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Wednesday 20 December 2023

"The final mysteries of the Lockerbie terrorist attack"

[This is an English version of the headline over a report published today on the website of the Austrian newspaper Kronen Zeitung. The report, translated into English, reads as follows:]

On December 21, 1988, a jumbo jet belonging to the iconic American airline Pan Am crashed into the small Scottish town of Lockerbie after a bomb exploded on board. 270 people lost their lives in a cruel way three days before Christmas. A Libyan was convicted of this terrorist attack, but not least thanks to the work of the Tyrolean university professor Hans Köchler, who critically observed the trial for the UN over 20 years ago, it is now considered very likely that a scandalous miscarriage of judgment was made at the time. The real perpetrator or perpetrators may still be at large. On the 35th anniversary of the attack, a book about this tragedy has now been published for the first time in German. It's called [translation from German] "Pan Am Flight 103: The Lockerbie Tragedy - Christmas Voyage to Death."  It was written by the Austrian aviation photographer and flight expert Patrick Huber. Krone+ publishes excerpts from it and spoke to the author.

The airline Pan American World Airways, better known as Pan Am, which slipped into bankruptcy in 1991 after 64 years of operation, was considered a pioneer of scheduled air travel and an American institution par excellence for decades. Whether New York, San Francisco, Tokyo, Berlin, Frankfurt, Beirut, Johannesburg, Salzburg, Vienna or Sydney - the aircraft with the distinctive blue and white globe and the US flag on the vertical tail were a familiar sight at airports all over the world.

The other side of the coin: as a prominent figurehead of the US, Pan Am was also a ‘popular’ target for terrorists. The worst attack on society occurred 35 years ago, on December 21, 1988, and simultaneously sealed its demise.

[A longer description of the book, also in German, appears on the Austrian Wings website. What follows is a translation into English:]

On December 21, 1988, a cold, inhospitable Wednesday three days before Christmas, a bomb exploded over Lockerbie at 7:02:50 p.m. in the front cargo hold of a Pan Am jumbo that was at an altitude of around 9,450 meters on the night flight from London Heathrow New York JFK was located. Some of the debris from flight PA103 fell directly into the residential areas of the small Scottish town of Lockerbie. The huge explosion of almost 100,000 kilograms of kerosene when the center part of the fuselage and the wings with the fuel tanks hit the ground set numerous houses on fire in a fraction of a second and ignited a veritable sea of ​​flames in the small community. In addition to the wreckage of the plane, passengers' luggage, freight containers and more than 200 human bodies fell from the dark sky and landed in meadows, in forests, on roofs, in garden hedges, on fences or in the middle of the front gardens of Lockerbie houses.

Inferno on the ground

It took the fire department until the early hours of the morning to put out the fires. Their use was made more difficult, among other things, by the fact that numerous power and telephone lines were destroyed when the plane crashed.

In addition to all 243 passengers and 16 crew members on board the Boeing 747-121 with the illustrious name “Clipper Maid of the Seas” (...) 11 residents also died in the incident. The youngest victim of this disaster was just 2 months old, the oldest was 82 years old. For some of the unfortunate, the flaming inferno left only ashes and charred bones. Since these dead could no longer be identified, their remains were finally buried in a common grave.

While the cause of the crash was quickly determined, it is still not clear who was actually behind the bomb attack. Although the Libyan Abdel Basit Ali al-Megrahi was sentenced to life imprisonment for the terrorist act in 2001, this guilty verdict was met with sharp criticism from both experts and many of the victims' relatives. The Austrian UN trial observer Hans Köchler, for example, immediately spoke of a “miscarriage of justice”. Nevertheless, the convicted man was imprisoned in Great Britain, and an initial appeal was promptly rejected.

Convicted Libyan probably victim of a miscarriage of justice

Around six and a half years after the guilty verdict, on June 28, 2007, a Scottish commission for the review of criminal convictions, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC), declared that there was a “possible miscarriage of justice” in this case. cannot be ruled out. The widely accepted view is now that Al-Megrahi's conviction represents a miscarriage of justice. The SCCRC therefore authorized Al-Megrahi to bring new legal remedies, which he did.

In 2008, Al-Megrahi, who was still in prison at the time, was unexpectedly diagnosed with cancer. Officially for “humanitarian reasons,” he was offered release in 2009, but only if he withdrew his second appeal beforehand - which the desperate man then did so as not to have to risk dying in a Scottish prison without his To see his children and his wife in freedom once again. Shortly afterwards, the father of five, who was already severely affected by his illness, was actually released and was able to return home to his family in Libya.

Al-Megrahi died there of cancer on May 20, 2012, in the midst of the turmoil of the Libyan civil war - not without first protesting his innocence on his deathbed. He has not yet been legally rehabilitated. 

But if Al-Megrahi actually had nothing to do with the terrorist attack on Pan Am 103 - and there is indeed a lot to be said for his innocence - then who was it? Iran, as numerous indications pointed to? After all, the radical Islamic mullah regime had sworn bloody revenge for the accidental shooting down of an Iranian passenger plane (290 fatalities) by the American warship “USS Vincennes” in the summer of 1988 - six months before the attack on the Pan Am Jumbo. The Palestinians? Syria? Maybe Libya? Or was it ultimately about secret drug shipments from the Middle East to the USA, which were supposedly tolerated by the US authorities out of intelligence interests? There are witness statements that drugs were found at the scene of the accident. In any case, it was noticeable that a number of important politicians, military officials and secret service employees did not board flight PA103 at short notice that day, including the then South African Foreign Minister Pik Botha and his 22-member delegation.

The non-fiction book “Pan Am Flight 103: The Tragedy of Lockerbie - Christmas Voyage to Death” meticulously traces the last flight of the “Clipper Maid of the Seas” and illuminates the biographies of crew members, passengers and residents of Lockerbie down to the smallest detail. The author also focuses on the accident experts' investigations, the work of the judiciary and those people who did not take flight Pan Am 103 or who missed it by lucky coincidence - including the well-known British actress Kim Cattrall ("Police Academy", "Sex and the City”). The technical aspects of the accident are also discussed in detail.

