ of that witness was totally the making of the Americans,” they said in a document from 1991 that was marked secret.

It emerged this week that American prosecutors were seeking the extradition of the Libyan operative Abu Agila Mohammad Masud, accusing him of making the bomb that blew up Pan Am Flight 103, killing 270 people. He worked under Colonel Gaddafi and is serving a ten-year sentence for other crimes in a Tripoli prison.

The FBI is also believed to be interested in Abdullah Senussi, Gaddafi’s brother-in-law and security chief, who is suspected of overseeing the bombing and is in prison with Masud.

Lawyers carrying out a posthumous appeal on behalf of al-Megrahi, who died in 2012, say that the case against him was first made by Mr Giaka, whom they describe as “discredited”. They say that any charges levelled against Masud would fall apart if al-Megrahi’s conviction was overturned.

A report by the joint intelligence group of Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary has been declassified and placed in the National Archives at Kew. The dossier, seen by The Times, dates to October 1991, when reports of Mr Giaka’s emergence as an American asset began to circulate.

The document, written by Detective Chief Superintendent Stuart Henderson, the senior investigating officer, says: “The development of the ‘new witness’ has placed us in a delicate position. The ‘birth’ of that witness was totally the making of the Americans. The Americans must be ‘as one’ with us in anything we propose to expose to the Maltese.”

The document also mentions Tony Gauci, a Maltese shopkeeper whose evidence played a decisive role in al-Megrahi’s conviction at a Scottish court convened in the Netherlands in 2000. It states: “The Americans are keen to approach the witness Tony Gauci and ‘ascertain’ if he feels insecure or otherwise. Their intention is to take Gauci to America.” (...)

However, in 2005 Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, the former lord advocate who drew up the indictment against al-Megrahi, expressed doubts over Gauci’s testimony, describing him as “not quite the full shilling”. Last month appeal judges were told that Mr Gauci had asked for money in return for giving evidence.

The court was also told that Mr Gauci had been shown a photograph of al-Megrahi before he picked him out in an identity parade.

Aamer Anwar, the lawyer representing the al-Megrahi family, said: “These documents shine a light on dark and desperate actions taken by the US intelligence services over Lockerbie.

“We can only surmise that the ‘new witness’ who had been ‘birthed’ by the Americans was Abdul Majid Giaka.

“Megrahi’s family understands he was first accused of being involved in a conspiracy by Giaka. There has always been a suggestion that Giaka may have fabricated matters to make himself more valuable to the Americans. If the conviction of the late Megrahi was overturned then the case against Abu Agila Masud is likely to fall apart.”

John Holt, a former CIA agent who worked closely with Mr Giaka, claimed that the informant was a fantasist and an opportunist.

“I handled Giaka in 1989 for a whole year during which he never mentioned Libyan involvement in the bombing,” he said. “He was a car mechanic who was placed by Libyan intelligence as Malta airport office manager with Libyan Arab Airlines and had very little information about anything to do with bombs or Lockerbie.

“He felt humiliated by Megrahi, who was an official with the Libyan intelligence service, so the CIA knew he had a grudge.”

Mr Holt claimed that Mr Giaka changed his story in 1991 after fearing that his cover had been blown.

This month Mr Holt said: “When he was told he was useless to our intelligence services he began making up stories. It was only when he needed desperately to flee Libya in 1991 that he started telling the CIA things relevant to the Pan Am bombing, like hearing Megrahi and another man talking about a plan to bomb an American airliner.” (...)

Tuesday 20 December 2022

A new chapter in Lockerbie bombing horror story

[This is part of the headline over a long report just published on the Arab News website. It reads in part:]

For some, the arrest last week of a Libyan man charged with having made the bomb that downed the jumbo jet over Lockerbie on Dec 21, 1988, offers the prospect of long overdue justice for the 270 victims of the disaster and their families.

For others, though, confidence in the judicial system and the joint US-Scottish investigation that has led to the latest arrest was shaken long ago by uncertainties that continue to hang over the trial and conviction in May 2000 of another Libyan, Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi, who in 2001 was found guilty of carrying out the bombing. (...)

Last week, 71-year-old Abu Agila Mohammad Masud Kheir Al-Marimi, an alleged former intelligence officer for the regime of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, appeared in a US court accused of being the bombmaker.

It is a stunning development in a case which, for many relatives of the dead, has never been satisfactorily settled. Masud’s anticipated trial represents an unexpected opportunity for the many remaining doubts surrounding the Lockerbie disaster to be resolved once and for all.

Key among them is the suspicion, which has persisted for three decades, that the Libyans were falsely accused of a crime that was actually perpetrated by the Iranian regime.

Iran certainly had a motive. On July 3, 1988, five months before the bombing, Iran Air flight 655, an Airbus A300 carrying Iranian pilgrims bound for Makkah, had been shot down accidentally over the Strait of Hormuz by a US guided-missile cruiser, the Vincennes.

All 290 people on board were killed, including 66 children and 16 members of one family, who had been traveling to Dubai for a wedding.

In 1991, a subsequently declassified secret report from within the US Defense Intelligence Agency made it clear that from the outset Iran was the number-one suspect.

Ayatollah Mohtashemi, a former Iranian interior minister, was “closely connected to the Al-Abas and Abu Nidal terrorist groups,” it read.

He had “recently paid $10 million in cash and gold to these two organizations to carry out terrorist activities and ... paid the same amount to bomb Pam Am flight 103, in retaliation for the US shoot-down of the Iranian Airbus.”

The evidence implicating Iran piled up. It emerged that two months before the bombing, German police had raided a cell of the terror group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command and seized a bomb hidden in a Toshiba cassette player, just like the one that would be used to blow up Pan Am flight 103.

