Monday 31 July 2023

Sky and BBC to screen rival dramas on Lockerbie disaster

[What follows is excerpted from a report published yesterday on the Deadline website:]

A second major transatlantic drama series on the Lockerbie bombing terror attack is in the works — this time at the BBC and Netflix.

The British broadcaster and US streamer will co-produce Lockerbie, a factual drama that will explore the joint investigation into the 1988 disaster by Scottish and American authorities. (...)

Line of Duty producer World Productions is making the six-part series, which was initially developed by MGM Television and Night Train Media alongside filmmaker Adam Morane-Griffiths.

The BBC and Netflix commission comes more than a year after Sky and Peacock came together to greenlight a separate series, also titled Lockerbie. That project was meant to premiere this year but has been delayed amid continued development.

Jim Sheridan, the Oscar-nominated director of My Left Foot, and daughter Kirsten Sheridan are writing the Sky/Peacock series, which centers on a family’s search for justice. Carnival Films is producing.

Jonathan Lee, the novelist behind High Dive, is writing the BBC/Netflix drama alongside Gillian Roger Park (The Young Offenders), a Scottish screenwriter who will pen two episodes.

They will draw on extensive interviews done by Morane-Griffiths, who spoke to Scottish police and US investigative agencies. The series will also examine the bombing’s impact on the people of Lockerbie.

Michael Keillor (Best Interests) will direct. The executive producers are Simon Heath and Roderick Seligman for World; Steve Stark and Stacey Levin for Toluca Pictures; Adam Morane-Griffiths, Sara Curran,  Herbert L Kloiber, Keillor; and Gaynor Holmes for the BBC. The co-EP is Joe Hill. 

Netflix drama commissioner Mona Qureshi said: “The moment we read Jonathan’s pilot script, informed by Adam’s meticulous research, we understood that this team had found a way into these events that is epic and intimate, local and global, personal and political. The devastation wrought on the night of 21st December 1988 continues to reverberate through the decades.”

BBC commissioner Holmes added: “We have the right team in place to tell this extraordinary story with the greatest of care, making sure the series reflects the devastating events of that night, the complex and far-reaching investigation that followed and the effect it had on all those who lost loved ones.”  

[A report in today's edition of The Times contains the following:]

The six-part show will air on the BBC and Netflix more than 35 years after flight Pan Am 103 exploded over the small Scottish town in 1988, killing 270 people including 43 Britons.

Lockerbie will focus on the investigation into the crash, starting with the search for evidence on the ground in Scotland, before travelling to the US and Malta, where the bomb is thought to have been assembled. It will take in the trial of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who was convicted in the Netherlands in 2001 and jailed for life before being released on compassionate grounds three years before his death in Libya in 2012. The US indictment last year of the suspected bombmaker, Abu Agila Masud, will also feature.

Thursday 15 June 2023

Did Megrahi really admit that Fhimah put bomb suitcase on flight?

[Today's edition of the Daily Record contains an article about the letter written by Abdelbaset Megrahi in July 2003 to King Hussein of Jordan and delivered to him by Gaddafi aide Daad Sharab. The article contains the following:]

Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi’s adviser Daad Sharab, 61, visited Abdelbaset al-Megrahi three times in Scotland. She took a letter from Megrahi which he wrote to the King of Jordan in Barlinnie jail in a desperate bid to be freed.

Megrahi told how Nelson Mandela had visited him and supported his campaign for release. He claimed Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, the man cleared of the bombing when he faced trial alongside Megrahi in 2001, “put the suitcase on the flight”.

Megrahi wrote: “I have to write because of the great suffering condemned to imprisonment for false accusation. I am an Arabic Libyan unfairly convicted in the case of what is called Lockerbie. It was a false accusation based on the allegation I was the suspect who bought the clothes from a storekeeper in Malta.