Tuesday 11 April 2023

The Lockerbie bombing - the ultimate qisas barbarism

[What follows is excerpted from an article by barrister David Wolchover headlined The obscene rationale of random retaliation published today on the Jewish News website:]

Last week mainstream lovers of Israel doubtless watched in horror as crazed Israeli police were televised beating Palestinians with batons as they lay on the ground outside the Al Aqsa mosque.  

No “context” of security considerations could conceivably excuse such brutality, which sadly brought to mind similar footage of so-called “police” attacking demonstrators in that host of countries ruled over by oppressive regimes. The inflammatory effect it will have worked on the latest generation of Palestinian Arabs already poisoned by decades of the big naqba lie is not hard to imagine.

Yet as sickening as it was to observe the mishtara in action, it pales into insignificance compared with the random ambushing and murder of Anglo-Israeli sisters Rina and Maia Dee and their mother, who subsequently succumbed to her injuries.

It has been reported that Hamas “praised” the attack (and the Tel Aviv car attack) as “retaliation” for the Al Aqsa raids. If accurately reported it is noteworthy that Hamas did not cite Israel’s air attacks on Gaza as legitimating the Dee killings.

Presumably the air raids were accepted by Hamas as a response to the rockets launched from Gaza and Lebanon. Those followed the Al Aqsa raids and since the vast majority were neutralised by the Iron Dome shield, it may be deduced that the Dee murders and the Tel Aviv incident were deemed sanctionable as replacement retaliation.

Even according to the Islamic fundamentalist interpretation of Lex Talionis – the principle of tit-for-tat – the murders were of course utterly disproportionate. No one knows what might have been in the mind of the killer or killers but what is significant is that Hamas, as the official embodiment of would-be genocide, sought by praising them to draw an equivalence between non-fatal beating and homicide.

The episode demonstrates once again the haphazard and muddled rationale behind Islamic Fundamentalism, rooted as it is in the quasi-theocratic doctrine of qisas, the sacred duty to exact revenge in like measure. (...)

But qisas does not require vengeance to be directed personally at the supposedly deserving criminal. If you can’t kill that individual, any old soft target will do, provided they are loosely associated with the original perpetrator. It could be regimental colleagues, family members or friends, fellow citizens or members of the same community.

It might even stretch to people only tenuously connected. The ultimate barbarism here is the Lockerbie bombing. On July 4, 1988, an IranAir jet carrying 290 passengers and crew was shot down by the Vincennes, an American guided-missile cruiser patrolling in the Gulf of Iran, with the loss of all on board.

The Vincennes was engaged at the time in a skirmish with Iranian fast patrol boats and the relevant crew members incompetently mistook the jetliner for an Iranian F-14A Tomcat heading in to attack the ship. Yet no timely apology or offer of compensation was forthcoming; instead the Reagan administration’s lame attempts to excuse the disaster only added salt to the wound.

Incensed, Iran embarked on qisas by collaborating with a Palestinian terrorist faction in the detonating of a bomb on PanAm 103 over Lockerbie the following December 21 with the not quite equivalent loss of 270 lives on board.

Quite apart from the fact that the victims were presumptively innocent it mattered not to the Iranian government that among the passengers a great many were not even American citizens and the 11 killed by falling debris were Lockerbie residents.

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 9 June 2022

The true perpetrators of this attack will probably never be known

[The Florida-based Pan Am 103 Lockerbie Legacy Foundation's re-vamped website contains a letter written by Victoria Cummock, the founder and CEO of the organisation. Her husband was a passenger on Pan Am 103. The letter reads in part:]

At the outset, various international groups claimed responsibility for the attack, which broadened the investigative scope beyond the 845-square-mile Lockerbie crime scene, to include various international state sponsors of terrorism and dozens of inter-continental suspects. 

There are significant differences between US and Scottish criminal law for admissibility of evidence, witness testimony and sentencing, and multiple jurisdictions routinely try criminals under applicable national/local laws. Aside from issuing the 1991 criminal indictments and 2020 criminal charges, why haven't US authorities ever arrested or prosecuted ANY suspects for the mass murder of 190 American citizens and the 69 others aboard a US flagship?

The 2001 Scottish criminal trial against two Libyan officials acquitted one, convicted the other and then was ultimately released after eight years on compassionate grounds. No one believes that if al-Megrahi did have a hand in this, he could have acted alone to perpetrate an attack of this magnitude. After decades of US politically pragmatic foreign policy, the true perpetrators of this attack will probably never be known since the US long ago quietly closed its investigation. Informants and witnesses die, memories fade, and evidence deteriorates or disappears.

Is the real culprit for all terrorism capitalism and the corruption and violence it fosters? Is political expediency for commerce, or business as usual, the only brand of American justice? Is this a case of deflected culpability for US military attacks such as the July 3, 1988, USS Vincennes warship missile shoot down of Iran Air flight 655, which killed 290 civilians in Iranian airspace? Or were the CIA agents aboard the targets and our loved ones merely collateral damage?

To date, the story of the terrorist attack against the US on December 21, 1988, is incomplete and in many ways inaccurate. The Foundation will explore our history more fully, via thematic timelines, to ensure the attack and its victims do not become a footnote that the memory of time erases. Our Community Forum will, for the first time, digitally connect the entire global Pan Am 103 Lockerbie community.

Tuesday 4 January 2022

Explain guilty verdict at Lockerbie trial

[This is the headline over a letter by Rev Dr John Cameron published today on the website of The Courier and Advertiser. It reads as follows:]

The guilty verdict issued on January 31 2001 by the three Scottish judges – Lords Sutherland, Coulsfield and Maclean – at the conclusion of the Pan Am 103 trial was unsound by all normal legal criteria. After 84 days of controversy, questionable evidence as well as weeks of adjournments, Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi was found guilty of the atrocity while his sole alleged accomplice, Khalifa Fhimah, was acquitted on all charges.

In their 82-page verdict, the three law lords – who had acted not only as judge and jury but all too often as prosecutor – exposed the weakness of the prosecution case and how they ignored a mass of contradictory forensic and circumstantial evidence when it suited them to bring a guilty verdict against Megrahi. Significantly they rejected out of hand the defence argument that the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) was responsible.

