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

Saturday 7 January 2023

Politics has obstructed justice for victims of the Lockerbie bombing

[This is the headline over an article by Kim Sengupta published today on the website of The Independent. It reads in part:]

The appearance of Agila Mohammad Masud al Marimi in an American court last month after being held captive in Libya has been portrayed as a vital breakthrough in the long pursuit of justice in the Lockerbie bombing.

It is nothing of the kind. It is, instead, continuation of a course of action which had resulted in a shameful miscarriage of justice; one which brings us no nearer to establishing the truth about the terrible atrocity in which 270 people were killed when their Pan Am flight was blown up just before Christmas in 1988.

The Libyan government – such as it is in the currently fractured country – has ordered an investigation into the abduction of the 71-year-old man from his home in Tripoli by a militia before he turned up in the US. The country’s attorney general did not issue an arrest warrant, and says the handover to American authorities is likely to have been illegal.

The “confession” that he was the Lockerbie bombmaker which Masud – a former Gadaffi regime agent – allegedly made to Libyan officials after he was seized in Libya a decade ago, has long been considered dubious by many with knowledge of the bombing and its subsequent investigation.

The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken insisted that the rendition of Masud was the “product of years of cooperation between US and Scottish authorities and the efforts of Libyan authorities over many years.” Officials in Washington have refused to furnish any details of how the transaction took place.

But it is not just possible abuse of procedure which is the main issue in this. The prosecution of Masud is predicated on the narrative that Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, a Libyan, was responsible for the attack.

But many of those closely involved in the case are convinced that his conviction, by a Scottish court, was fundamentally unjust, should have been overturned and have been campaigning for this over the years.

I saw Megrahi in the winter of 2011 in Tripoli, where he had been sent from his prison in Scotland after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. He was lying in bed attached to a drip, oxygen mask on his skeletal face, drifting in and out of consciousness. The medicine he needed had been plundered by looters in the chaotic aftermath of the fall of the Gaddafi regime; the doctors treating him had fled.

The vengeful pursuit of Megrahi, the feeling that he had escaped justice by failing to die in a cell, persisted among those who were adamant that he was guilty. He was faking his illness, they claimed right until his death; there were demands that the post-revolutionary Libyan government should arrest and send him back to Scotland or on to the US.

Megrahi died a few months later.

Members of some of the bereaved families in the bombing have long been convinced that his conviction was wrong. Dr Jim Swire, who lost his daughter, Flora was clear: “I went into that court thinking I was going to see the trial of those who were responsible for the murder of my daughter. I came out thinking he had been framed. I am very afraid that we saw steps taken to ensure that a politically desired result was obtained.”

I reported from the specially constituted Scottish court at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands, where Megrahi and his fellow Libyan defendant, Lamin Khalifa Fhimah, were tried and the flaws in the prosecution case became apparent very early.

The two men were charged with what amounted to joint enterprise, yet Megrahi was found guilty and Fhimah was freed. The prosecution evidence was circumstantial and contradictory. Key prosecution witnesses were shaky under cross-examination.

The evidence of a supposedly prime “CIA intelligence asset”, Abdul Majid Giaka (codename “Puzzle Piece”) – who turned up in court wearing a drag queen’s costume in an attempt to hide his identity – was widely ridiculed. It emerged later that important evidence had not been passed to the defence lawyers by the Crown.

There was scathing criticism from international jurists about the proceedings. Professor Hans Köchler, a UN appointed [observer], described them as an “inconsistent, arbitrary and a spectacular miscarriage of justice”. The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission subsequently identified six grounds where it believed “a miscarriage of justice may have occurred”.

Cynical realpolitik had played a key role in the prosecution. Both British and American officials initially claimed that Iran commissioned the attack on the Pan Am flight using the Palestinian guerrilla group PFLP (GC), based in Damascus, in retaliation for the shooting down of an Iranian airliner by the US.

That changed suddenly, however, after the first Gulf War when Syria joined the US sponsored coalition against Saddam Hussein: the same Western officials now held that Libya was the culprit state.

Colonel Gadaffi’s regime eventually paid out (...) compensation to the families of the victims; but that was seen by those unconvinced by the new theory as one just of the deals which, at the time, brought him back into the international fold.

An appeal to clear Megrahi’s name, backed some of the bereaved families and eminent lawyers, was turned down by the Appeal Court in Edinburgh in 2015 because the law was “not designed to give relatives of victims a right to proceed in an appeal for their own or the public’s interest”.

The US case against Masud is that he had colluded with Megrahi and Fhimah to carry out the bombing. It is claimed that he met the two men in Malta with the bomb which went on to the hold of the Pan Am plane through a connecting flight.

But, as we know, Fhimah was acquitted by the Lockerbie court, where the prosecution had insisted that he and Megrahi were the two bomb plotters in Malta.

Robert Black, KC, an eminent law professor born in Lockerbie who played a key role in organising the Camp Zeist trial, and subsequently became convinced that there had been a miscarriage of justice warned back in 2013 that British officials were trying to retrospectively manipulate information implicating Masud and buttressing the case against Megrahi. “It looks like the Crown Office is trying to shore up the Malta connection, which is pretty weak,” he said.

Much of the information implicating Masud as being linked to Megrahi is coming from a former Libyan security official called Musbah Eter, who the FBI has been interviewing.

Eter has had a chequered life. He was convicted of the bombing of the La Belle nightclub in Berlin in 1986; an attack which prompted Ronald Reagan to bomb Libya, with some of the warplanes flying from British bases. A German TV investigation subsequently revealed that Eter was a CIA “asset”.

We do not know why it took him more than two decades to come forward with the Lockerbie information, or what influence his relationship with US intelligence played in this.

As well as Masud, the Americans hold that Abdullah al-Senussi – who was both Muammar Gaddafi’s chief of intelligence and his brother-in-law – is involved in the bombing. He is in prison in Libya, and may also end up in the US.

We will see Masud, and probably Senussi as well, end up facing Lockerbie charges at a court, and we may yet see another CIA operative – Eter this time – doing a court turn in a drag queen’s wig. None of this, however, will bring us nearer to knowing the truth about the terrible Lockerbie massacre.

[RB: Further pieces on the Lockerbie case by Kim Sengupta can be accessed here.]