“They were found in the remains of the suitcase bomb that was the cause for the plane crash over Lockerbie... my colleague, the second suspect who was acquitted by the court, is the one who put the suitcase on the flight from Malta.”

[RB: This remarkable allegation - that Megrahi admitted that his co-accused Lamin Fhimah put the suitcase containing the bomb on the Air Malta flight - does not match the translation of the relevant passage of the letter given on page 128 of Daad Sharab's book The Colonel And I: My Life With Gaddafi. The passage there reads (with emphasis added):

"I am an Arabic Libyan unfairly convicted in the case of what is called Lockerbie on a false accusation based on the allegation I was the suspect who bought the clothes from a storekeeper in Malta that were found in the remains of the suitcase bomb that was the cause for the plane crash over Lockerbie, and that I was available in Malta and that my colleague the second suspect who was acquitted by the court is the one who put the suitcase on the flight from Malta."

The Daily Record article contains a facsimile of the original Arabic version of Megrahi's letter, so those with a knowledge of the language can decide for themselves whether Megrahi was simply conveying the allegations made against himself and his co-accused, and whether the newspaper's version is grossly misleading.] 

Sunday 11 June 2023

Colonel Gaddafi knew Lockerbie bomber was innocent

[What follows is excerpted from a report published today on the Mirror newspaper website:]

A confidante of Colonel Gaddafi, who was assassinated in 2011 by Libyan rebel forces, said he allowed the Lockerbie bomber to be jailed for the attack despite knowing of his innocence

Colonel Gaddafi knew the Lockerbie bomber was innocent of mass murder but let him rot in prison in a political deal, his close adviser has said.

Daad Sharab, 61, was the Libyan dictator’s confidante for 22 years and visited Abdelbaset al-Megrahi three times in prison in Scotland.

The Libyan intelligence officer agreed to drop his appeal against his life sentence in return for his return to Libya on health grounds in 2009.

Now another former Libyan intelligence officer, Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi, 71, is to go on trial in the US over the attack.

He is accused of building the bomb that downed Pan Am flight 103 on December 21, 1988, killing all 259 on board and 11 people in Lockerbie. (...)

Sharab fears the trial will again implicate al-Megrahi. Speaking from her home in Jordan, Sharab said: “I believe that Megrahi was framed.

“He fulfilled his commitment to Gaddafi and went to trial even though he knew he was innocent.

“Gaddafi made a deal with the British then to lift sanctions.” Megrahi was jailed in 2001.

A Maltese shopkeeper testified he sold him clothing found in the case that held the bomb.

But writing to the King of Jordan in a letter Sharab delivered, al-Megrahi said: “I never in my life bought any clothes from any store in Malta.”

Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was a victim, said of al-Megrahi and a co-defendant: “I went into court thinking I was going to see the trial of those responsible for the murder.

“I came out thinking he had been framed.”

Gaddafi had Sharab imprisoned but she escaped, after 19 months, amid 2011’s Arab Spring uprising and went on to write The Colonel and I: My Life with Gaddafi.

Megrahi died aged 60 in 2012.

[The Daily Express has now picked up this story: Lockerbie bomber was framed by Colonel Gaddafi and took the fall for Pan Am atrocity.]

Thursday 1 June 2023

Further US court appearance for Lockerbie accused Masud

The court calendar of the US District Court for Washington DC indicates that a Status Conference in the case against Lockerbie accused Abu Ajila Masud took place (or at least was scheduled) yesterday, 31 May. The calendar states:

Case Number and Title - 22-cr-0392:  USA v. KHEIR AL-MARIMI

Judge - Judge Dabney L Friedrich

Time - 05/31/2023 09:00AM

Courtroom - Courtroom 14 In Person

Purpose - Status Conference

I can find no online media report on the proceedings at, or the outcome of, the court hearing.