Initial police investigations suspected it was a reprisal for the shooting down of an Iranian plane with 290 civilians on board by the US warship Vincennes six months before Lockerbie. There was a money trail between Iran and the Syrian-backed PFLP-GC however, in 1990, then-US president George H Bush placed huge pressure on Margaret Thatcher to drop this line of inquiry.

Mrs Thatcher later refused a public inquiry on the grounds that it was against the “national interest”.

The question remains as to why there was such a discrepancy between the standards applied to defence arguments implicating Iran, Syria et al and those employed by the prosecution against the two Libyans. The latter’s case was just as circumstantial and unconvincing, a fact acknowledged in part by the acquittal of Fhimah.

I suspect an explanation as to why a guilty verdict was delivered lies far in the future and should be sought in the political rather than the judicial arena.

Wednesday 3 November 2021

Lockerbie, Bushnaq, Iran

[This is the headline over a blog by Dov Ivry that was published yesterday evening on the website of The Times of Israel. It reads as follows:]

The takedown of Pan Am 103 at Lockerbie, Scotland was a catastrophe that the US intelligence community could see coming for half a year and no one took the necessary steps to prevent it.

There were 270 people who died in that crash Dec 21, 1988.

On July 3 1988, during a war between Iran and Iraq, a US warship, the Vincennes, sailing in the war zone, shot down an Iranian passenger plane killing all 290 aboard. It should not have happened. It was an unfortunate mistake.

Khomeini, the Iranian leader, immediately issued Iran’s response, which had the force of a binding religious edict, “an eye for an eye.”

Ali Mohtashemipur, the Iranian interior minister, offered $10 million to arch terrorist Ahmed Jibril, head of the PFLP-GC, to blow up an American passenger plane.

Israel knew Mohtashemipur well. He founded Hezbollah in 1982. One of their first major acts was to level the Israeli military headquarters at Tyre killing 91. Yitzhak Shamir, when he came into office, ordered the Mossad to kill him. They send him a holy book, it exploded and stripped away an arm, but he survived. And here he was again.

From the time the Iranians invited Jibril to a meeting July 8 in Teheran until the end, the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS), a monitoring agency for the US intelligence community, was reporting what the Iranians and Jibril were discussing, the names of the people at their meetings, the complete package, as it happened.

These reports were not released to the public for years, but they demonstrate that anyone who read them was never in the dark. It was like watching a gang preparing a major bank robbery step-by-step.

One example. Rashid Mehmet, a Turkish engineer and Hezbollah member, who worked at the Frankfurt airport in conjunction with two other Turks, attended planning meetings. Those three put the bomb on the plane. The day the plane went down Mehmet flew to Cyprus to make his getaway and was congratulated by the Iranian chargé d’affaires there for having “performed his mission.”

Those Turks were never arrested. James Shaughnessy, lawyer for Pam Am, asked why none of the numerous Turks who worked at Frankfurt airport were investigated. It appears that no one ever read the FBIS reports even after the fact.

The conspirators also announced with the sound of trumpets the day that they decided to act, Dec 15. There was a big pow-wow in Beirut under the cover of a celebration of the Palestinian cause, where they concluded the meeting by saying the “ordained revenge for America” is nigh.

Here were the consequences. Khaled Jaafar, an affluent 20-year-old from Beirut whose father lived in Dearborn, Mich, and he had American citizenship, was tasked with transporting the bomb to the plane. He had been living with a PLPF-GC cell in Dortmund since Nov 8 awaiting the call, but on Dec 14 he booked a flight to Detroit to go home for the holidays.

The next day a Hezbollah operative living in that house with him, Naim Ghannam, got a call from Beirut and he would change Jaafar’s booking to another plane going to Detroit, Pam Am 103. They did it through a travel agent in Dearborn, who also seems to have been a member of Hezbollah.

The FBIS report says that they chose Pan Am 103 after the Iranian embassy in Beirut confirmed that five CIA agents were on that plane. Other sources say they were tipped off by what is described as a “double agent.” He apparently lived in Beirut, his identity was known, and he was never apprehended either.

Jaafar was an experienced world traveller, with never any issues in flying, but in Frankfurt he knew he was about to die. Yasmin Siddique, the woman behind him in line, who would get off the plane at London, could not take her eyes off him. He was having a nervous breakdown right before her eyes.

None of the several people at the Dortmund cell were arrested although the owner of the house was brought to the show trial of the Libyan al-Megrahi, served up as a scapegoat, to testify for what that was worth. The travel agent’s connection to terrorists was exposed by Debbie Schlussel, a nationally known journalist who lives in Michigan. He was never questioned about his role in enabling the Pan Am attack.

The PFLP-GC at that point in time was a large and far-flung organization with bomb makers and activists throughout Europe including Germany, Sweden, and Yugoslavia, as well as the Middle East and Asia, and they were killing Americans in Europe as well as Israelis here. This was the Cold War and those in Yugoslavia especially were given free rein to do whatever they wanted

The PFLP-GC boss in Germany was Dalkamoni. Israel knew him well. Years before he came into the Galilee carrying a bomb to blow up a power plant, it exploded prematurely and took off a leg. He spent 10 years in prison in Israel before released in a prisoner exchange. In October the Mossad notified German intelligence that the PLFP-GC was up to something and they arrested Dalkamoni and 15 others in a roundup called the Autumn Leaves. Dalkamoni was the main planner at that point, but the PLFP-GC did not miss a beat.

The US investigation got off to a rousing start. Within six months Dan Rather was reporting coast-to-coast that the planner for the Pan-Am attack was named Dalkamoni and the plane was brought down by the PLFP-GC.

What happened? Tom Thurman happened. He was a fraudster posing as an explosives expert in the FBI. He would be banned by an inspector-general in 1997 from giving expert testimony having being found to have no scientific background, just made stuff up. But in 1990 he went into attorney-general Bill Barr’s office and fingered Libyans. For the next 30 years the investigation turned into a reprise of the Keystone Kops running hither and yon nabbing Libyans, who had nothing to do with anything.

Here’s what actually happened. Jibril turned over the implementation to his nephew Basel Bushnaq, 25, head of his military. That position Jibril liked to keep in the family. In 2002 his son Jihad was head of his military and Israel assassinated him.