Monday 12 December 2022

Masud "confession" states he was Malta clothes purchaser not Megrahi

[What follows is excerpted from a report published today in the Daily Record headlined Lawyer of only man convicted of Lockerbie bombing 'concerned' by arrest of suspect in US:]

The lawyer for the family of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the only man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, expressed concern over Masud’s arrest. (...)

Aamer Anwar said the arrest of Masud raises important questions over Megrahi’s conviction. Several victims’ families – but not all – believe it to be unsafe.

He said: “The United States claim that Masud’s confession to being involved in the conspiracy with Al-Megrahi to blow up Pan Am Flight 103, was ‘extracted’ by a ‘Libyan law enforcement agent’ in 2012, whilst in custody in a Libyan prison. What the US should have said was that Masud was actually in the custody of a war lord, widely condemned for human rights abuses and the circumstances in which such a confession was extracted would be strongly opposed in any US/Scottish court.

"The US criminal complaint against Masud states that he bought the clothes to put into the Samsonite suitcase that is claimed went on to blow up Pan Am Flight 103. The problem for the US department of justice is that the case against Megrahi is still based on the eyewitness testimony of Toni Gauci, stating that Megrahi bought the clothes.

“How can both Megrahi and Masud now be held responsible? In July this year, the UK Supreme Court rejected our leave to appeal seeking to overturn the conviction of the Scottish High Court which maintained Al-Megrahi was the bomber.

“Our legal team is in touch with the Libyan authorities but will also now consider what this means for the potential of any further miscarriage of justice appeal for Al-Megrahi. For the Megrahi family this is another piece in the jigsaw of lies, built on the back of the Libyan people, the victims of Lockerbie and the incarceration of an innocent man.”

Wednesday 4 November 2015

"The coverage of the film is more notable for what it omits than what it reveals"

[What follows is the text of an article by John Ashton headlined The Lockerbie Case published in today’s edition of the Scottish Review:]

Lockerbie is back in the news. On 15 October the Crown Office announced that the lord advocate and the US attorney general have agreed that two Libyan men should be treated as suspects. They have been named as Abu Agila Masud, an alleged bomb-maker whose identity was until now a mystery, and Abdullah Senussi, Colonel Gaddafi’s former security chief. Both men are currently in prison in Libya.

The announcement was prompted by the recent broadcast by the American PBS channel’s 'Frontline' series of a three-part documentary, My Brother’s Bomber, made by Ken Dornstein, who lost his brother David in the attack. Trailed by a long feature in The New Yorker, it suggests that the Libyan man convicted of the bombing, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, was guilty and that he acted with Masud.

The film has provided the much-derided Crown case against Megrahi with the only significant boost it has had since he was convicted almost 15 years ago. That case, accepted by the three Scottish law lords who tried him, went as follows. Two weeks before the bombing, on 7 December 1988, he bought a selection of clothes from a shop in Malta called Mary’s House. On 21 December 1988, while travelling on a false passport he placed an unaccompanied brown Samsonite suitcase on board Air Malta flight KM180 from Malta to Frankfurt.

The suitcase contained the clothes and a bomb, and was labelled for New York on PA103. At Frankfurt it transferred to Pan Am feeder flight PA103A to London Heathrow, and at Heathrow to PA103. The bomb was allegedly built in to a Toshiba BomBeat brand RT-SF16 radio cassette player. A large percentage of the global total of this model had been imported by the Libyan General Electrical Company, which was run by Megrahi’s friend and relative Said Rashid, who was a senior figure in Libyan intelligence service, the JSO. More importantly, it was said to have been detonated by a timing device known as an MST-13, which had been designed and built to order for the JSO by a small Swiss company called Mebo, whose Zurich offices were shared by a Libyan company called ABH, in which Megrahi was a partner.

Before I go further, I should declare an interest. I worked for three years as a researcher for Megrahi, helping his lawyers prepare for his appeal against conviction, and following his return to Libya, at his request, I wrote his biography Megrahi: You are my Jury. I was also a paid consultant during the early stages of the film’s production in which capacity I was interviewed on camera (although the interview doesn’t appear in the film) and provided Ken with numerous documents. Although he and I hold very different views about the case, I like and respect him.

He has a profound need for clear answers about who killed his brother. He always believed that Megrahi was guilty and that he had acted on behalf of the Libyan state. He used the opportunity opened by the Libyan revolution to pursue the other alleged state players.

He accepts that the evidence suggesting Megrahi was the clothes purchaser was flawed. Not only was he very much younger, smaller and lighter-skinned than the man described by the shopkeeper, Tony Gauci, but the evidence also suggested that the purchase date was not, as the crown alleged, 7 December 1988, but two weeks earlier, when Megrahi was not in Malta. Ken considers that these weaknesses in the Crown case are relatively insignificant when set again the other evidence that he has unearthed, the most important of which concerns Abu Agila Masud.

We have always known that on the morning of the bombing Masud was on the same flight as Megrahi from Malta to Tripoli and that they had been on other flights together in the previous weeks. Megrahi denied knowing him, as did the Libyans interviewed by Lockerbie investigators prior to Megrahi’s trial. The film reveals that, according to a German court judgment, Masud was the technical mastermind behind the 1986 bombing of La Belle nightclub in Berlin. That attack prompted US air strikes on Libya, which in turn, according to the official Lockerbie narrative, prompted Libya to bomb Pan Am 103. Furthermore, the film suggests, Masud was in the car that greeted Megrahi at the airport on his return to Libya in 2009. Then, earlier this year, a Libyan court convicted him of making booby-trapped car bombs during the 2011 revolution.

The film also focuses on another alleged plotter, Said Rashid, who greeted Megrahi on the steps of the aircraft on his arrival home. Ken got access to Rashid’s abandoned house, where he found diaries in which he had described Malta as a launch pad for terrorism against the west. Malta, of course, was where the Libyans allegedly launched the Lockerbie bomb.

Megrahi was always open about his close relationship with Rashid and other notorious senior security figures, including the newly named suspect Abdallah Senussi, who, like Rashid, was a relation. Megrahi: You are my Jury made clear that both Rashid and Senussi were allegedly involved in terrorism – in Rashid’s case the La Belle bombing.