Monday 22 May 2023

Lockerbie suspect Masud to appear again in US court on 31 May

[What follows is the text of a report published today on the website of The Libya Observer:]

The family of the Libyan citizen who is the suspect in the Lockerbie bombing case, Abu Agila Masud stated that the date of his trial session will be on May 31. [RB: I suspect, though I have no inside information, that this will simply be another procedural hearing. It would surprise me greatly if either the prosecution or the defence were yet in a position to go to trial.]

The family said in press statements that they hired a lawyer at their own expense, other than the one assigned, to follow up on the case to obtain information about the next court session.

The family expressed its dissatisfaction with the failure of the lawyer assigned by the Federal Court to follow up on the case, noting that they did not make any statement regarding his health condition and the extent to which the case had reached.

Regarding the promises made to the family to form a defense team, they said that they were unable to assign a defense team for Abu Agila, noting that all the promises given to them regarding the provision of the defense team’s funds were useless and untrue, considering it an evasion of responsibility.

The family expressed its disappointment with the Libyan state taking a “bystander” position regarding what is happening in the case of handing over a Libyan citizen to the American authorities without defending him.

[RB: What follows is excerpted from a report published today (Tuesday, 23 May) on the Libya Review website:]

The family of the Libyan intelligence operative suspected of making the bomb that blew up Pan Am flight 103, said that Abu Ajila’s Masoud will appear before the court on 31 May, without a defence team.

The family explained that they are “unable to afford the fees of the legal team. We hired a new lawyer, at our own expense, other than the one assigned to follow up the case, to obtain information about the next session.”

They expressed their dissatisfaction with the failure of the lawyer assigned by the Federal Court to follow up on the case. It pointed out that the lawyer “did not make any statement regarding his health condition and the extent of the case.”

Last month, the family said that his legal team withdrew from defending Abu Ajila Masoud for not paying the required financial dues.

Masoud, 71, is currently appearing before US courts without an attorney, his family confirms, noting that all parties that vowed to pay the costs of the legal team paid nothing and abandoned their pledges and promises.

Masoud’s family recently issued a statement denouncing the silence of the Government of National Unity (GNU), for not cooperating in knowing the fate of the Libyan citizen, as he is suffering from chronic disease.

The family said that the Libyan authorities did not assign a lawyer to defend Masoud or help them communicate with him. The Libyan Embassy in the US also didn’t show any support or intervene to help Masoud, the family says.

They appealed to the public to support him. “Masoud is a victim of political deals,” the family concluded.

Masoud has pleaded not guilty before the Federal Court in Washington. 

Tuesday 9 May 2023

Camp Zeist should stand as a warning for our justice system

[This is the headline over an article by me published in today's edition of The Herald. It can be read here. What follows is an expanded version of the article:]

The Scottish Government is promoting legislation that will permit rape cases to be tried, on a trial basis, without a jury. The only recent instance in which judges of the High Court of Justiciary have presided over a trial on indictment without a jury is the Lockerbie case. 

The conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi in that trial in 2001 has been widely criticised. The late Ian Hamilton KC opined, with only slight exaggeration, "I don't think there's a lawyer in Scotland who now believes Mr Megrahi was justly convicted."  I myself commented "that a shameful miscarriage of justice has been perpetrated and that the Scottish criminal justice system has been gravely sullied." 

The official report by Professor Hans Köchler, a United Nations-appointed observer at the trial, contains the following:

"13. The Opinion of the Court is exclusively based on circumstantial evidence and on a series of highly problematic inferences. As to the undersigned's knowledge, there is not one single piece of material evidence linking the two accused to the crime. In such a context, the guilty verdict in regard to the first accused appears to be arbitrary, even irrational. This impression is enforced when one considers that the actual wording of the larger part of the Opinion of the Court points more into the direction of a 'not proven' verdict. The arbitrary aspect of the verdict is becoming even more obvious when one considers that the prosecution, at a rather late stage of the trial, decided to 'split' the accusation and to change the very essence of the indictment by renouncing the identification of the second accused as a member of Libyan intelligence so as to actually disengage him from the formerly alleged collusion with the first accused in the supposed perpetration of the crime. Some light is shed on this procedure by the otherwise totally incomprehensible 'not guilty' verdict in regard to the second accused.