Yet in November 1991 it was two Libyan intelligence operatives, Abdel Baset Ali Al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, who were charged with the murders. The case against them was circumstantial at best.

After years of negotiations with Qaddafi’s government, the two men were eventually handed over to be tried in a specially convened Scottish court in the Netherlands. Their trial began in May 2000, and on Jan 31, 2001, Al-Megrahi was found guilty and Fhimah was acquitted.

The crown’s case was that an unaccompanied suitcase containing the bomb had been carried on an Air Malta flight from Luqa Airport in Malta to Frankfurt. There, it was transferred to a Pan Am aircraft to London, where it was loaded onto flight 103.

Inside the suitcase, wrapped in clothing, was the Toshiba cassette player containing the bomb.

A small part of a printed circuit board, believed to be from the bomb timer, was found in the wreckage, along with a fragment of a piece of clothing. This was traced to a store in Malta where the owner, Tony Gauci, told police he remembered selling it to a Libyan man.

Gauci, who died in 2016, was the prosecution’s main witness, but from the outset there were serious doubts about his evidence. He was interviewed 23 times by Scottish police before he finally identified Al-Megrahi — and only then after seeing the wanted man’s photograph in a newspaper article naming him as a suspect.

In their judgment, even the three Scottish judges conceded that “on the matter of identification of the … accused, there are undoubtedly problems.”

Worse, in 2007 Scottish newspaper The Herald claimed that the CIA had offered Gauci $2 million to give evidence in the case.

Another part of the prosecution’s case was that the fingernail-sized fragment of circuit board found in the wreckage, believed to have been part of the timer that triggered the bomb, matched a batch of timers supplied to Libya by a Swiss company in 1985.

However, the company insisted the timer on the aircraft had not been supplied to Libya, and in 2007 its CEO claimed that he had been offered $4 million by the FBI to say that it had.

Many have denounced the trial as a sham, suggesting that Qaddafi agreed to surrender Al-Megrahi and Fhimah, accept responsibility for the attack and pay compensation to the families of the victims, only because the US promised that the sanctions that had been imposed on Libya would be eased.

After Al-Megrahi’s appeal against his conviction was rejected in March 2002, one of the independent UN observers assigned to the case as a condition of Libya’s cooperation condemned what he called the “spectacular miscarriage of justice.”

Professor Hans Köchler said that he was “not convinced at all that the sequence of events that led to this explosion of the plane over Scotland was as described by the court. Everything that is presented is only circumstantial evidence.”

It remains to be seen what evidence will be presented in the upcoming trial of Masud.

Reports say that he was released only last year from prison in Libya, having been jailed for a decade for his part in the government of Qaddafi, who was overthrown in 2011.

Last week, Libya’s Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah said that his government had handed Masud over to the Americans.

“An arrest warrant was issued against him from Interpol,” he said on Dec 16. “It has become imperative for us to cooperate in this file for the sake of Libya’s interest and stability.”

As Dbeibah put it, Libya “had to wipe the mark of terrorism from the Libyan people’s forehead.”

From the very beginning, one of the strongest advocates for the innocence of Al-Megrahi was Jim Swire, a British doctor whose daughter Flora died in the bombing on the eve of her 24th birthday. Now 86, Swire has spent the past three decades campaigning tirelessly to expose what he believes was a miscarriage of justice.

Al-Megrahi, suffering from prostate cancer, was released from prison on compassionate grounds in 2009. Shortly before his death in Libya in 2012, he was visited in his sick bed by Swire, who in an interview last year recalled Al-Megrahi’s last words to him: “I am going to a place where I hope soon to see Flora. I will tell her that her father is my friend.”

Last week, Swire called for the trial of Masud not to be held in the US or Scotland.

“There are so many loose ends that hang from this dreadful case, largely emanating from America, that I think we should … seek a court that is free of being beholden to any nation directly involved in the atrocity itself,” he said.

“What we’ve always been after amongst the British relatives is the truth, and not a fabrication that might seem to be replacing the truth.”

Thursday 24 December 2020

The search for justice goes on and William Barr's actions are unlikely to help

[This is part of the headline over a long article by Kim Sengupta in The Independent. It reads in part:]

With great fanfare, on the anniversary of the Lockerbie bombing, the US has announced charges against the supposed bomb maker who blew up Pan Am flight 103, the worst act of terrorism in this country, with 270 lives lost.  

One of William Barr’s final acts as Donald Trump’s Attorney General, a deeply controversial tenure, is supposed to fit one of the final pieces of the jigsaw in the hunt for the killers.  

There are historic links between the Lockerbie investigation and the current, turbulent chapter of American politics. Barr was also the Attorney General in 1991, in the George W Bush administration, when charges were laid against two Libyans, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, and Lamin Khalifa Fhimah, over the bombing. The inquiry was led at the time by Robert Mueller, the head of the Department of Justice’s criminal division.  

Mueller, of course, became the Special Counsel who examined if Trump was the Muscovian candidate for the White House. Barr was the Attorney General, in his second term in the post, accused of distorting the findings of Mueller’s report to protect Trump from accusations of obstruction of justice, which he denies.  

The charges which have been laid against Abu Agila Mohammad Masud, another Libyan, are intrinsically connected to Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who is the only person to have been found guilty by a court of the bombing.  

Megrahi is now dead. There are good reasons to hold that the investigation, trial and verdict which brought his conviction were flawed and a miscarriage of justice has taken place. This is a view shared by bereaved families, international jurists, intelligence officers and journalists who had followed the case.  