The evidence that Ken has assembled is substantial and I do not dismiss it out of hand, but, for reasons set out below, I believe the conclusions he has built upon it are unsustainable.

His film has prompted an avalanche of media coverage, almost all of it uncritical. The Crown Office’s chief media cheerleader, Times columnist Magnus Linklater, has even declared that '[it] is time to extinguish the last embers of controversy that have heated the Lockerbie case for so long'. 

Anything that places Lockerbie back in the spotlight is to be welcomed. Unfortunately, however, the coverage of the film is more notable for what it omits than what it reveals.

The first significant omission is a consideration of the evidence from Libya and of Megrahi’s behaviour. At the start of the Libyan revolution four years ago, the former justice minister Mustafa Abdel Jalil claimed to have proof that Colonel Gaddafi ordered the bombing. Since then nothing has emerged publicly from the country’s security archives to implicate the Gaddafi regime and Megrahi in the bombing. Jalil later claimed he had been misquoted and the best he could offer by the way of evidence was the fact that the regime had paid Megrahi’s legal bills. Said Rashid’s papers implicated Rashid in terrorism, but there was nothing new and substantial to demonstrate that he had a role in Lockerbie.

The only genuine document to emerge from the ruins of the old regime that speaks directly to the suspects’ private views on the case is a letter by Megrahi to Senussi, reported on by The Wall Street Journal, in which he protested his innocence. (The WSJ speculated that he might have expected the prison staff to check his mail, but that didn’t happen, as he was free to hand over correspondence to the Libyan consulate staff who frequently visited him.)

Megrahi continued to plead his innocence following his return to Libya in 2009. By then there was nothing for him to lose in admitting his guilt, yet he wouldn’t and he spent much of his remaining time cooperating with me in writing his biography – hardly the actions of a guilty man. The Gaddafi regime also had nothing to lose. In 2004 it made a formal admission of responsibility and paid compensation for the bombing, but only because it was obliged to do so in order to free itself of crippling UN sanctions, which had been imposed under US and UK sponsored Security Council resolutions passed in the early 90s. It never made an unambiguous admission of guilt.

Megrahi didn't act like a terrorist when he was in Malta. Although he travelled on a coded passport under a false name, he went to visit his co-accused Lamin Fhimah’s Maltese business partner, whom he had never met before, and introduced himself under his real name. He then stayed the night at the Holiday Inn, rather than at one of the island’s Libyan-owned hotels, despite having stayed there for two nights only a fortnight earlier under his own name. He kept the passport for 11 years until he went to The Netherlands to stand trial and handed it over to the prosecution; again, not what one would expect of a terrorist.

Megrahi told a number of lies, not least, it seems, about his relationship with Masud, but lies do not prove guilt. Truth telling is a luxury of liberal democracies. In countries like Gaddafi’s Libya it can be fatal.

A second omission is the strong evidence that points away from Megrahi and Libya. Unlike the Libyans, the original suspects in the bombing, the Syrian-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), had a track record of bombing aircraft. Moreover, they made bombs into Toshiba BomBeat radio cassette players, the same brand – although a different model – that was used to destroy Pan Am 103. According to their bomb-maker Marwan Khreesat, who was arrested in Germany with other members of the group two months before Lockerbie in an operation code-named Autumn Leaves, his fellow arrestee Hafez Dalkamoni had come to Germany to coordinate an attack on a western airline and had shown a particular interest in Pan Am. 

The German cell also had a link to Malta through the Swedish-based terrorist Mohamed Abu Talb, some of whose associates had visited Dalkamoni and Khreesat’s German apartment two weeks before the Autumn Leaves raids, and who himself visited Malta around the same time. 

There have been suggestions that the PFLP-GC and the Libyans somehow joined forces and that the Libyans were responsible for the plot’s final execution. This would make sense if the Autumn Leaves arrests had halted the PFLP-GC’s operation. However, other evidence suggests that it continued. Khreesat told the German police that other members of the group had evaded arrest, including one called Abu Elias, who, Khreesat gleaned, was to have an important role in the planned attack. Another PFLP-GC member called Mobdi Goben, who led the group's Yugoslavian cell and was visited by members of the German cell shortly before their arrest, later claimed that the bombing had been coordinated by Abu Elias. 

Further evidence that the PFLP-GC’s plot remained active after the Autumn Leaves raids came in a warning circulated by the US State Department's bureau of diplomatic security three weeks before Lockerbie (and a few days before the better known and allegedly hoax Helsinki warning). It stated that a group of radical Palestinians in Europe was planning to target Pan Am, adding 'Timeframe is present'. 

A number of declassified US intelligence documents have stated as fact that the bombing was commissioned from the PFLP-GC by Iran in revenge for the accidental shoot-down of Iran Air flight 655 by US battlecruiser the USS Vincennes six months earlier. Former CIA agent Robert Baer revealed specific details of the Iranian/PFLP-GC attack, which he said came from a number of reliable sources. Another, Richard Fuisz, revealed in a court deposition that he was told by numerous senior Syrian officials who were close to PFLP-GC leader Ahmed Jibril that the group was behind the bombing. 

None of this rules out Libyan involvement in the attack: Libya backed the PFLP-GC and may well have provided logistical and material support to the bombers. This scenario was one that neither the Lockerbie prosecutors nor the Libyans themselves would wish explored. 

A third omission is the evidence suggesting that the La Belle bombing was not a straightforward act of Libyan terrorism. Three of the four people convicted of the bombing worked at the Libyan People’s Bureau in East Berlin: Palestinian Yassar Chraidi, Lebanese-born German Ali Chanaa and Libyan Musbah Eter. Eter confessed to his role in the bombing in 1996 and became the key prosecution witness (Chanaa also confessed but his evidence was not relied upon by the prosecution). Also central to the case were files from the former East Germany security service, the Stasi, which documented information provided by its network of informers within Berlin’s Arab community.

The files appeared to corroborate Eter’s claim that Masud was a bomb technician and indicated that he was in Berlin around the time of the bombing. The Libyan witnesses in the Lockerbie case all denied knowledge of Masud. Also important to the case were intercepts of incriminatory messages supposedly sent between the Libyan government and the East Berlin People’s Bureau. Said Rashid was identified as the main voice behind the instructions from Tripoli. Ostensibly, all this was convincing evidence of Masud’s and Libya’s guilt. But other evidence suggests the bombing had some very murky undercurrents.