"14. This leads the undersigned to the suspicion that political considerations may have been overriding a strictly judicial evaluation of the case and thus may have adversely affected the outcome of the trial. This may have a profound impact on the evaluation of the professional reputation and integrity of the panel of three Scottish judges. Seen from the final outcome, a certain coordination of the strategies of the prosecution, of the defense, and of the judges' considerations during the later period of the trial is not totally unlikely. This, however, − when actually proven − would have a devastating effect on the whole legal process of the Scottish Court in the Netherlands and on the legal quality of its findings.

"15. In the above context, the undersigned has reached the general conclusion that the outcome of the trial may well have been determined by political considerations and may to a considerable extent have been the result of more or less openly exercised influence from the part of actors outside the judicial framework − facts which are not compatible with the basic principle of the division of powers and with the independence of the judiciary, and which put in jeopardy the very rule of law and the confidence citizens must have in the legitimacy of state power and the functioning of the state's organs − whether on the traditional national level or in the framework of international justice as it is gradually being established through the United Nations Organization.

"16. On the basis of the above observations and evaluation, the undersigned has − to his great dismay − reached the conclusion that the trial, seen in its entirety, was not fair and was not conducted in an objective manner. Indeed, there are many more questions and doubts at the end of the trial than there were at its beginning. The trial has effectively created more confusion than clarity and no rational observer can make any statement on the complex subject matter 'beyond any reasonable doubt.' Irrespective of this regrettable outcome, the search for the truth must continue. This is the requirement of the rule of law and the right of the victims' families and of the international public."

The Lockerbie trial resulted in a conviction. But it also gravely besmirched the reputation of the Scottish criminal justice system. The proposal to institute, on a trial basis, non-jury courts in rape cases may well achieve the apparently desired objective of increasing convictions in such cases. But at what cost to the administration of justice and the reputation of the Scottish criminal justice system? Let the Lockerbie case stand as a warning.

Monday 17 April 2023

For 34 years the US has doggedly pushed a false narrative

[What follows is excerpted from an article published yesterday on The Intel Drop website:]

The greatest cover up since JFK – The Lockerbie bombing – might be coming apart at the seams, Martin Jay writes.

Like Afghanistan, Libya, a country rich in oil wealth and underpopulated, is heading towards being branded another major NATO f***-up as analysts worry that delayed elections, the hilarious farce of now having two rival prime ministers in office and an economy in freefall, could all point to rival factions returning to war. (...)

In early January, CIA chief William Burns has met with one of Libya’s rival prime ministers, the government in the country’s capital of Tripoli confirmed on January 12th, stirring some controversy, given how rare it is for CIA chief to do such a political stunt.

Libya, we should note, is a divided house. In Tripoli, its incumbent government – whose militias allow it to control important institutions like the central bank for example – is largely supported by the US and Turkey, while its eastern bloc, which is where its parliament is based, is controlled and funded by a number of Arab countries and Russia. (...)

But what on earth is the CIA chief doing in Tripoli?

Barely a month has passed since the US illegally extradited a Libyan intelligence officer, to keep a fake news campaign in the US alive which blames Libya for the Lockerbie bombing of 1988, and Burns rocks up to the Libyan capital.

The Tripoli-based government said CIA Director William Burns and Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah discussed cooperation, economic and security issues. It also posted a hand-shaking photo of the two on one of its social media pages.

Burns’ visit followed the surprise extradition last month of a former Libyan intelligence officer accused of making the bomb that exploded on a commercial flight above Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, killing all onboard and 11 people on the ground.