Last month, an appeal hearing began at the High Court in Edinburgh to posthumously clear Megrahi’s name. This was the third appeal in the attempt to prove that the verdict against him was unsound, with his legal team focusing on the veracity of the prosecution evidence at his trial. 

Much of the case against Masud, a former Libyan intelligence officer, now charged, comes from an alleged confession he made in jail, where he had ended up after the fall of the regime of Muammar Gaddafi. Masud, according to the FBI, named Megrahi and Fhimah as co-conspirators, who had together manufactured an explosive device using Semtex during a trip to Malta. Masud has said that he had bought the clothing which had been wrapped around the bomb, hidden in a radio-cassette player, before being placed in a Samsonite suitcase which was put on the flight.  

There are two points which are immediately relevant. The same trial which convicted Megrahi had acquitted Fhimah of all charges. And one of the key allegations against Megrahi, which the judges said made them decide on the verdict of guilt, was that it was he who had bought the clothing put around the explosive device.  

These contradictions are among many, big and small, which have marked the official narrative presented by the US and UK authorities of what lay behind the downing of the airliner.  

I went to Lockerbie on the night of the bombing, attended the trial of the two Libyan defendants, and met Megrahi at his home in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, where he had been allowed to return after suffering from cancer. I have followed the twists and turns of the case throughout.   

Soon after the downing of the Pan Am flight, American and British security officials began laying the blame on an Iran-Syria axis. The scenario was that Tehran had taken out a contract in revenge for the destruction of an Iranian civilian airliner, Iran Air Flight 655, which had been shot down by missiles fired from an American warship, the USS Vincennes, a few months earlier. The theory went that the contract had been taken up by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), which specialised in such operations.  

But the blame switched to Libya, then very much a pariah state, around the time Iran and Syria joined the US-led coalition against Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War. Robert Baer, the former American intelligence officer and author, was among those who held that the Iranian sponsored hit was the only plausible explanation for the attack. This was the firm belief held “to a man”, he stated, by his former colleagues in the CIA.  

After years of wrangling, Megrahi, the former head of security at Libyan Airlines and allegedly in the Libyan security service, and Fhimah, allegedly a fellow intelligence officer, were finally extradited in 1999. (...)

The two men were charged with joint enterprise and conspiracy. Yet only Megrahi was found guilty. (...)

So, deprived of finding a partner in crime for Megrahi, the prosecutor switched to claiming, and the judges accepting, that he had conspired with himself.  

The prosecution evidence was circumstantial; details of the bomb timer on the plane were contradictory; and the testimony of a key witness, a Maltese shopkeeper, extremely shaky under cross-examination. Five years on from the trial, the former Lord Advocate, Lord Fraser of Carmville – who had been responsible for initiating the Lockerbie prosecution – described the witness, Tony Gauci, as “an apple short of a picnic” and “not quite the full shilling”. Gauci was, however, flush in dollars: the Americans paid him for his testimony.  

The performance and evidence of a supposedly prime “CIA intelligence asset”, Abdul Majid Giaka, codenamed “Puzzle Piece” who turned up in a Shirley Bassey wig, was widely viewed as risible. It emerged later that important evidence had not been passed on to the defence lawyers. Ulrich Lumpert, an engineer who testified to the validity of a key piece of evidence, admitted later in an affidavit of lying to the court.  

It has also emerged that Giaka had been described by his CIA handler, John Holt, in an official report as someone who had a “history of making up stories”.

Holt was denied permission to appear at court. Earlier this month he reiterated in an interview that, like his CIA colleagues, he believes the Libyan connection was a concocted red herring and culpability lay with PFLP (GC). "I would start by asking the current Attorney General, William Barr, why he suddenly switched focus in 1991, when he was also Attorney General, from where clear evidence was leading, toward a much less likely scenario involving Libyans”, he said.  

The observer for the UN at the trial, Hans Kochler severely criticised the verdict. Writing later in The Independent, he described a case based on “circumstantial evidence”; the “lack of credibility” of key prosecution witnesses who “had incentives to bear false witness against Megrahi”; the fact that one was paid cash by the Americans; and that “so much key information was withheld from the trial”.    

Robert Black, a law professor born in Lockerbie, who played an important role in organising the Camp Zeist proceedings, later became convinced that a great injustice had taken place, as have many other eminent jurists.  

Some who were in Lockerbie on that terrible night and dealt with the aftermath also felt the same way. Father Patrick Keegans, the parish priest at the time, joined the “Justice for Megrahi” campaign after meeting the convicted man’s family and has backed appeals to clear his name.  

Many members of the bereaved families feel that justice has not been done, among them Jim Swire, who lost his daughter Flora in the bombing and became a spokesman for “UK Families 103”.  

When there were objections to the severely ill Megrahi being allowed to return to Tripoli, he pointed out “the scandal around Megrahi is not that a sick man was released, but that he was even convicted in the first place. All I have ever wanted to see is that the people who murdered my daughter are brought to justice.”  

After the charging of Masud, Dr Swire said: “I'm all in favour of whatever he's got to tell us being examined in a court, of course I am. The more people who look at the materials we have available the better.”  

He wanted to stress: “There are only two things that we seek, really. One is the question of why those lives were not protected in view of all the warnings and the second is: what does our government and the American government really know about who is responsible for murdering them.”  

Some bereaved families have criticised the presentation and motivation of the US move. The State Department had sent an invitation for livestreaming of the event.  

Reverend John Mosey, who lost his 19-year-old daughter Helga in the bombing, said the “timing and particularly the choice of this specific day, which is special to many of us, to be bizarre, disrespectful, insensitive and extremely ill considered”. He added: “Why exactly, when the Attorney General is about to leave office, has he waited 32 years to bring charges?”  