The Stasi files suggested that the staff of the East Berlin Libyan People’s Bureau were far from being a close band of Gaddafi loyalists. Most startlingly, they showed that Musbah Eter had a long-standing relationship with the CIA. A 1998 investigation by the German TV channel ZDF alleged that, at the time of his confession in 1996, he was running a CIA front company in Malta.

Some of the Stasi’s Arab informants also had a relationship with the CIA. So too did a number of non-Libyans, whom the Stasi files implicated in the wider La Belle plot, but who escaped justice. One key informant, Mahmoud Abu Jaber, and his brother Mohamed, both of whom were both close to Chraidi, ran a freelance Palestinian terrorist cell that was mistrusted by other Palestinians. The Stasi learned that the CIA knew that Mahmoud and another cell member, Khaled Shatta, were involved in the bombing. In the months prior to the attack the cell lived in East Berlin and met the defendants almost daily. Hours before the attack they travelled to West Berlin. Their movements were monitored by both the Stasi and the Soviet intelligence service, the KGB, who concluded that they were working for Western intelligence. A declassified KGB document indicated that Jaber was suspected of being an agent provocateur, who was being used by the CIA to concoct a case against Libya. The KGB reported that, two days before the bombing, he told his CIA contacts that it would cost $30,000, rather than the previously quoted amount, $80,000. Another member of the group admitted to ZDF that he was a Mossad asset.

All this is important in the light of the widely reported and well documented fact that throughout the Reagan presidency the CIA ran a massive covert campaign against Libya. In the run up to the La Belle attack, the US navy conducted aggressive exercises off the coast of Libya, which were clearly designed to provoke a Libyan military response, although none came. The bombing gave the White House hawks the excuse they craved to strike. 

When the US released the incriminatory intercepts to the German authorities a decade after the attack they appeared to be genuine. However, according to former Mossad agent Victor Ostrovsky the Americans were duped by a Mossad, who broadcast phony messages from Tripoli. Neither the La Belle prosecutor Detlev Mehlis nor the FBI bothered to interview Ostrovsky about his claims. 

To be clear, I do not claim that Libya, Said Rashid and Abouagela Masud were not involved in La Belle – I would not be surprised if they were – I merely caution against taking a black and white view of the case.

The fourth major omission in the recent media coverage is the evidence that demonstrates that the Lockerbie bomb did not originate in Malta. To remind you, Megrahi's conviction rested on the belief that he had managed to smuggle a bomb contained in an unaccompanied suitcase on board Air Malta flight KM180 from Malta to Frankfurt and that this case had been transferred to Pan Am feeder flight PA103A to Heathrow, where it was transferred to PA103. The claim relied upon two documents from Frankfurt airport, which, according to the Crown, demonstrated that an unaccounted-for suitcase had been transferred from KM180 to PA103A.

However, that claim in turn relied upon a number of shaky inferences about the documents and the surrounding events at Frankfurt (which are documented in Megrahi: You are my Jury and, more exhaustively, in Dr Morag Kerr's book, Adequately Explained by Stupidity?).

Megrahi's conviction depended upon two still more unlikely assumptions. The first was that he had struck very lucky. Forensic evidence suggested that the bomb's position within luggage container AVE4041 was such that it was as close as it could be to the skin of the aircraft and that had it been any further away it would not have penetrated the skin and caused the plane to disintegrate. 

The second was that he had managed to circumvent Air Malta's baggage loading procedures. Unlike Pan Am's these were unusually strict; they required the head loader to physically count all the bags to make sure the total tallied with the number checked in. To ensure that he had done so, he was not told this number, but instead had to report the total to the flight's ramp dispatcher, who would check it against the checked-in total. KM180's records showed that the numbers had matched. The police investigation established that all these bags had made it onto the flight and been collected by their owners, which ruled out the possibility that Megrahi or an accomplice had managed to swap the bomb suitcase for a check-in bag prior to the head loader's count.

The only witness from any of the three airports investigated by the police who could recall seeing a brown Samsonite case of the type that contained the bomb was a Pan Am loader at Heathrow called John Bedford. On the day of the bombing he was based in the so-called interline shed, which processed bags transferred from other flights, but not those from PA103A from Frankfurt, which allegedly carried the suitcase from Malta.

When interviewed by the police he remembered clearly that it was lying flat in the luggage container AVE4041 in the approximate position that the explosion later took place. He said he noticed it when he returned from his tea break at around 16.45 and that a colleague, Sulkash Kamboj, had told him that he had placed it there. (Kamboj subsequently had no recollection of doing so and there is no suggestion that he was part of the bomb plot.) 

Crucially, Bedford went off duty before PA103A arrived from Frankfurt, so the suitcase he saw could not have originated from that flight and could therefore not have been a rogue suitcase from the Air Malta flight KM180. Equally crucially, he and the two other loaders who saw AVE4041 were sure that, by the time it was taken to PA103A to be topped up with baggage from Frankfurt, the base of the container was covered by a single layer of baggage, which consisted of at least five cases standing vertically along the back and two lying flat at the front.

These details were important because two police memos uncovered during preparations for Megrahi's second appeal showed that only six legitimate interline bags would have been loaded into AVE4041, none of which matched that described by Bedford. Clearly then, the Bedford suitcase was rogue and, to the best of his recollection, it matched the one that contained the bomb.

Further evidence that the bomb was planted at Heathrow has been unearthed and compiled in an exhaustive investigation by researcher Dr Morag Kerr in her book Adequately Explained by Stupidity?. Taken together, the Heathrow evidence is far more convincing evidence of the bomb's origin than the fact that Megrahi and Abouagela Masud left Malta together on the morning of the bombing.

The final important omission is the evidence that destroys the Crown’s central claim that the Lockerbie bomb contained an MST-13 timer from a batch supplied by the Swiss company Mebo to Libya. The claim relied upon a fragment of circuit board known as PT/35(b), which was found within the Lockerbie debris.