In December, Washington announced that Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi, wanted by the United States for his role in bringing down the New York-bound Pan Am Flight 103 since 2020, was in their custody and would face trial. His handover by Dbeibah’s government raised questions of its legality inside Libya, which does not have a standing agreement on extradition with the United States. Dbeibah’s mandate remains highly contested after planned elections did not take place in late 2021. (...)

Given Biden’s moronic handling of US troops leaving Afghanistan, one has to ask, has he made an error in Libya which is worrying him now? The rendition of the Libyan officer is almost certainly illegal and it might have surprised Biden just how much international press coverage it received. Did Biden send Burns to give some moral support to the incumbent prime minister in Tripoli who refused to stand down when the eastern parliament attempted to install their own prime minister just recently? What was the deal struck between the CIA and Dbeibah and why did Burns need to actually visit him and pose with him for a Facebook photo stunt? Was this a signal to the eastern bloc that the US is going to stand firm with their man, if war breaks out again?

Add to that, that it is only a question of time before American families of the doomed Pan Am 103 flight which crashed in Lockerbie at Christmas 1988 will wake up and smell the coffee.

For 34 years, the US has doggedly pushed a false narrative which has blamed the Libyans. And they have succeeded to some extent, largely because the truth about Lockerbie is so incredible that few Americans would believe it, if they were to be presented with it.

Incredibly, Pan Am 103 was a ‘controlled flight’ by CIA agents which was carrying drugs placed on board by terrorist groups which Reagan needed to keep happy, while negotiating the freedom of US hostages in Beirut. Iran discovered this arrangement – as those groups in Lebanon were ideologically aligned to Tehran and later became Hezbollah – and decided to seek revenge for the US downing of Iranian airliner 655 in the Persian Gulf in July of 1988 by placing their own case on the flight, which they knew would not be examined by CIA officers, as it would be assumed to be drugs. The plotters even went as far as sacrificing one of the young men from the Lebanese group who was on board.

But the interesting detail of the Lockerbie bombing was the extent of how far the plotters went to divert blame to Libya, which the CIA are continuing to do to this day, in a nefarious game so as to extend the big lie of Lockerbie – all so that no US president can be held responsible for possibly the greatest cover-up since JFK.

If the American families today were to jointly begin a legal case of compensation against the US government for murdering their loved ones, who were used as cannon fodder for a twisted, idiotic game that Reagan was playing with terrorist groups in Lebanon, the sums would be staggering and unprecedented. The shock might be so much to the American public that it might create a crisis of confidence in the government and result in widespread insurgency, not to mention a lack of confidence in the US political system.

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.

Saturday 25 February 2023

US court postpones hearing of Lockerbie suspect

[This is the headline over a report published yesterday on the Libya Review website. It reads as follows:]

The trial of the Libyan intelligence operative suspected of making the bomb that blew up Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, has been delayed to 28 February, his family told local media.

The family of Abu Ajila Masoud told Libya Al-Ahrar that a session was scheduled to be held on 23 February, but was postponed until next week.

The family said that the court did not clarify the reason for the postponement, noting that the attorney assigned by the American judiciary “will follow the course of the next session, until the defence team’s fees are secured.” They expressed their hope to secure the first fee payment before the next hearing.

Masoud has pleaded not guilty before the Federal Court in Washington. 270 people were killed in one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in US history, according to Washington Post.

“At this time your honour we would enter a plea of not guilty,” said Whitney Minter, a US federal public defender, according to the Washington Post.

Masoud, 71, entered his plea in federal court in Washington. This follows his extradition in December by one of Libya’s rival factional governments.

US authorities said they would seek Masoud’s continued detention pending trial at a bond hearing on 23 February, if his defence sought to argue for his conditional release. He possibly faces two counts, including the destruction of an aircraft resulting in death, punishable upon conviction by up to life in prison.

The US Justice Department has alleged that Masoud confessed his crimes to a Libyan law enforcement official, in September 2012.

Earlier this month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the United States and Libyan authorities to clarify the legal basis for the “abusive arrest” and subsequent extradition of Masoud.