The Syrian-born Bushnaq was also an American citizen, expert in both airport security and bomb making. Both the CIA and the PLO, which also did an investigation — anything to embarrass their bitter rival — named Bushnaq as the bomb maker. He purchased the detonator on the Beirut black market for $60,000.

He went by the name of Abu Elias. The CIA went looking for him under than name and could not find him. Bushnaq is an ethnic Bosnian. The word “Bushnaq” means Bosnian.

The FBI and Scotland Yard interrogated him under his American name Basel Bushnaq. They asked for him for his Syrian passport. He said he had misplaced it. You would too if the name there was Abu Elias or perhaps Khaisar Haddad, another moniker he sometimes used.

We know that Abu Elias is Basel Bushnaq because five former associates of Jibril told that to the defence team of the Libyan scapegoat al-Megrahi in 2000.

Here is the situation today. Bushnaq murdered 190 Americans. That’s the record for an American killing Americans exceeding Timothy McVeigh’s 168. He is still walking free.

It will take a call to arms to get this guy under lock and key. But it’s not too late.

I’ve got a book out on this called Lockerbie, Bushnaq, Iran. The digital is at Kindle. The paperback is at Sweek.

Saturday 23 October 2021

‘I had most to gain and nothing to lose about the whole truth coming out’

[What follows is the third and final extract from chapter 15 of The Colonel and I: My Life with Gaddafi by Daad Sharab. Articles about this book can be found in The National here and here. The previous extracts on this blog can be read here and here.]

Daad Sharab with Abdelbaset al-Megrahi in Barlinnie

As he was released, al-Megrahi said he bore the people of Scotland no ill will, and thanked the prison staff at Barlinnie and Greenock for their kindness. He received a hero’s welcome back in Tripoli. [RB: Saif al-Islam Gaddafi in an article in The New York Times denied that there had been a hero's welcome.] I was in Jordan at the time but watched on television, noticing that al-Megrahi flew home on the same jet I’d helped Gaddafi buy from Prince al-Waleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia. Also on board was the Colonel’s son, Saif, in his white robes and holding al-Megrahi’s arm aloft as he stepped on to Libyan soil.

Saif was basking in the glory of the triumphant homecoming, although in reality I knew he’d barely been involved. I was seething inside as I watched him steal all the credit, while the real hard workers were nowhere to be seen. Saif regularly went to London, but he never once bothered to hop on a domestic flight to Glasgow to visit al-Megrahi in prison at either Barlinnie or Greenock. The jubilant scenes didn’t go down well in the West, which had requested a restrained welcome, but this was too good an opportunity to pass up. It was rare that Libya got the upper hand against America.

However, when he came home I hardly recognised al-Megrahi who was walking with a stick and had to be helped down the steps of the aircraft. He looked nothing like the healthy man I’d last visited a few years earlier. It was said at the time of his release that he would die within three months. In fact he lingered on for another three years, even outliving Gaddafi which no one could have envisaged at the time. I found the outcry from the West over al-Megrahi’s failure to die sooner distasteful. I always felt very sorry for him and never doubted his innocence. What reason did he have to lie to me, an agent of the regime?

In a moment of desperation, he once told me in prison: ‘They would be very happy for me to die here.’ There is a suspicion in my mind that al-Megrahi did not receive very good medical attention in prison, because prostate cancer usually responds well to treatment if it is caught early. He died at his villa in the suburbs of Tripoli, in May 2012, aged 60. I hope he found peace and was able to enjoy precious time with his family. In my eyes al-Megrahi was the 271st Lockerbie victim.

By then the final compensation cheques had been paid to the families, much to the dismay of Gaddafi. Although he appreciated the importance of keeping up the instalments, he often railed against the unfairness and how the handing over of compensation would be interpreted. ‘Why should I do this when Libya is innocent?’ he asked many times. 

For those working behind the scenes it was a constant battle to persuade the Colonel to take a pragmatic approach. Finally Abdul Ati al-Obeidi, one of his key advisors on Lockerbie, spelled this out in very direct terms. At one of our regular Lockerbie briefing meetings with Gaddafi, he told the leader: ‘Look, we don’t want to see you suffer the same fate as Saddam Hussein. If the cost is money, then we have a lot of money. Let’s just pay them, get rid of this issue, open up our country and keep it stable. America can do anything it wants. Do you want us to end up watching you on TV like Saddam Hussein?’

It was a very blunt reference to Saddam’s capture and humiliation by US forces, which had so rattled Gaddafi. For all his bluster he knew that America and its allies could topple him at the drop of a hat. The bombing of his compound in 1986 by the Americans was a constant reminder of the West’s power. After al-Obeidi’s intervention the Colonel didn’t make such a fuss about the blood money.

The burning question remains: if al-Megrahi was innocent, as I firmly believe, then who brought down the Pan Am flight?

At the time of the Lockerbie bombing there were loose alliances between various states and organisations. They were generally opposed to the ideals of the West, and pooled resources. Bombing an aircraft is no easy matter, so if one country didn’t have the expertise to carry out an attack it simply funded a group that did. I don’t carry a smoking gun but al-Megrahi, who knew the case inside out and had access to Libya’s files on Lockerbie, was convinced that it was a joint enterprise between Iran, Syria and The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine [-General Command]. The shooting down of the Iranian passenger jet by the American warship Vincennes, six months before Lockerbie, was too much of a coincidence. It was the crucial link, but by the time the evidence began to stack up no one wanted to point the finger at Iran or Syria, who had helped Western coalition forces in the first Gulf War. My time on the fringes of international diplomacy taught me that politicians are like shifting sands in the desert.

Sadly I never got the opportunity to see al-Megrahi following his release but I know he intended to present fresh evidence at his appeal, insisting he had nothing to fear or hide. ‘I had most to gain and nothing to lose about the whole truth coming out,’ he said.

I am sure the British intelligence services know the truth about Lockerbie, but it has been covered up. Al-Megrahi’s early death was convenient, although his family did eventually get a posthumous appeal. It came as no surprise to me that it was rejected, or that al-Megrahi’s family have called on the British government to release secret files which implicate Iran. Justice has not been done and, for political reasons, I fear we may never learn the truth.