Behind the controversy over who carried out the attack, the political manoeuvres and legal actions, lay the human tragedy of Lockerbie, a scene which is difficult to forget, even after three decades, for many of us who went there.  (...)

There is also the memory of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, at his home in Tripoli in 2012. He lay in his bed attached to a drip, on red sheets stained by dark splashes of blood he had coughed up. An oxygen mask covered his skeletal face; his body twitched as he drifted in and out of consciousness. He was in the advanced stages of cancer: medicine he desperately needed had been plundered by looters; the doctors who had been treating him had fled. He died a few months later.  

The bitter accusations and recriminations over Lockerbie are unlikely to cease. But the search for justice for this terrible act of violence which took so many lives, and caused so much pain and grief, continues to remain elusive among the secrets and lies. 

Thursday 22 December 2022

What might a second Lockerbie trial look like?

[This is the headline over an article by Dr Mustafa Fetouri just published on the website of the Middle East Monitor. It reads in part:]

Libyan Abu Agila Muhammad Mas'ud Kheir Al-Marimi will appear for the second time before a federal court in Washington DC next Tuesday where he will be told formally of the charges against him. Mas'ud first appeared in court eight days ago after he was kidnapped from his bedroom in Tripoli on 12 December. The US law enforcement agencies colluded with a notorious local militia to snatch the old man and take him to America.

In his first appearance in court the suspect refused to talk to the judge because he claimed that he did not have a lawyer. It was reported that he rejected the lawyer appointed by the court to represent him. His family is working to provide their own lawyer.

The 71 year old will face charges relating to his alleged part in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing in which 270 people were killed when Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over the Scottish town of Lockerbie. (...)

The US has always insisted on trying the Lockerbie case in its own courts but it failed to get access to the suspects as Libya refused to hand over its citizens to the Americans. After a decade of negotiations and political wrangling by the late Nelson Mandela and others, it was agreed to have the trial in Camp Zeist, in the Netherlands.

Today, 34 years later, the US appears to have its long-awaited Lockerbie bombing trial, the second in a case that is not only very old but also very complicated.

So what might second Lockerbie trial look like in a US court? What are the chances of Mas'ud being found guilty or acquitted? Furthermore, what will be the implications of the verdict on the whole case, particularly on the conviction of the late al-Megrahi whose lawyer, Aamer Anwar, has been trying to overturn his conviction, posthumously, since 2014 without success? Will Mas'ud's defence be able to convince the American jury that his client had nothing to do with the bomb that destroyed the doomed flight?

The US prosecutors have to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, many things. For a start they have to establish a link between Mas'ud and the bomb in the first place and that he did, indeed, make the bomb that brought down Pan Am Flight 103 on 21 December 1988. The US alleges that he confessed to this in 2012 while being interrogated in Libya's notorious Al-Hadba Prison, south of Tripoli. Many question if such a confession is admissible in court given the conditions in which it was extracted. Former US Attorney General William Barr insisted recently that the confession is admissible in a US federal court. He even called for the death penalty if Mas'ud is convicted after prosecutors said that they will not seek capital punishment.

Al-Hadba has a terrible reputation. In 2015, Human Rights Watch questioned the methods used to interrogate detainees, including senior former Gaddafi officials, one of whom was Gaddafi's son Saad. A Tripoli-based legal expert who requested anonymity said, "Only a kangaroo court might accept anything let alone a confession from Al-Hadba Prison."

Moreover, to get a conviction, US prosecutors must convince the jury that it was a bomb made by Mas'ud, and no other device, that destroyed the Boeing 747 Jumbo jet on that cold evening as it flew at 31,000 feet. The prosecution apparently rests on the US allegation that Mas'ud handed over a Samsonite suitcase containing the bomb to Fhima, who dropped it into the Pan Am Flight 103 luggage feeder at Luga Airport in Malta. Proving that Mas'ud was in Malta on 21 December 1988 might be easy, but proving that he actually took the explosive-laden suitcase and handed it over to Fhima is a difficult one. Any evidence presented here will be circumstantial as there are no witnesses to testify to seeing Fhima and Mas'ud at the airport or anywhere else in Malta 34 years ago.

One expert on the case, Scottish law Professor Robert Black, told me that he thinks the "crux of the case" against Mas'ud will be whether it "can be proved beyond reasonable doubt" that he manufactured the bomb that destroyed the aircraft. This would lead to issues connected with the timer alleged to have been used to detonate the bomb. Tiny fragments of that timer were, allegedly, found among the wreckage in a field almost a year after the disaster. More evidence emerged after the first trial in Camp Zeist, though, suggesting that that "evidence" was planted by US investigators to frame Libya. According to George Thompson, a private investigator who worked on the case, the type of timer said to have been used in the bomb was not in production in 1988.

The third issue is that the US prosecutors have to explain, convincingly, how and where the bomb got into the luggage hold area of the Boeing 747. The 34-year-old official US narrative is that the suitcase with the bomb inside came from Malta and was fed into Pan Am Flight 103A at Frankfurt Airport in Germany. The plane then left for London Heathrow Airport ... However, since the 2001 trial more evidence and testimonies have emerged challenging that theory.

Mas'ud's best chance of acquittal or getting a lenient sentence rests on his defence team's ability to reopen the entire Lockerbie issue. For any trial to be fair it must consider the Lockerbie bombing as a single case and the US should not cherry-pick what it likes to advance in its line of argument.

I believe that it should be an international court that tries Mas'ud, not a US federal court. The late Nelson Mandela, who mediated between the US, Britain and Libya to arrange the 2001 trial, once said, "No one country should be complainant, prosecutor and judge." However, that is exactly what the US is in Mas'ud's case. Is that fair? And does it mean that his chance of a fair trial is very, very small indeed?