“It appears that no Libyan court ordered or reviewed Masoud’s transfer to the US, and he had no chance to appeal, raising serious due process concerns,” said Hanan Salah, associate Middle East and North Africa director at HRW.

The Tripoli-based Prime Minister, Abdel-Hamid Dbaiba said his Government of National Unity (GNU) collaborated with the US on the extradition. However, judicial authorities have challenged the handover’s legality, and opened an investigation.

Friday 17 February 2023

Trial of kidnapped Libyan could unravel entire US Lockerbie bombing narrative

[This is the headline over an article by Dr Mustafa Fetouri published in the current issue of Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. It reads in part:]

Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi, 74, a Libyan national, appeared in a federal court in Washington, DC, on Dec 12, 2022, charged in connection with the bombing that destroyed Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland while flying from London to New York.

 According to US prosecutors, Mas’ud made the bomb that blew up the plane on Dec 21, 1988, killing 270, including 11 people on the ground. Two other Libyans have been tried for the same crime: Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was convicted while his co-accused Lamin Fahima was acquitted in 2001. Al-Meghrahi protested his innocence until his 2012 death from prostate cancer in his Tripoli home. In fact, his conviction was widely criticized by the legal community and by United Nations observer Hans Kochler, who cited “foreign governmental and intelligence interference in the presentation of evidence.” 

Mas’ud’s kidnapping and subsequent “extradition” to the US started in the poor suburb of Abu Salim, south of the Libyan capital Tripoli, where armed militias roam freely. 

On the night of Nov 16, 2022, Mas’ud was getting ready for bed when half a dozen unmarked cars pulled up in front of his home. Four masked and armed men forced their way into his bedroom, dragged him out in his pajamas, shoved him into one of the cars and drove away. One of the masked men told the small crowd that quickly formed in the street that Mas’ud would be back soon. Abdel Moneim Al-Maryami, the family’s spokesman and Ma’sud’s nephew, described the shock for onlookers who “watched helplessly.” 

That evening Mas’ud had just returned from his third visit to the hospital in a week. The septuagenarian suffers from a host of illnesses made worse during his decade-long incarceration in the notorious Al-Hadba prison in Tripoli, accused of preparing car bombs in Libya’s 2011 civil war. The US Justice Department alleges that Mas’ud first confessed to making the Lockerbie bomb in Al-Hadba prison, but the former director of that prison, Khalid Sharif, denies that Mas’ud ever made such a confession while he was there. Sharif, now living in exile in Turkey, was one of the top leaders of the organization known as the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. In 2004 the US listed this Afghanistan-based group as terrorists but unlisted it in 2015 after it participated in the 2011 US-NATO supported armed revolt that toppled former leader Muammar Qaddafi’s government.

The following morning the family started searching for Mas’ud, a daunting task because different militias have different detention centers. After a week and multiple visits to the headquarters of different militias, the offices of the prime minister and the prosecutor general, and different detention centers around Tripoli, Abdel Moneim was told where he was and allowed to visit him. 

In detention Mas’ud told his visitors that nobody “interrogated him,” let alone explained why he was detained or by whom. Family members continued visiting until one day his son, Essam, went for a visit but was told his father had been taken to Misrata, some 186 miles (300 km) east of Tripoli. “He was handed over” to Joint Force, a notorious and powerful militia, Essam said. 

No one mentioned the idea of handing him over to the US. In fact, Essam said, “they assured us that he was being kept there for his own safety.” Other family members had filed a kidnapping report with the police. Government officials denied knowing anything about the kidnapping. The prosecutor general denied issuing an arrest warrant and promised to investigate the matter. 

Mas’ud made headlines on Dec 21, 2020, the 32nd anniversary of the bombing, when then-US Attorney General William Barr accused him of assembling the bomb and handing it over to Al-Megrahi in Malta. 