In another recent development the US has named and charged another so-called suspect, Abu Agila Mohammad Masud. I don’t claim to know every member of the Libyan intelligence services but I can tell you I never encountered him during my many years in Libya, or heard his name mentioned by Gaddafi. Why did the Americans choose to make this announcement on the 32nd anniversary of Lockerbie? In my opinion it is nothing more than another crass political stunt.

Sunday 17 October 2021

Former Gaddafi aide 'never doubted that Megrahi was innocent’

[What follows is taken from a report by Greg Russell in today's edition of The National:] 

A Jordanian business-woman who was Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s chief troubleshooter and fixer for more than 20 years has said she never doubted that Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was innocent. 

Daad Sharab visited the only man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing several times during his time in prison. 

Sharab has told how the Libyan leader appeared not to recognise al-Megrahi when she showed him a picture of the two of them taken when she visited him in Glasgow’s Barlinnie prison. 

However, she said that when she told Gaddafi of his countryman’s dismay about the passing years and apparent inaction by the Libyan government, he told her: “Meet him again. Tell him that I received his message and I will find a solution. Tell him that I promise he will be home soon.” 

From that moment, Sharab said he did everything possible to keep the spotlight on the case, funding lawyers for his appeal and paying for investigators to gather new evidence. 

Her narrative comes in an autobiography, The Colonel and I: My Life with Gaddafi, due to be published next week – 10 years after Gaddafi was killed in his home city of Sirte during the Arab Spring uprisings – and to which The Sunday National has had access. 

Professor Robert Black QC, the architect of the Camp Zeist trial in the Netherlands, where al-Megrahi was convicted and his co-accused Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah cleared, told this newspaper it strengthened his belief that al-Megrahi was wrongly convicted. 

He said: “What Daad Sharab says completely matches the views that I formed through my many meetings with Libyan government officials, including Gaddafi himself, my meetings over many years with the Libyan and Scottish lawyers representing al-Megrahi, and in the course of my one meeting (in HMP Greenock) with al-Megrahi himself. 

“It reinforces my view that al-Megrahi was not only wrongly convicted but had no involvement at all in the Lockerbie bombing. 

“It remains a disgrace that the Scottish criminal justice system has failed to rectify this clear injustice.” 

Sharab said the Lockerbie bombing was the single issue that most occupied Gaddafi’s mind and, in 2003, she was sent to Scotland to meet Megrahi. 

She said he had been supported by a small Libyan government office in Glasgow, and when she arrived one of the staff took her to Barlinnie, where a prison guard ushered her into a small room, where “a bespectacled man, in his early 50s with grey flecks in his brown hair and wearing a baggy tracksuit” was sitting in one of the room’s two chairs. 

“Before him there’s a large file of documents and as I enter he stands to shake my hand,” she said. “His grip is gentle and he appears a little nervous. When he speaks it’s almost in a whisper, although we are not being overheard.” 

She said Libya had always regarded him as a sacrificial lamb, with the West needing someone to blame to be able to claim justice had been done and Gaddafi seeking a way out of the mess of sanctions. This benefited everyone except for al-Megrahi and his family. 

“In the West there was growing unease about the safety of his conviction, and the expectation in Libya was that he would soon be coming home,” said Sharab. 

“Britain wanted rid of him but, unusually, was in disagreement with the US which was taking a much harder line.” 

Al-Megrahi said he had not been coerced by Gaddafi to hand himself in for trial, said Sharab, but she said the pressure must have been unbearable because solving the Lockerbie problem was key to Libya’s future relations with the US and Britain, as well as securing the removal of sanctions against the country. 

The compromise entailed handing over the two accused for trial at a neutral venue, agreeing that Libya paid $2.7 billion (£1.9bn) in compensation and a “carefully worded statement” in which she said: “Libya ‘accepted responsibility for the actions of its officials’ but did not admit guilt for bringing down Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988. 

“It was often wrongly interpreted as a full admission, but anyone reading the words closely could see that was not the case. It was a fudge and, in my view, represented diplomacy at its most cynical. 

“Libya bought peace with the West, which framed an innocent man.” 

Sharab said that when the January 2001 verdict was delivered by three Scottish judges, she was in Tripoli, where Gaddafi told her: “It’s what I expected. They could not lose face by releasing both men.” 

Al-Megrahi felt let down by his country, she said, and urged her to use her connections with the royal family of Jordan. He gave her a letter to King Abdullah, protesting his innocence and pleading to be transferred to a prison in any Arab territory until he was proved innocent. 

In 2005, Megrahi was transferred to Greenock prison where he served the rest of his sentence while battling depression and then prostate cancer, before being released on compassionate grounds by then Scottish justice secretary Kenny MacAskill, who told The Sunday National

“It confirms the international nature of the tragedy and the role that oil played in UK/USA attitudes. 

“I agree that Megrahi wasn’t the bomber but he had a role in the action perpetrated by Libya.” 

The pressure group Justice for Megrahi (JFM) said there was nothing Sharab had written that contradicted their position over the years, and her first-hand account of the stance of Gaddafi and Abdullah Senussi, Libya’s intelligence chief, lent weight to their position. 

JFM said: “On many levels The Colonel and I provides us with a fascinating and plausible insider’s insight into the culture and philosophy of the Gaddafi regime and reveals how the dictator was wooed by the oil hungry British and American leaders like Tony Blair and George Bush. 

“Sadly, after 33 years, Scotland’s Court of Appeal appears more interested in obscure points of law than in removing this indelible stain on the Scottish justice system.” 

For Sharab, and others, one burning question remains – if al-Megrahi was innocent, who brought down Pan Am flight 103? 

“At the time of the Lockerbie bombing there were loose alliances between various states and organisations,” she said. 

“They were generally opposed to the ideals of the West, and pooled resources … I don’t carry a smoking gun but al-Megrahi, who knew the case inside out and had access to Libya’s files on Lockerbie, was convinced that it was a joint enterprise between Iran, Syria and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

The shooting down of the Iranian passenger jet by the American warship Vincennes, six months before Lockerbie, was too much of a coincidence. 

“It was the crucial link, but by the time the evidence began to stack up no one wanted to point the finger at Iran or Syria, who had helped Western coalition forces in the first Gulf War … Sadly I never got the opportunity to see al-Megrahi following his release but I know he intended to present fresh evidence at his appeal, insisting he had nothing to fear or hide. 