According to the Crown, it matched the boards used in the Libyan batch, which had been made for Mebo by another Swiss company, Thüring. However, there was a crucial difference, which was not revealed to the trial court: PT/35(b)’s copper circuitry was plated with pure tin, whereas the boards in the timers supplied to Libya were plated with a tin-lead alloy. In 2008 Thüring’s production director confirmed to Megrahi’s lawyers that the company had only every used tin-lead alloy plating. It meant that the fragment could not have been from one of the MST-13s supplied to Libya. 

As well as omitting such vital evidence, the media coverage surrounding 'My Brother’s Bomber' has swerved an urgent question: given that Abu Agila Masud apparently linked the La Belle attack and Lockerbie, why did the Lockerbie investigators never make anything of the fact? It's clear from the statements of Scottish police officers that Masud was a prime suspect from 1991 onwards. In 1997 he was named in the indictment against the La Belle accused. Had the Lockerbie prosecutors known of the link, they should have used it to bolster the weak circumstantial case that they had assembled against Megrahi and his co-accused, Lamin Fhimah. The fact that they did not looks like a major cock up, which the announcement of the pursuit of the two new suspects has effectively concealed. The Crown Office claims that there is now a 'proper basis' in Scots law to treat the two men as suspects, implying that there wasn’t previously. In fact, such a basis has existed since 1991.

The initiative has already descended into farce. The Crown Office has discussed getting access to the suspects with the internationally recognised government in Tobruk, which is powerless to help, because they are being held by the rival government in Tripoli. That government is willing to allow the Crown Office to interview the suspects, but has heard nothing from them. As leading Libya observer Jason Pack has observed, given the very delicate political situation in the country, which the UN is attempting to resolve by brokering the formation of a national unity government, the Crown Office’s announcement seems 'particularly ill-timed and naïve'.

I can believe that the police and FBI failed to be sufficiently curious about La Belle, but find it hard to believe that the CIA missed the Masud link with Lockerbie. In the official narrative, the two bombings were umbilically linked. The CIA of all people should therefore have been alert to the possibility that there were common players between the two attacks. They could not have been unaware that Masud had been implicated in La Belle if the man who implicated him, Musbah Eter, was one of their own.

Why, then, was it not until 19 years after Eter named Masud, and 18 years after he was named in the La Belle indictment, that the Lockerbie connection was made? And why did it fall to one of the Lockerbie victims' relatives to make the connection? Clearly the Libyans kept silent about Masud because they knew that the La Belle connection, whether genuine or not, would damage Megrahi and Fhimah's prospects at trial, but why the apparent silence from the CIA?

We are unlikely to get answers to these and the many other questions that cloud Lockerbie. We should applaud Ken Dornstein for adding some pieces to the jigsaw. He has seen a picture that he finds convincing, but when I look at the other pieces, I am equally sure he is wrong and that, if we ever get to see the complete picture, the part he has illuminated may prove to be peripheral.

We must nevertheless hope that Masud and Senussi are handed over to the Scottish authorities, unlikely as that prospect may currently seem. The case urgently needs reopening and a trial of the two men may be the best way of achieving it. Should there be one, the prosecution would have to re-run most of the discredited case that convicted Megrahi, and the defence would be armed with vital exculpatory evidence that the Crown previously withheld. The result, I predict, would be a deepening rather than an answering of Lockerbie’s mysteries.

Tuesday 3 May 2022

How did Pan Am Flight 103 explode?

[This is the headline over an article published yesterday on the Rebellion Research website. It is a fairly typical, superficial, American account of the Lockerbie case. However, it contains the following interesting paragraphs:] 

According to the US Justice Department: 

“In the winter of 1988, [Abu Agila] Masud was summoned by a Libyan intelligence official to meet at that official’s office in Tripoli, Libya, where he was directed to fly to Malta with a prepared suitcase. He did so, where he was met by Megrahi and Fhimah at the airport. After Masud spent approximately three or four days in the hotel, Megrahi and Fhimah instructed Masud to set the timer on the device in the suitcase for the following morning, so that the explosion would occur exactly eleven hours later. 

"According to the affidavit, the suitcase used by Masud was a medium-sized Samsonite suitcase that he used for traveling. Megrahi and Fhimah were both at the airport on the morning of Dec 21, 1988, and Masud handed the suitcase to Fhimah after Fhimah gave him a signal to do so. Fhimah then placed the suitcase on the conveyor belt. Masud then left. He was given a boarding pass for a Libyan flight to Tripoli, which was to take off at 9:00 a.m.” 

The bomb was a hidden plastic explosive concealed inside the audio cassette player within the cargo section, set to be exploded when the plane achieved 31,000 feet high altitude. 

[RB: It appears that the author of the article cannot make up his/her mind whether the explosion was detonated by a pre-set timing device or by a barometric pressure device (or by both?).]

Friday 15 January 2021

Megrahi appeal dismissed

The High Court has dismissed the posthumous appeal brought on behalf of Abdelbaset Megrahi. The 64-page opinion of the court can be read here. [RB: In the version originally issued, the date of the disaster was stated by the court to be 22 December 1988, the same blunder as was made in the trial court's judgement. This has since been corrected to 21 December. Careless.] A summary can be found here

As regards the first ground of appeal, the court concludes in paragraph 87 that, notwithstanding evidence challenging 7 December 1988 as the date of purchase of the items from Tony Gauci's shop, and notwithstanding concerns about the evidence supporting Gauci's "identification" of Megrahi, "... the contention that the trial court reached a verdict that no reasonable court could have reached is rejected. On the evidence at trial, a reasonable jury, properly directed, would have been entitled to return a guilty verdict."

As regards the ground of appeal founding upon failure by the Crown to disclose material that would have been helpful to the defence the court concludes that even if the material had been disclosed it would not have made a difference to the guilty verdict. Paragraph 135 of the opinion reads: "The contention that the Crown failed to disclose material which would have created a real prospect of a different verdict is rejected."

The outcome of the appeal is a cogent illustration of just how difficult it is to have the Scottish criminal justice system acknowledge that a mistake has been made, as I continue to believe has happened here. It is, I contend, a matter of grave public concern, that the appeal was so narrowly confined and that issues such as the metallurgy of the circuit board fragment and Dr Morag Kerr's findings regarding the loading of the bomb suitcase at Heathrow were not ventilated.