Libyan laws do not permit the extradition of its citizens to stand trial abroad, and it has no extradition treaty with the US. In a BBC interview in 2021, Libya’s US-educated foreign minister, Najla El-Mangoush, said her government was “open” to the idea of extraditing suspect Mas’ud but “within the law.” Faced with a huge public outcry, El-Mangoush denied that she ever said she was open to Mas’ud’s extradition, forcing the BBC to release the video clip of the interview in which she made that claim.

The US and Libyan governments knew that Mas’ud could not legally be transferred to the US so they colluded with Joint Force, a militia loyal to Tripoli’s government, to grab him.

Just before midday on Dec 11, 2022, some Pan Am Flight 103 victims’ families received an “urgent update” email from the Scottish authorities updating them on their efforts to prosecute Mas’ud. The message’s closing line said the US “has obtained custody” of him. 

I was in Paris, waiting for news because a friend had already alerted me to expect some. His family first heard the news from me after I spoke to their spokesman Abdel Moneim that morning.

On Dec 12, Mas’ud limped into Judge Robin Meriweather’s DC courtroom where he told the judge that he “cannot talk” before meeting his attorney. A day later, a Libyan businessman told me that he was ready to fund a defense team. But appointing the right defense team thousands of miles away is not an easy task for his family who are still in shock and confused by the conflicting advice they are getting from friends and volunteers trying to help them. 

The fact that he was kidnapped should be reason enough to halt any further legal proceedings against him. But the US has a history of kidnapping suspects and sending them for interrogation to countries that use torture liberally. 

On two previous occasions, US commandos kidnapped suspects from Libya to try them in the US. Ahmed Abu Khatallah,  was kidnapped in 2014, and tried and convicted in the US for participating in the 2012 attack on the US compound in Benghazi, which killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. In 2013 Abu Anas al-Libi was snatched and taken to US for trial accused of planning the attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. He died of cancer in custody days before his trial. For this third kidnapping the US outsourced the dirty work to a local militia.

The news that Mas’ud had been kidnapped was condemned by Libya’s parliament, High Council of State (a consultative body), the national security adviser and the minister of justice. They also warned that handing him over to the US would be illegal and an infringement of Libyan sovereignty. However, none of them knew exactly what happened, and Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Debeibeh kept silent. The uproar was repeated when Mas’ud was reported to have been sent to the US.

The public reaction has been supportive of Mas’ud and critical of the government in Tripoli. In a clumsy televised speech, Debeibeh attempted some damage control but instead made things worse. He said that “this man [Mas’ud] killed 270 innocent souls in cold blood,” but did not provide any evidence. Most Libyans mocked him and asked whether more Libyans would be sent to the US for Lockerbie bombing trials. 

Rumors of more extraditions of Libyans intensified in the wake of a Jan. 12, 2023 unannounced visit of CIA Director William Burns. (...)

A second Lockerbie bombing trial is very unlikely. US prosecutors will try to avoid such a scenario because it could lead to re-examining the whole Lockerbie trial evidence of 2001, as well as evidence that has emerged since Al-Megrahi’s conviction. Doing so could unravel the entire case and cast serious doubts about the evidence used to convict Al-Megrahi 22 years ago and raise questions about Libya’s responsibility for the bombing.

Dr Jim Swire, who lost his daughter in the bombing and now represents UK victims’ families, argues that the United Nations, not the US, should try Mas’ud. He said “no one country can be the plaintiff, the prosecutor and the judge” in this case. His compatriot, law professor Robert Black, thinks Mas’ud can still “get a fair trial” in a US court. The professor believes that US prosecutors must prove, beyond any reasonable doubt, that Mas’ud made the device that destroyed the jumbo jet on that cold December night in 1988, that his bomb, and no other, caused the disaster and that Mas’ud knew that his bomb would be used for that purpose.