So what might a second Lockerbie trial look like? A "kangaroo court" perhaps?

[RB: I am not an American lawyer, but in my view the precise mechanism whereby the bomb got onto Pan Am 103 won't loom large in the US trial. As I understand it, under the relevant Federal legislation (see US Department of Justice outlines allegations against Masudall the prosecution has to prove is (a) that Masud made the bomb (b) that he knew it would be planted on an aircraft and (c) that his bomb was so planted and led to the destruction of Pan Am 103. Proving precisely how the device got onto the aircraft would not be essential to getting a conviction. Establishing Masud's guilt does not require proof of how his bomb got onto the plane, whether via Malta, Frankfurt or Heathrow ingestion.

I think the crux of the case will be whether it can be proved beyond reasonable doubt that it was a Libyan bomb, manufactured by Masud, that brought the plane down. So the evidence that has emerged since Zeist about the metallurgy of the fragment of circuit board alleged to have formed part of the bomb timer will be vital: Lockerbie: Bomb trigger or clever fake?]

Monday 26 October 2015

Why does Lockerbie rhyme with irony?

[This is the headline over an article by Michael Glackin published today by the Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star. It reads as follows:]

Oh the irony. What are we to make of news last week that Scottish prosecutors suddenly want to interview two Libyans they have identified as “new suspects” in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, in which 270 people were killed? The short answer is not much. One reason is that the suspects are hardly new. Both men were of interest to the original investigation in 1991. Abdullah al-Senussi, a former Libyan intelligence chief and brother in law of Moammar Gadhafi, was convicted in absentia by a French court in 1999 after having been found guilty of involvement in the bombing of a French UTA airliner over Niger in 1989. How ironic is that? He is currently on death row in Tripoli for crimes committed by the Gadhafi regime.
The other suspect, Mohammed Abouajela Masud, is currently serving a 10-year sentence in Tripoli for bomb-making. Masud was almost indicted for the Pan Am bombing in 1991, alongside Abdelbaset Ali Megrahi, the former head of security at Libyan Arab Airlines and the only person convicted of the atrocity.
Masud is also thought to have been involved in the bombing of a Berlin discotheque in 1986 frequented by American military personnel. The attack led to US airstrikes against Libya soon thereafter. Ironically, and depending on your point of view, this is what led to the bombing of Pan Am 103.
But the chances of either man appearing in a Scottish court are slim. The Tripoli-based General National Congress, backed by Islamist extremists and not recognized by the West, controls the fate of both men. It’s unlikely they will be extradited, and hard to see anyone volunteering to travel to Tripoli to interview them.
The conviction of Megrahi, who died in 2012, three years after he was released from a life sentence “on compassionate grounds,” was based on the theory that Gadhafi had ordered the bombing in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes against Libya.
Gadhafi admitted responsibility in 2003, but this was always seen as an economically pragmatic move, rather than an admission of guilt. A former Libyan prime minister, Shukri Ghanem, said as far back as 2005 that the decision to accept responsibility was to “buy peace and move forward.”
Another irony is that while the authorities insist the investigation into the bombing remains “ongoing,” the Scottish judiciary recently refused a request from some of the relatives of victims to hear an appeal against Megrahi’s conviction that would have allowed new evidence to be presented in court.
The legal case against Megrahi had more holes in it than Swiss cheese. His early release from jail in 2009, after being convicted of the biggest mass murders in British history, only added to the bad smell around the entire case.
The key witness against Megrahi, Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci, was given a $2 million reward for his evidence by the CIA and a place in a witness-protection program. Gauci, who even the Scottish prosecutor who indicted Megrahi described as being “an apple short of a picnic,” is now understood to be living in Australia.
It’s worth remembering that in October 1988, two months before the Pan Am bombing, German police raided an apartment in Frankfurt and arrested several Palestinians. The raid unearthed explosives, weapons and, crucially, a number of radio cassette recorders similar to the one used to detonate the Pan Am 103 bomb. Most of the Palestinians were members of the Syrian-controlled Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, headed by Ahmad Jibril, a Palestinian former Syrian Army officer. Jibril has spent recent years defending the regime of President Bashar Assad. He was reported to have been killed in August although this has since been denied.
Much of the evidence indicates Jibril and the PFLP-GC carried out the bombing on behalf of Iran and Syria to avenge the July 1988 accidental downing of an Iranian commercial airliner by a US warship, killing 290 people. This is backed up by evidence from the US Defense Intelligence Agency showing that the PFLP-GC was paid $1 million to carry out the bombing. The DIA also claimed that Jibril was given a down payment of $100,000 in Damascus by Iran’s then-ambassador to Syria, Mohammad Hussan Akhari.
Many believe then-Syrian President Hafez Assad’s support for the U.S.-led alliance to oust Iraqi forces from Kuwait in 1991 meant Syria’s role in the bombing was swept under the carpet. It is worth pointing out that Megrahi was not formally indicted by the United States and the United Kingdom until November 1991.
But the PFLP-GC is not the only non-Libyan suspect. The Frankfurt raid also revealed compelling evidence against Muhammad Abu Talib, a former leader of the Palestine People’s Struggle Front. Oddly enough Talib was released from a life sentence he was serving in Sweden for involvement in bomb attacks weeks after Megrahi’s release in 2009.
Finally, given that the authorities remain keen to pursue the Libyan angle, it is odd they spent so little time interviewing Gadhafi’s former spymaster Moussa Koussa when he fled to London as the regime was collapsing in 2011. Koussa, who in the words of one British government official was “up to his neck” in the bombing, spent just three days in London and then flew on to Qatar, where he remains, living on assets that were quietly unfrozen by the West around the same time. Oh the irony.