The Herald's report on the dismissal of the appeal contains the following statement from the Megrahi family's solicitor, Aamer Anwar:

"Ali Al-Megrahi the son of the only man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing said his family were left heart broken by the decision of the Scottish courts, he maintained his father’s innocence and is determined to fulfil the promise he made to clear his name and that of Libya.

"As of this morning the Megrahi family have instructed our legal team to appeal to the UK Supreme Court [and] we will lodge an application within 14 days.

"The family demand the release of secret evidence held by the UK Government, which they believe incriminates others such as Iran and the Syrian-Palestinian group, the Foreign Secretary had refused to do so, this must happen for the truth to emerge."

[What follows is excerpted from a press release issued today by Aamer Anwar:]

Significant material has been received by the Legal team over the last several months, but especially since the announcement by Donald Trump’s former Attorney General William Barr on 21 December 2020, where he stated that the USA wished to extradite a former Libyan Intelligence Officer, Abu Agila Mohammad Masud for the Lockerbie bombing, 32 years later.

Masud’s confession to being involved in the conspiracy with Al-Megrahi to blow up Pan Am Flight 103, was supposedly ‘extracted’ by a ‘Libyan law enforcement agent’ in 2012, whilst in custody in a Libyan Prison. No new information appeared to be presented by Attorney General Barr.

What was significant in the US criminal complaint against Masud was his claim that he bought the clothes to put into the Samsonite suitcase that is claimed went on to blow up Pan Am Flight 103.

Of course, the problem for the US Department of Justice is that the case against Megrahi is still based on the eye-witness testimony of Toni Gauci stating that Megrahi bought the clothes. How can both men be held responsible?

The al-Megrahi family believe that if the conviction against their father were to be overturned then the US case against Masud would be non-existent.

Undoubtedly there will now be huge pressure on Libya and the GNA, the Government of National Accord based in Tripoli to extradite Abu Agila Masud to the US, but of course the American authorities will be also aware that if the Megrahi’s were to be successful at the Supreme Court, then so called case against Abu Masud would crumble. 

A reversal of the verdict would have meant that the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom stand exposed as having lived a monumental lie for 32 years, imprisoning a man they knew to be innocent and punishing the Libyan people for a crime which they did not commit.

All the Megrahi family want for Scotland is peace and justice, but as Ali stated today their journey is not over, Libya has suffered enough, as has family for the crime of Lockerbie, they remain determined to fight for justice.

They are grateful to their legal team for their unwavering commitment and also to the British families for their compassion and search for justice.

Ali said God willing, he will visit his father's grave one day to tell him that justice was done and that he fulfilled his promise to clear his name and that of Libya.

In this appeal the legal arguments related to two distinct challenges to the conviction. The first was that it was contended that no reasonable jury properly directed could have convicted Mr Megrahi on the evidence led, focusing in particular on the evidence of Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci stating that Megrahi bought clothes from him that were ultimately placed into a suitcase containing the bomb planted on the plane.

The second ground was that the failure to disclose information to the defence, led to the trial being unfair and thus a miscarriage of justice, these related to the reliability of Mr Gauci’s identification of Megrahi as the person who bought the clothes, as well as the content of CIA cables.  

In relation to the second ground of appeal, the failure to disclose information to the defence, the decision of the Appeal Court is the determination of a “compatibility issue” – an issue arising from a question relating to the breach of human rights, in this case article 6 the right to a fair trial.   

Where the Appeal Court in Scotland determines a compatibility issue, it is competent to seek leave to appeal from the Appeal Court of the determination of that issue to the UK Supreme Court in London.  If leave to appeal by the Scottish courts is refused, it is competent to seek leave to appeal directly from the Supreme Court in London. 

... the Megrahi family have instructed us to make an application to the UK Supreme Court.  We must now lodge an application within 14 days. Today’s decision will be carefully considered and intimated to the Crown and the UK Advocate General and lodged with the Justiciary Clerk with 14 days of the opinion of the court which is dated 15th January  2021.

The Justiciary Clerk will then ask for written submissions.  The Crown is allowed to lodge  submissions to object. Written submissions are always required even if there is an oral hearing.  It may be that the court will advise that the matter will be considered on paper submissions only. 

The time for a decision on that application is difficult to estimate, however we would expect the al-Megrahi case to progress relatively quickly and no longer than 2-3 months.

When the decision of the High Court of Justiciary is known - if it is an adverse decision then within 28 days an application for 'permission to appeal' can be lodged with the UKSC Registrar to directly appeal to the Supreme Court. One would hope that if such a process were followed then the appeal would be heard before the end of 2021.

Wednesday 16 December 2020

Lockerbie bombing: US said to be near charges for another suspect in 1988 plane crash

[This is the headline over a report just published on the website of The Wall Street Journal. It reads in part:]

US prosecutors are expected to unseal charges against a suspect they allege was a top bomb-maker for the late Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi and assembled the device that blew up Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, opening a new chapter in one of the world’s longest and most sprawling terrorism investigations.

The Justice Department is expected to unseal a criminal complaint against Abu Agila Mohammad Masud, who is currently held by Libyan authorities, in the coming days and to seek his extradition for trial on charges in US federal court, according to senior department officials. (...)

The case, filed by prosecutors in the US attorney’s office in Washington, DC, is based largely on a confession that Mr Masud gave to Libyan authorities in 2012, which was turned over to Scottish authorities in 2017, as well as travel and immigration records of Mr Masud, US officials said.

Libyan officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the charges against Mr Masud.

Only one man — Abdel Baset al-Megrahi — was convicted by Scottish judges of playing a role in the attack, leaving many of the victims’ families saying they felt robbed of justice for the crimes. Megrahi was released eight years after his 2001 conviction on “compassionate grounds” and he died in 2012.

His family is appealing the verdict, which was made by a special panel of judges without a jury. Some prominent Scottish jurists and family members of the victims have questioned the evidence presented and the procedure used for the trial, which was held at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands in a bid to find a neutral locale. UK prosecutors have argued that the case was properly prosecuted and the judges’ initial verdict should stand and US law-enforcement authorities have long supported the guilty verdict.