“He said: ‘I had most to gain and nothing to lose about the whole truth coming out’.” 

[A more general article by Greg Russell on the book also appears in today's edition of The National under the headline Colonel Muammar Gaddafi memoir author: ‘Judge him for yourself’.]

Tuesday 14 September 2021

"Is this a case of deflected culpability for US military attacks?"

[What follows is excerpted from an article headlined Victoria Cummock on the Lessons of the Pan Am 103 Litigation published yesterday on the website of Corporate Crime Reporter:]

It was December 21, 1988 and Victoria Cummock was in Miami awaiting the return of her husband John Cummock from London for Christmas. (...)

Victoria Cummock was the mother of three young children, aged three, four and six.

Her husband never made it home.

Pan Am 103 was blown out of the sky over Lockerbie, killing all 259 people on board. A bomb was put on the plane before takeoff and detonated over Lockerbie.

John Cummock was at the front of the plane in seat 3A.

Victoria knew her husband was on the plane when she saw the iconic photograph of the crashed nose cone of the plane lying in a field in Lockerbie. 

In front of the plane on the ground, Victoria could see John’s attache case. She had given it to her husband as a gift.

For thirty-three years, Victoria Cummock has been seeking justice for her husband and for her family.

She is the founder and CEO of the Pan Am 103-Lockerbie Legacy Foundation.

“On December 21, 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 was blown out of the sky,” Cummock recalled to Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview last month. “It was a flight from London to New York that blew up over Lockerbie, Scotland. It scattered the contents of the plane and the people in the plane over 845 square miles. Eleven people on the ground in Lockerbie, Scotland were killed when two residential neighborhoods were set ablaze.”

“This attack against America created the largest recorded crime scene and remains the oldest cold case of mass murder in US and UK history.”

“Terrorists have targeted the United States for decades. And threats still remain a constant today. The response by our government to this attack has impeded due process, justice and accountability for those who perpetrated this act.”

“Tragically, the US government has never led the investigation or prosecuted anyone regarding this case. The US government abdicated the lead role of the investigation and prosecution to the Scottish police, which happened to be the smallest police force in the UK as well as the least funded.”

“There was a criminal trial in 2003 at the International Court at the Hague, under Scottish law. That was in 2003.” [RB: The trial ran from 3 May 2000 to 31 January 2001 and was held in a Scottish court sitting at Camp Zeist near Utrecht.]

“I have always wondered, with America’s vast reach, power and might, why that wasn’t utilized to pursue justice and accountability for the murder of American citizens aboard Pan Am 103.”

“Aside from issuing criminal indictments in 1991 and criminal charges in 2020, the US has never pursued, arrested or prosecuted any suspect.”

“The family members wonder why the US quietly abdicated the lead role to Scotland, not even to the UK, and handed over full authority to Police Scotland, which had the smallest staff and least funded police force in mainland Britain, to lead an investigation and prosecution of international scope into multiple state terror sponsors and dozens of inter-continental suspects.” [RB: Police Scotland was formed on 1 April 2013. The Lockerbie investigation was conducted by Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary.]

“Knowing the limitations of Scottish law, the differences between Scottish and American law in terms of admissibility of evidence as well as witnesses, and the fact that the terrorists did not attack Lockerbie, we have always wondered why allow Scotland to ultimately decide who, how and when to criminally prosecute the mass murderer of Americans.” 

“To date, only one Libyan suspect – al-Megrahi – was convicted and then released after eight years on compassionate grounds.” 

“There is still an ongoing posthumous appeal to this conviction. No one believes that if al-Megrahi did have a hand in this, that he could have acted alone to perpetrate an attack of this magnitude. But after decades of US pragmatic foreign policy, the true perpetrators of this attack will probably never be known. Informants and witnesses die, memories fade, and evidence deteriorates or disappears.” 

“We wonder if the real culprit for all terrorism is capitalism and the corruption and violence it fosters? Is political expediency for commerce, or business as usual, the only brand of American justice? Is this a case of deflected culpability for US military attacks such as the July 3, 1988 USS Vincennes warship missile shooting down of Iran Air flight 655, which killed 290 civilians in Iranian airspace?” 

Thursday 8 July 2021

Lockerbie incriminee Ahmed Jibril dies in Damascus

[Ahmed Jibril has died in Damascus at the age of 83. What follows is the report published today on the Middle East Monitor website:]

Ahmed Jibril, leader of Palestinian Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command passed away in the Syrian capital Damascus yesterday at the age of 83.

Jibril and his family were forced out of Yazour neighbourhood in the outskirts of the Palestinian city of Yafa in 1948.

In 1965, he established the Palestinian Popular Front, which was later merged with other leftist Palestinian factions and became the Palestinian Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

In 1969 he defected and formed the PFLP-General Command, which ten years later agreed to a prisoner swap with Israel

In 1979, the PFLP-General Command held a prisoner swap with Israel. Some 76 Palestinian detainees were released in exchange for one m Israeli soldier.

Jibril negotiated a prisoner swap between the PLO factions and Israel in 1985 when 1,150 Palestinian prisoners were released in return for three Israeli soldiers.

In 2002, Israel assassinated his eldest son Jihad in Lebanon.

Jibril was criticised for his support for the Assad regime in Syria, which didn't waiver in spite of the current war.

[None of the reports of Jibril's death that I have seen so far have mentioned his and the PFLP-GC's alleged responsibility for the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie. What follows is a report by Richard Norton-Taylor and Ian Black in The Guardian on 4 May 2000:]

The finger of suspicion after the Lockerbie bombing was first pointed at Ahmed Jibril's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command, the very group implicated yesterday, more than 11 years later, by the two Libyan defendants.

In another extraordinary twist, they also implicated Abu Talb, once regarded by the Scottish police as a prime suspect but now a prosecution witness.

For years, western intelligence agencies believed in a simple explanation. The bombing was funded by Iran in retaliation for the mistaken shooting down of an Iranian airliner by an American warship, the USS Vincennes, over the Persian Gulf in July 1988, five months before the Lockerbie bombing.