Thursday 7 September 2023

Masud and "US counterterrorism's long arm of justice"

[What follows is excerpted from an article by Christopher P Costa headlined 9/11, Benghazi and US counterterrorism’s long arm of justice published yesterday on the website of The Hill, the house magazine of the United States Congress:]

Conventional wisdom in policymaking circles is that the US counterterrorism enterprise is nonpartisan. I agree. I saw firsthand how the Trump administration benefited from continuity grounded in professionalism and threaded to sound counterterrorism policy prescriptions passed on from previous administrations, both Democrat and Republican. 

After years of painstaking counterterrorism work, talking with both former terrorists and victims of terrorism, as well as attending terrorism trials, I’ve come to realize that continuity comes from a long institutional memory between administrations, and justice in these cases is often at the crossroads of law enforcement and counterterrorism operations. 

As FBI Director Christopher Wray noted, it took 34 years of painstaking investigative work to bring the maker of the Lockerbie bomb tied to the destruction of Pan Am flight 103 to justice this year. That effort is the province of foreign partners, the Department of Justice, the FBI and, eventually, a US court. Legal arrows – in terms of investigations, extraditions and trials – can be more potent than simply killing terrorists on battlefields overseas. The rule of law remains an indispensable tool for policymakers. 

This dedication to continuity drives the tenacity of the legal system to finish the work of prior administrations. (...)

First, policy continuity across political administrations has kept the nation safe from terrorism. Second, in light of the Lockerbie bomber’s extradition last December, justice and continuity matter deeply and are two sides of the same coin. (...)

Sometimes this continuity would have to carry on for decades before reaching closure.  

The Christmastime bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, for example, killed 270 passengers, including 190 Americans, on Dec. 21, 1988, and last December, the FBI was finally able to take custody of a suspect for building the explosive device that downed the flight. As a result of the Justice Department’s focus and tenacity in concluding a case that began more than 30 years earlier, Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud was then extradited to the United States to face prosecution for one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in American history. (...) 

[RB: Masud was not "extradited" to the United States. He was kidnapped by a local militia and later, with the connivance of the Tripoli "government" handed over to US agents. Libyan law does not permit extradition of citizens to a foreign country for trial, only voluntary surrender by the suspect; and there is, and can be, no suggestion that Masud volunteered.]

In a time of political polarization, we can be sanguine about the professionalism of the US counterterrorism enterprise, and the long memory of United States justice, regardless of administration. Maybe that’s worth reflecting on this Sept 11 anniversary.

Tuesday 24 October 2023

Legal bid to give Lockerbie families access to Masud trial

[This is the headline over a report published today on the BBC News website. It reads in part:]

US politicians are being asked to allow people from 21 countries to listen live to the second Lockerbie bombing trial.

A Libyan man is currently in US custody, accused of making the device that destroyed Pan Am 103 on 21 December, 1988.

Of the 270 victims, 190 were from the US, 43 from the UK and the remaining from 19 other nations.

American prosecutors say their families should have access to a phone line to allow them to follow the case.

Trials in US federal courts are not televised and a judge has previously ruled there is no legal basis for allowing such a move.

Abu Agila Masud was handed over to the US authorities in as yet unexplained circumstances in Libya in December 2022.

Appearing in a Washington court under his full name Abu Agila Mohammed Mas'ud Kheir Al-Marimi, the convicted bomb maker faces several charges, including destruction of an aircraft resulting in death.

He has entered a not guilty plea and so far no date for a trial has been set. (...)

Prosecutors from the US Department of Justice say many of the relatives of the victims are too old or infirm to travel to Washington to watch the court proceedings in person.

In their request to US lawmakers, they said: "This combination of advanced age and geographic distance and dispersion from Washington DC means that many victims face significant obstacles to obtain meaningful access to the court proceedings."

The application by the US prosecutors defines "victims" as anyone who suffered "direct or proximate harm" by the bombing, was present at or near the scene when it occurred or immediately afterwards, and their relatives.

On one view, that could include people in Lockerbie who witnessed the crash and its aftermath, along with members of the emergency services and military.

The American prosecutors also argue that the US investigation has involved international co-operation, in particular from police and the Crown Office in Scotland.

They are seeking statutory authority for the court to allow "remote video and telephone access" to preliminary evidential hearings and the trial itself.

Although video is mentioned, the application specifically requests the approval of a dedicated listen-only telephone line. (...)

The first Lockerbie trial took place at a specially-convened Scottish court sitting at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands. Relatives of the victims were able to watch via remote video feeds in Scotland and the US.

That case ended with the conviction of Abdulbasset al-Megrahi, who was found guilty of mass murder and jailed for life. (...) 

Scottish and American prosecutors alleged that the bombing was the work of the Libyan intelligence service and others were involved along with Megrahi.

The US justice department first announced criminal charges against Abu Agila Masud in December 2020.

They have alleged that he confessed to making the Lockerbie bomb after he was taken into custody following the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi's government in 2012.

Wednesday 27 January 2016

Lockerbie and the claims of Magnus Linklater

[On 6 January 2016 an article by Magnus Linklater headlined We can be confident that the Scottish prosecutors got the right man appeared in the Scottish Review. On 23 January John Ashton responded to that article on his Megrahi: You are my Jury website. In The Cafe section of today’s issue of the Scottish Review John Ashton and Dr Morag Kerr reply as follows to the Linklater article:]

Magnus Linklater’s article on the Lockerbie case 'We can be confident that the Scottish prosecutors got the right man’ (6 January) makes a number of inaccurate claims, including the suggestion that, when writing the biography of the alleged bomber, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, I deliberately suppressed evidence that was unfavourable to Mr Megrahi.