The case is also of personal significance to Attorney General William Barr, who had announced US charges against Megrahi and another Libyan official in his first major press conference in his first stint in the job in 1991. He is expected to unveil the new case at a press conference in the next few days, officials said, in what will be one of his last official public acts before he steps down from serving in the post a second time later this week.

In announcing the case as acting attorney general in the Bush administration in 1991, Mr Barr said: “we will not rest until all those responsible are brought to justice.” The efforts to prosecute the men drifted for years. Scottish prosecutors had brought a parallel case, and it wasn’t until 1999—after years of wrangling among the US, the UK and Libya—that the Gadhafi regime handed over Megrahi and Lamin Khalifah Fhimah. Mr Fhimah was acquitted, and Megrahi was given a life sentence.

Evidence in the Megrahi prosecution included the remains of clothing from a suitcase thought to have carried the bomb. Investigators traced the clothing to a shop in Malta, whose owner identified Megrahi as the man who purchased it. Investigators also found remnants of a thumb-size timer, which they traced to a Swiss company that had contacts with Libya.

Mr Masud faces charges of destruction of an aircraft resulting in death and destruction of a vehicle of interstate commerce resulting in death. US officials said he traveled to Malta just before the bombing, constructed the bomb there and filled the suitcase with clothing before it was ultimately placed on Pan Am 103.

In Libya, the charges against a former Gadhafi regime official recall an era of an era of terror and repression under the former government. (...)

Some Libyans still believe their country was falsely accused. But many regard any accusations against the former regime as the work of a deposed and discredited government.

The United Nations Security Council put sanctions on Libya over the Lockerbie attack, isolating the country internationally. The UN lifted the sanctions in 2003 after the government agreed to pay out compensation to the victims, easing Libya’s isolation. (...)

Libyan authorities have questioned jailed former regime officials in connection with the bombing, according to Mohammed Ali Abdullah, an adviser to the Tripoli government. Among those questioned was Abdullah Senussi, Gadhafi’s former intelligence chief, who is being held in a prison in Tripoli and also has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

The Lockerbie bombing wasn’t the only international act of terror the Gadhafi regime was accused of carrying out. In 1986, Libyan agents bombed a nightclub in West Berlin, killing three people including two American soldiers and injuring more than 200 others. In 2001, a German court convicted a former Libyan diplomat and three accomplices over the attack.

[RB: A last throw of the dice over Lockerbie by William Barr before he demits office as US Attorney General. Abu Agila Masud's name has long featured in speculation about the Lockerbie case. The most balanced consideration of his position comes in (a) John Ashton's article about the Ken Dornstein film in the Scottish Review "The coverage of the film is more notable for what it omits than what it reveals" and (b) Kevin Bannon's A response to the Dornstein documentaryboth in November 2015.]

Thursday 11 November 2021

Outrage over her Lockerbie comment puts Libya's foreign minister on the spot

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

Libya's much-hailed first female Foreign Minister, Najla Mangoush, has been suspended by the country's Presidential Council. The decision on 6 November concluded that the minister had been "acting unilaterally and without consultation" with the council as required by the political agreement of 9 November 2020 that divided authority between the Council of Ministers and the Presidential Council. The suspension decree also said that Mangoush is to be investigated by two experts who will submit their findings to the council within the next two weeks.

However, the real reason for the suspension and investigation is a comment in her interview with the BBC. The minister said that her government is "open" to the possibility of extraditing a Libyan citizen wanted by the United States in connection with the Lockerbie bombing in 1988. On the 32nd anniversary of the bombing on 21 December last year, the then US Attorney General William Barr accused a former Libyan intelligence officer, Abu Agila Mohammed Masud, of involvement in the atrocity. Despite what Mangoush told the BBC, though, it is unlikely that Masud will be extradited.

Two hundred and seventy people, mostly US citizens, were killed on that fateful night, including 11 people on the ground, when Pan Am Flight 103 blew up over the Scottish town of Lockerbie. A Libyan intelligence officer, Abdel Baset Ali Al-Megrahi, was convicted of the atrocity and sentenced to life imprisonment in a 2001 trial. He was released in 2009 for health reasons — he was suffering from prostate cancer — and died in his Tripoli home in 2012.

Al-Megrahi protested his innocence to the end and his family launched a posthumous appeal to clear his name. The third appeal is now being considered by the UK Supreme Court in London after it was rejected by Scotland's Court of Appeal in January.

His Glasgow-based lawyer, Aamer Anwar, was outraged by Mangoush's comments. In a statement shared with MEMO he wrote, "Shame on you [Najla Mangoush] for broadcasting to the world, the words 'positive outcomes' are coming." When asked about the possibility of extraditing Masud to the US the minster had used that phrase, implying that the issue is being discussed among ministers and a decision to collaborate with the US has already been made.

Anwar went on to question her motives by asking, "What reward are you expecting from the United States, a country that has bombed, humiliated and sanctioned your people?" He accused the minister of breaking Libyan law, which bans the extradition of Libyan citizens to be tried abroad.

Faced with a wave of public outrage, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation denied on 7 November what was attributed to the minister in the BBC interview. It insisted that Mangoush "never mentioned" Masud. It's true that she did not refer to him by name, but the context of the interview clearly refers to him. The BBC released a clip of the interview in which Mangoush answered a question about extraditing Masud to the US and she said: "I don't know but I think we, as a government, are very open in terms of collaboration in this matter."

Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh came out quickly in her support, and said that the Presidential Council does not have the authority to suspend the foreign minister. Citing the political agreement that paved the way for the current government and council to share power, Dbeibeh said that the latter "has limited power" which does not include appointing or suspending ministers.

A top Libyan Supreme Court judge, Ali Al-Zuraiqi, confirmed in a televised interview said it is "illegal to extradite a Libyan citizen" to be tried in another country. He added that such a matter is in any case "for the judiciary in Libya to decide."

Libyan commentators overwhelmingly rejected Mangoush's statement, accusing her of reopening the Lockerbie case which, many say, has long since been closed. Indeed, in 2008 the US and Libya signed what is known as a Claims Settlement Agreement that ended all claims in connection, not only with the Lockerbie bombing, but also many others that involve violence and acts of terror committed before 2006.