It was assumed that the Iranians paid Jibril's Syria-backed group to carry out a revenge attack. The assumption appeared to be backed up by the arrest a few months before the bombing of 17 people in Frankfurt, where the bag containing the bomb is alleged to have been placed on the Pan Am airliner. It was reported later that those arrested in the operation, called Autumn Leaves, included Hafez Dalkamoni, a prominent member of the PFLP-GC with links to Palestinians in Uppsala, Sweden.

They also included Marwan Kreeshat, a Jordanian, found with explosives and a Toshiba cassette player in his car similar to the one believed to have contained the bomb that destroyed the Pan Am airliner. British intelligence was later astonished to learn that he had been released for lack of evidence.

Iran appeared to be further implicated in the bombing when a US intelligence report referred to Ali Akbar Mohtashemi, a former Iranian interior minister who supervised Iranian funding of Middle East terror groups, paying out "10 million in dollars in cash and gold ... to bomb Pan Am flight 103 ... in retaliation for the US shoot-down of the Iranian Airbus".

The existence of the report, which was given to lawyers representing Pan Am, became known in 1995. This was after the two Libyans were indicted and officials in Washington and London played down its significance, describing it as low-grade information found to be incorrect.

The trail to Talb began when he was linked to a car belonging to to one of those arrested in Frankfurt. Talb was found guilty at Uppsala in December 1989 of planting a bomb at a synagogue in Copenhagen four years earlier.

Swedish police were reported to have found at Talb's Uppsala apartment an air ticket from Malta to Stockholm indicating that he was on the island at the time children's clothes - part of the evidence against the two Libyans - were bought.

British Lockerbie investigators were also alleged to have found clothes bought in Malta during a later raid on Talb's flat. Also found there was a diary with December 21 1988 - the date of the bombing - circled. He was named in the Uppsala court as being suspected in Scotland of murder or as an accessory to murder.

Yesterday, Egyptian-born Talb was described in the Camp Zeist court as a member of the Palestine Popular Struggle Front and witness number 963 for the Scottish prosecution. The PPSF was founded in 1969 with backing from Syria, and split in 1981. One of its two founders, Samir Ghosheh, left in 1981 to join the mainstream PLO and is now a minister in Yasser Arafat's Palestine Authority in Gaza.

Experts said last night that the PPSF was defunct and that little had been heard of it for at least two years.

According to Israel's Jaffee Centre for Strategic Studies, the PFLP-GC, which rejects a political settlement with Israel, has maintained links with Syria, Libya and Iran, serving as a proxy for those states in attacks in the international arena. It was suspected of carrying out the bombing of a French airliner in 1989 over Niger.

Ahmed Jibril declined to comment last night.

Some commentators say that attention over Lockerbie turned to Libya when the west wanted to improve relations with Iran and Syria after the Gulf war against Iraq. Washington and London dismiss this as conspiracy theory.

Wednesday 9 June 2021

Jim Swire's 32-year worldwide fight for justice

[Today's edition of the Daily Mirror newspaper contains a long article headlined 'My 32-year worldwide fight for justice for the girl I lost in Lockerbie bombing'. It reads in part:]

The one thing Jim Swire treasures the most also causes him the most pain. A 50-year-old tape recording, now transferred on to a compact disc, and carefully stored away in a special drawer in his Oxfordshire house.

In it, Jim is singing along with and his seven-year-old daughter Flora as she plays the guitar during an idyllic break on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. (...)

Flora had been flying to the US to spend Christmas with her boyfriend, and from where she planned to surprise her parents with the news she had been accepted for a coveted place to complete her medical training at Cambridge University.

But she never got to do either. Thirty-eight minutes into the long-haul flight, the airliner exploded as it flew 31,000ft over Lockerbie, killing all 259 people on board and 11 people on the ground. (...)

His world suddenly torn apart by grief, Jim, a GP, was determined to find answers, and set off on an unforgiving journey that would take him all around the world – including inside the desert tent of Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi.

More than 32 years later, and now aged 85, Jim is finally releasing a full account of all he discovered in a new book, The Lockerbie Bombing. His memoirs are also being made into a TV series, released next year. (...)

Jim dealt with his grief by spending every waking hour searching for information. And it wasn’t long before he began to suspect a cover up.

First, he came across a communication sent from German police to the British government in October 1988 - two months before the attack, warning that Palestinian terrorists were planning to explode a bomb on a plane heading to the US.

The information came after the arrest of a Palestinian bomb maker Marwan Khreesat, who was later released by a German judge. 

Next, he discovered a classified telex sent by the then British transport secretary James Jack to Heathrow airport, two days before the bombing, with a photo of the type of bomb they believed would be used, hidden inside a radio cassette player to make it difficult to detect on X-ray equipment.

Incredibly, the message told airport staff that if they had suspicions about any object it should be “consigned to the aircraft hold” – exactly where the Lockerbie bomb exploded.

Jim also discovered that, days before the disaster, a notice had been put up in the US embassy in Moscow warning staff of a threat to Pan Am aircraft in the run up to Christmas and advising them to rebook with another airline. (...)

Jim’s investigations led him to believe the Lockerbie bombing was actually ordered by Iran, in retaliation for an incident in July 1988, when American warship The Vincennes destroyed an aircraft in flight containing 290 pilgrims on their way to Mecca.

He believes Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who publicly swore revenge, commissioned a Palestinian group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine [-General Command], to take down an American plane.

He thinks that, despite knowing the truth, the US and the UK decided to blame Libya, an oil-rich country which was in America’s sights.

Convinced that Libya, and Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who was convicted of the Lockerbie bombing in January 2001, wasn’t behind his daughter’s murder, Jim has visited the country, meeting Colonel Gaddafi several times and making friends with al-Megrahi.

Of his first meeting with Gaddafi, who was overthrown and killed in 2011, he says: “I was terrified. A GP from the middle of England shaking hands with the man who was supposed to be the devil incarnate. We met in his tent in the middle of the desert.

"We were surrounded by his female bodyguards holding AK47s and as I went over to him I could hear the safety catches all clicking off. We got on and even became friends.”

Does he now have all the answers he was so desperate to find? “Yes, but I don’t have the ability to do what I feel is desperately important to be done with those answers.

“I would love to go and talk to the Ayatollahs in Iran, and the men they used, and tell them I forgive them and explain why.

Saturday 8 May 2021

"Not a court of justice but a court of politics"

[What follows is excerpted from a very long article published today on the website of The Herald. The full article can (and should) be read here.]