This was that on the morning of the bombing, and on a couple of occasions prior, he shared a flight with Libyan Abouagela Masud, who was alleged by a Libyan witness to be the bomb-maker responsible for the La Belle night club bombing in Berlin in 1986. This particular flight was from Malta, which the prosecution alleged was the launchpad for the bomb.

The book examined the evidence used to convict Mr Megrahi. Like the Scottish Police and prosecutors, I was unaware of Mr Masud’s alleged connection to La Belle until told of it by filmmaker Ken Dornstein well over three years after completing that book. Mr Linklater could easily have checked this with me before defaming me, but chose not to. How, I wonder, could I have suppressed something of which I had no knowledge? My book did not dodge the fact that Mr Megrahi was connected to some unsavoury characters within the Gaddafi regime, including the alleged mastermind of La Belle and Said Rashid, yet Mr Linklater fails to mention this, preferring instead to accuse me of burying inconvenient truths.

As anyone who has followed the Megrahi case knows, it is the Crown that suppressed important evidence – lots of it – all of which was helpful to Mr Megrahi. On this scandal Mr Linklater has consistently remained mute.

He also suggests that my claim that Megrahi suffered a miscarriage of justice is based on speculation, rather than hard evidence. Had he read my book properly, he would see that all of its key claims are founded on hard evidence, the bulk of which was from the Crown’s own files. The same goes for Dr Morag Kerr’s book Adequately Explained by Stupidity?, which he breezily dismisses, without naming it, as having 'no concrete evidence’ to back it up.

He implies that I believe Mr Megrahi was the victim of a giant conspiracy in which judges and lawyers knowingly participated in a miscarriage of justice. As I have repeatedly made clear, including to Mr Linklater, I hold no such belief. If there was a conspiracy to frame Mr Megrahi – a big if, but by no means impossible – I don’t believe it would have involved the knowing participation of the Scottish criminal justice system.

Mr Linklater tells us: 'I like the famous Sherlock Holmes quote: "Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth"', yet applies it selectively. Hard evidence that has emerged since Mr Megrahi was convicted demonstrates the impossibility of the main planks of the prosecution case: that Mr Megrahi bought the clothes for the bomb suitcase from a Maltese shop a fortnight before the attack; that the fragment of bomb timer found at Lockerbie matched timers supplied to Libya by Swiss firm Mebo; and that the bomb began its journey In Malta. In contrast, the only evidence to support the conviction in 15 years is that concerning Abouagela Masud.

Two years ago I wrote an open letter to Mr Linklater, which posed a number of questions. He promised to reply, but never did. Maybe he would like to in the Scottish Review – he has had plenty of time to think of answers.

John Ashton

I’m getting more than slightly tired of Magnus Linklater’s repeated attacks on me and my Lockerbie book (Adequately Explained by Stupidity?, Matador 2013). He uses his entrée as a journalist to disparage and dismiss my work over multiple platforms, without at any point addressing the substance of what I have written. His latest sally is perhaps the weakest to date: '...suggestions that Heathrow Airport was where the bomb was loaded again have no concrete evidence to back them; an entire book has been written on the Heathrow connection, but nothing has emerged to give it the kind of validity which would stand up in court'. (In a supreme discourtesy he doesn’t even cite my book by name to allow readers to access it and judge for themselves.)

My book is stuffed to the eyeballs with concrete evidence that the bomb was introduced at Heathrow. I have repeatedly begged proponents of Megrahi’s guilt to explain to me in what way I am mistaken or what inferences I have missed that might admit of any plausible scenario whatsoever whereby the bomb suitcase might have flown in on the feeder flight. Nobody has answered me. I have specifically begged Mr Linklater in person to address this point, but he has ignored me in favour of yet another sally in the press denouncing 'conspiracy theorists'.

He repeatedly states that no evidence has emerged that would stand up in court. I am quite certain that the analysis I present would stand up in court, as would other evidence being highlighted by other interested parties. The problem is that it has not come before any court. Attempts to bring it to court have been mounted and indeed are ongoing, but so far these have been thwarted by procedural obstacles.

It is not enough simply to hand-wave away a detailed, evidence-based and non-conspiratorial dissection of the Lockerbie evidence with vague platitudes about 'nothing has emerged to give it ... validity'. What does he expect to emerge, from where and from whom, before he will do me the courtesy of actually addressing the substance of my thesis? One might imagine that it would be of some interest to a journalist who repeatedly invokes the name of the respected Sunday Times Insight series, but apparently not.

If, as I contend, detailed and logical analysis of the evidence gathered at Lockerbie (with no allegations of fabrication, substitution, evidence-planting, corruption, conspiracy or deliberate malpractice) demonstrates beyond reasonable doubt that the bomb was introduced at Heathrow, not Malta, this flips the entire 'was Megrahi guilty?' conundrum on its head. Rather than placing him at the scene of the crime, it provides him with a rock-solid alibi.

Ken Dornstein’s work, which impresses Mr Linklater so profoundly, relies absolutely and fundamentally on the unexamined assumption that the Lockerbie bomb was introduced at Malta. If it wasn’t, then he might as well produce eye-witness evidence that Elvis was checking in for a flight at Luqa airport that morning for all the relevance it would have. It doesn’t matter if Megrahi knew, or travelled with, or was related to any number of rank bad guys implicated in unrelated atrocities – if the scene of the crime that day was a thousand miles away, he didn’t do it. Worse still, the entire multi-million-pound Lockerbie investigation was up a gum tree from its earliest weeks, and due to its failure to investigate the real scene of the crime we simply have no idea who carried out the atrocity.