Former Foreign Minister Mohamed Sayala was asked about his successor's comments. "The Lockerbie case was completely closed," he pointed out, "[and] its revival opens hell's door" to Libya, particularly, in terms of financial compensation for the victims' families. In the 2008 agreement with the US, Libya agreed to pay a total of $2.7 billion to victims' family in order to "buy the peace", as its then Prime Minister, Shukri Ghanem, described it.

Libya has never accepted responsibility for the Lockerbie tragedy and "mounting evidence" since the 2001 trial has pointed to Al-Megrahi's innocence. Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter was killed on board the doomed flight, is certain that Al-Megrahi is a "victim of a miscarriage of justice." Swire is one of the campaigners pushing for his conviction to be overturned.

Ferial El-Ayeb, a consultant to Al-Megrahi's defence team in Scotland, told MEMO that such comments by Foreign Minister Mangoush are "outrageous and insulting to us in the defence team." She added that Libya is in "a weak situation now" and the kind of comments heard from the minister "will increase US pressure on the country to hand over Masud."

A source in the foreign ministry, speaking anonymously, told MEMO yesterday that Mangoush was in her office despite the Presidential Council's decision. The source added that she is expected to take part in tomorrow's conference on Libya hosted by the French in Paris.

The only certainty, the source concluded, is that the "negative public backlash against [Mangoush] will act as a 'deterrent' to her and other officials to be careful when discussing sensitive issues."

Friday 23 October 2015

Lockerbie bombing: This ‘new’ evidence on the atrocity offers no new answers

[This is the headline over an article in today’s edition of The Independent by Kim Sengupta, the paper’s Defence Correspondent. It reads as follows:]

The news that new evidence has been uncovered about the Lockerbie bombing should have raised hopes that the truth about this terrible atrocity may at last be revealed and, at the same time, a shameful miscarriage of justice corrected.
But that is not the case. Little has emerged that is new, and what has emerged is highly questionable. The avenue being taken by the British and American authorities continues to be predicated on the basis that the Libyan Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was responsible for the deaths of 270 people, on the plane and at the crash site. But many of those touched by the events believe that his conviction was unjust, and that the authorities are covering up their mistakes.
I saw Megrahi in the winter of 2011 in Tripoli, where he had been sent from his prison in Scotland after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. He was lying in bed attached to a drip, oxygen mask on his skeletal face, drifting in and out of consciousness. The medicine he needed had been plundered by looters in the chaotic aftermath of the fall of the Gaddafi regime; the doctors treating him had fled.
The vengeful pursuit of Megrahi, the feeling that he had escaped justice by failing to die in a cell, persisted among those who were adamant that he was guilty. He was faking his illness, they claimed; there were demands that the post-revolutionary Libyan government should arrest and extradite him.

Megrahi died a few months later. Members of some of the bereaved families, such as Dr Jim Swire, who lost his daughter, Flora, in the bombing, have long been convinced that his conviction was unsafe. Their appeal to clear his name was turned down by the Appeal Court in Edinburgh three months ago because the law was “not designed to give relatives of victims a right to proceed in an appeal for their own or the public’s interest”.
The campaigners had just cause to have misgivings about what happened to Megrahi. I reported from the specially constituted Scottish court at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands where he and his fellow Libyan defendant, Lamin Khalifa Fhimah, were tried. The two men were charged with what amounted to joint enterprise, yet only Megrahi was found guilty. The prosecution evidence was circumstantial and, at times, contradictory. Key prosecution witnesses were shaky under cross-examination. The evidence of a supposedly prime “CIA intelligence asset”, Abdul Majid Giaka, codename “Puzzle Piece”, who turned up in a Shirley Bassey wig in an attempt to hide his identity, was widely viewed as risible. It emerged later that important evidence had not been passed to the defence lawyers.
There was scathing criticism from international lawyers about the proceedings. Professor Hans Köchler, a UN appointed legal adviser, described them as “ inconsistent, arbitrary and a spectacular miscarriage of justice”. The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission identified six grounds where it believed “a miscarriage of justice may have occurred”.
So what are the new leads being pursued by the US and Britain? They focus on Abdullah al-Senussi, who was both Muammar Gaddafi’s chief of intelligence and also his brother-in-law, and on Mohammed Masud, a regime agent. Both are being held in prison, on unrelated charges, in Tripoli, by one of Libya’s two rival administrations.
But, in fact, both men have been scrutinised by Lockerbie investigators in the past. Scottish police announced in 2013 that they were looking at information that Masud was in Malta, where prosecutors claimed the bomb was placed on the flight, at the same time as Megrahi. But Fhimah, cleared by the Camp Zeist court, was in Malta as well.
Robert Black, a law professor born in Lockerbie who played a key role in organising the Camp Zeist proceedings, later became convinced that there had been a miscarriage of justice. He warned in 2013 that British officials were trying to retrospectively buttress the case against Megrahi by implicating Masud. “It looks like the Crown Office is trying to shore up the Malta connection, which is pretty weak,” he said.
Some of the impetus for the new inquiry has come from an American documentary, My Brother’s Bomber, by Ken Dornstein, whose brother was among the victims. Most of the information for this came from a former Libyan agent, Musbah Eter, who has implicated both Megrahi and Masud.
Eter, however, has had a chequered life. He was convicted of the bombing of the La Belle nightclub in Berlin in 1986, an attack which prompted Ronald Reagan to bomb Libya, with some of the warplanes flying from British bases. A German TV investigation subsequently revealed that Eter was a CIA “asset”. We do not know why it took him more than two decades to come forward with the Lockerbie information, or what influence his relationship with US intelligence played in this.
Might Masud and Senussi end up in another Camp Zeist-type trial over Lockerbie?  One reason for the Gaddafi regime allowing the extradition of Megrahi and Fhimah  was that it was seeking rapprochement with the West at the time. The current Islamist government in Tripoli is not recognised by the West. During my recent visit to Libya I discovered some in the administration who were very keen for that recognition and the better relations, including investment, it may bring.
So, handing over the two men to Britain and America may not be an impossible scenario in the future. Senussi has already been sentenced to death on other charges and may, indeed, welcome being sent abroad. We may yet see another CIA operative, Eter this time, doing a court turn in a Shirley Bassey wig. It will not, however, bring us nearer to the truth about the Lockerbie massacre.