[Dr Jim] Swire says his short-term memory is not so good, but on the details of the evidence around Lockerbie, on the events that devastated his life, he is as sharp as a tack. He believes he knows the story behind the bombing of Pan-Am 103 and that the wrong man was convicted, the wrong country blamed.

Fingers, he said, should have been pointed at Iran, who organised it through the Syrian-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), not Libya. There was even a strong motive: revenge for the shooting-down of the Airbus carrying 290 pilgrims by the USS Vincennes. Swire no longer believes that the full truth will come out in his lifetime. The sadness and anger he feels is not just at the loss of his daughter – it is also the rage of disillusionment. He rails against the opacity of the British establishment, institutions in which he had faith.

“I was the son of an Army officer,” he says, “who had been trained to look after parts of the empire during his professional career in the Royal Engineers. I thought that the establishment was working for the protection, at the very least, of its citizens. My belief was that the establishment of the UK was honourable and sought right over wrong.”

He recalls: “It wasn’t really till the end of the Camp Zeist trial of Megrahi [in which he was found guilty] that I was forced to give up that fabulous belief. I realised that was not a court of justice but a court of politics that was being held to enable the Americans to achieve their aim of diverting blame to Libya, away from Iran. One of the things that really annoys me now is that Britain was acting as a lapdog for America.” (...)

In the months following Flora’s death, Swire submerged himself in a sea of information – including technical details of the bomb and its mechanism.

“I’ve always been interested in electronics. I learned a lot about nasty plastic explosives.” he says.

From early on, he became convinced that the bomb had been one whose timer had a pressure-related switch which would trigger shortly after take-off.

“Soon after Lockerbie I got hold of an illustrated brochure from West Germany which told the British Department of Transport that the German police had recovered some specialised bombs in an operation called Autumn Leaves,” he recalls.

“It told how these bombs had a switch that could detect a drop in air pressure when an aeroplane took off and that around seven minutes from the time the wheels left the tarmac it would switch the timer on in the bomb and that the timers ran for approximately 30 minutes.”

He did the maths. “That makes a total of 37 minutes from leaving the ground before the thing went off. It was exactly that timing, 38 minutes into the flight, at which Pan-Am 103 blew up.”

The explanation that the bomb involved was one with a long running digital timer, supplied by MEBO and including circuit board produced by the Zurich company Thuring, which was at the heart of the Megrahi conviction, is one he believes too elaborate. “I think of William of Ockham. He said the simplest explanation consistent with the known facts is the most likely to be true.”

He argues that the bomb was made by terrorists linked to the PFLP-GC and that the clothing from Malta was deliberately put alongside the bomb in order to mislead. “I think,” he says, “that it all worked out according to the plans that were laid by Iran through the use of their surrogate terrorist group, the PFLP-GC.”

Key evidence supporting his theory, published in his book, some of which comes from the John Ashton book Megrahi: You are My Jury, includes a metallurgical examination done by experts commissioned by the Megrahi defence team, which showed that the circuit board fragment used as evidence did not come from a particular set of bombs supplied by MEBO to Libya, as previously had been argued, because it contained the wrong metal coating.

They also question the reliability of the identification of Megrahi by Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci, given records that show his attempts to get, and eventually receive, substantial money from the United States. (...)

The Lockerbie Bombing by Jim Swire and Peter Biddulph is published by Birlinn.

Aye Write: The Lockerbie Bombing: A Father's Search for Justice: Jim Swire in conversation with Kate Adie will be on May 21, 6pm.

Saturday 30 January 2021

"Independent" Lockerbie commentator "instructed and paid by Iran"

[What follows is excerpted from a report in today's edition of The Scotsman headlined Academic who defended Tehran against Lockerbie allegations accused of secretly working for Iranian government:]

Authorities in the US allege Kaveh Afrasiabi, a political scientist and veteran commentator on Iranian issues, of acting and conspiring to act as an unregistered agent of the Iranian state for more than a decade, during which time he made media appearances rejecting any suggestions that Iran was involved in the 1988 atrocity.

A complaint filed against Afrasiabi in a federal court in New York alleges that he was instructed over what to say to journalists by Iranian government officials assigned to the country’s permanent mission to the United Nations, before advocating positions and policies “favoured” by Iran.

The interviews included Afrasiabi’s views on a 2014 Al Jazeera documentary, entitled ‘Lockerbie: What Really Happened?’, which claimed the bombing was ordered by Iran and carried out by the Syrian-based terror group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command.

The documentary, which was subsequently screened in the Scottish Parliament, included testimony from Abolghasem Mesbahi, a former high-ranking Iranian intelligence agent, who said Iran had sanctioned the attack in revenge for the destruction in July 1988 of an Iranian airbus mistakenly shot down by USS Vincennes.

Afrasiabi, a former visiting scholar at Harvard University, went on to appear on an Al Jazeera interview, refuting the documentary’s premise. However, the complaint against him alleges he was advised on what to say by a press secretary at the Iranian mission, and told to state that he was giving his views as an “independent expert.”

During a phone call with the Iranian official on 11 March 2014, the complaint goes on, Afrasiabi was instructed “in sum and substance to explain that both the US and Britain completed their investigations” into the incident.

It also alleges that the day after the interview, Afrasiabi advised the Iranian government to threaten a $500 million lawsuit against Al Jazeera,” stating that it “would act as a brake on their current plan and might put a stop.” He added: “Soft diplomacy does not answer this specific situation.”

Afrasiabi also sent Al Jazeera an article prepared by his Iranian government contacts refuting the documentary’s claims, according to the complaint.

It adds that since 2007, Afrasiabi has “surreptitiously derived a significant portion of his income from compensation for services performed at the direction and under the control of the government of the Islamic republic of Iran,” claiming he received more than $265,000 over the period, as well as health insurance benefits.

The complaint also alleges Afrasiabi contacted an official in the US State Department, asking for its “latest thinking” on the Iran nuclear issue, without revealing the nature of his relationship with Iranian authorities.

Afrasiabi has described the allegations against him as “lies,” while Iran’s foreign ministry said the accusations were “baseless,” and accused the US of “a clear hostage-taking of Iranian nationals.”