I challenge Mr Linklater to put up or shut up. To explain in detail where he thinks the mistakes or omissions are in my analysis that invalidate my conclusion that the bomb suitcase was already in the container an hour before the flight from Frankfurt landed, or to refrain from disparaging my work and myself in print.

Morag Kerr

Wednesday 28 October 2015

Libya, Iran and the riddle of Lockerbie

[This is the headline over an article published yesterday on the Libya Business Info website.  It reads as follows:]

The evening of the 21st December 1988 was thick with gloom and chill. At London’s Heathrow airport, a myriad of humanity meandered and milled around the terminals. It was the holiday season, and the cosmopolitan crowds coursing through Heathrow were heading home. The mostly American passengers on Pan Am Flight 103 boarded their 747 and settled into their seats, expecting that in six or so hours’ time their jet would be kissing the tarmac in New York. Surely, as the plane gently pushed back from its gate, no one on board would have guessed that within the next hour, all on board would be dead.

As the twenty-seventh anniversary of the Lockerbie disaster approaches, the official story of events remains embroiled in doubt and disbelief. The Libyan Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who died maintaining his innocence, was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2001, after being found guilty of planting the suitcase bomb that detonated above the Scottish borders. Allegedly enacted on the orders of Muammar Gaddafi, the Lockerbie bombing has been touted as an act of revenge for US actions in Libya during the 1980s. A succession of tit-for-tat events occurred throughout the decade, including the Libyan-sponsored bombing of a West German nightclub frequented by US servicemen and the American backing of Chadian troops against Libyan militias, which culminated in the former’s capture of the Aouzou Strip.

The support offered to Chad by the US lingered on Gaddafi’s mind, already soaked with anti-Western, anti-imperialist vitriol. Certainly, the notion that the maverick North African leader, with his support for terrorist groups across the globe, could have ordered the bombing of an American airliner in the run up to Christmas. In fact in 2011, in the midst of the Libyan Civil War, the former Libyan Justice Minister claimed he held proof that Gaddafi had personally ordered the bombing (to date, however, he has not released it).

Last week saw the first real developments in the Lockerbie narrative since the trial some fifteen years ago. Scottish and American investigators released the identities of two Libyans wanted for questioning. Mohammed Abouajela Masud and Abdullah al-Senussi are suspected of having acted with al-Megrahi, and like that man, both held positions of power in Gaddafi’s regime. Senussi was Gaddafi’s brother-in-law, and is currently in jail awaiting execution, whilst Masud is serving a sentence for bomb-making. Documentation from the initial investigation places both men in the same circles as Megrahi, and Masud was apparently in Malta at the same time as he was. This is very relevant, as the testimony of one Tony Gauci, a Maltese shopkeeper, identified Megrahi as the man who purchased clothing from his establishment that was later found in the suitcase the bomb had been planted in: it is thought that the bomb entered the air freight system at Malta’s Luqa airport, with the help of Libyan Arab Airlines’ station controller there.

This news is pivotal for more than just the fact that two men, who may very well have been connected with the deaths of two-hundred and seventy people, have been identified and are now wanted for questioning. For some time, there has been scepticism about who is really behind Lockerbie. The people holding these views are not just run of the mill conspiracy theorists, who refute official government explanations as a modus operandi. Rather, some relatives of the deceased have stated that they do not believe Megrahi was behind the atrocity, and there are doubts over whether Libya was the ultimate perpetrator: some point to Iran as the true instigator of the attack.

In July this year, high court judges in Edinburgh ruled against an appeal launched by twenty-six British relatives of victims who, alongside the Megrahi family, believed that a miscarriage of justice had been carried out in his conviction. Senior Scottish prosecutors have held up their judgement of Megrahi’s guilt, and American victims have supported this decision. Previous appeals, in particular one held in 2007 after a four-year review of the original trial, outlined some of the main contentions with the verdict. Amongst them, Gauci was purportedly paid some $2million to provide testimony against Megrahi; the withholding of vital documents relating to the Mebo (a Swiss firm) timer that was supposed to have detonated the bomb and the fact that the head of the company was apparently offered a $4million bribe by the FBI to testify that the timer debris belonged to a device supplied to Libya; and finally the fact a Mebo employee swore he had stolen a timer and backhandedly supplied it to Lockerbie investigators the year after the bombing. All in all, some decide that Megrahi, and perhaps Libya, were scapegoats.

Those who hold such opinions lean toward Iran as the masterminds of the attack. Two years before Lockerbie, the USS Vincennes, an American warship, shot down an Iran Air flight from Tehran to Dubai, killing all on board. This was doubtless an atrocity also, especially considering the aircraft was in Iranian airspace, over Iranian waters and following its standard flight path. Many journalists, and (possibly) even Margaret Thatcher, thought the Iranian revenge motive more plausible than the Libyan slake for blood following the aforementioned tensions with the USA. Potential further evidence came in the form of the former head of Iranian intelligence in Europe, whom, upon defecting to Germany, elaborated that his former country had contracted Libya and a Palestinian guerrilla to carry out the attack.

The waters of international affairs are some of the murkiest, and no one would be surprised to learn of political manoeuvring on behalf of the US to paint perceived hostile nations as responsible for atrocities. Certainly, there is more to this story than meets the eye, although if Iran had ultimately ordered the attacks, questions remain as to why the investigators never followed that path when that country’s government was an obvious suspect. Regardless, the naming of two new suspects may present new hope for the families of the victims in pinpointing who exactly is to blame for the murder of their loved ones. One can only hope, in the current Libyan climate, those two men can be reached and give their testimonies. It could change the face of the investigation after all these years of scepticism.