Professor Black, the primary figure behind the previous Lockerbie bombing trial in Camp Zeist under Scots law in The Netherlands, thinks it is not “essential” for US prosecutors to show how the bomb got on the plane in order to get a conviction. In such a scenario the evidence to convict Mas’ud will rest, heavily, on the analysis of the fragment of circuit board that the US claims was part of the timer that set the bomb off in midair. That tiny fragment, US investigators claim, was found in a Scottish field where debris from the plane was scattered. However, since that first Lockerbie trial, evidence has emerged demonstrating that the fragment was actually planted to frame Libya.

George Thompson, a former Scottish police officer turned private investigator, who has worked extensively on the case, claims to have the evidence to show exactly that. Thompson told me that he is ready to be a witness in the upcoming US trial, whenever that might be.

If convicted, Mas’ud is certain to face life imprisonment. In his first court appearance on Dec 12, prosecutors told him that they will not be seeking the death penalty. US former Attorney General Barr, in a BBC interview published the next day, said Mas’ud should receive the death penalty. Barr also said that Mas’ud’s alleged confession, should be admissible in court, despite concerns by others that it may have been coerced. 

Mas’ud’s trial could take months to start and weeks to end. Regardless of the outcome, most Libyans believe it will not bring us any closer to the truth about Lockerbie.

Monday 13 February 2023

Human rights concerns in Lockerbie suspect’s rendition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 8 February 2023

Man accused of making the Lockerbie bomb denies all charges

[This is the headline over a report published this evening on the ITV News website. It reads in part:]

A 71-year old man suspected of making the bomb that brought down a jumbo jet over Lockerbie in 1988 has denied all the charges in court.

Abu Agila Mas'ud Al-Marimi, from Libya, is charged with the destruction of an aircraft, resulting in death.  

He appeared in court in Washington DC to face three charges related to the destruction of Pan Am flight 103. Through an interpreter, he pleaded not guilty to all of them. (...)

According to the US Department of Justice the accused worked for the Libyan External Security Organisation as a technical expert, including building explosive devices.

It is claimed he took the bomb to Malta and a few days afterwards set the timer so that the explosion would happen 11 hours later when it had been transferred from an Air Malta flight to the Pan Am aircraft. 

It is more than 20 years since Libyan intelligence officer, Abdelbaset Al Megrahi, was found guilty of mass murder in connection with the Lockerbie disaster. He was sent to prison but later released on compassionate grounds after being diagnosed with incurable cancer. He died in 2012. 

It is claimed that he and Al-Marimi were working together to destroy the flight, along with others from the Libyan regime. 

Following the fall of the Gaddafi regime Al-Marimi was arrested and imprisoned by the new regime in Libya. It is claimed that he confessed his involvement in the Lockerbie attack at that time. 

In December he was extradited to the United States to stand trial. [RB: He was not extradited: Libyan law does not countenance extradition of Libyan citizens. If they stand trial overseas it should be because they voluntarily agreed to do so, as Megrahi and Fhimah did. There is not a scintilla of evidence that Masud volunteered.]

If convicted he faces life imprisonment. He's due in court again on the 23rd of February for a hearing to decide whether he should stay in prison until his trial.

Wednesday 25 January 2023

Lockerbie bombing suspect's arraignment deferred amid delays securing a lawyer

[This is the headline over a Reuters news agency report published this afternoon. It reads as follows:]

The arraignment of a Libyan intelligence operative suspected of making the bomb that blew up Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 and killed 270 people was deferred on Wednesday due to delays and challenges securing a defense attorney.

Abu Agila Mohammad Mas'ud Kheir Al-Marimi, 71, is the first suspect in the attack to face criminal charges in the United States.

The bomb exploded aboard a Boeing 747 over Lockerbie as it flew from London to New York in December 1988. All 259 people on board were killed, and another 11 people died on the ground.

US Magistrate Judge Moxila Upadhyaya formally appointed federal public defender Whitney Minter to represent him on Wednesday, after Minter said Mas'ud's family was unable to retain a defense lawyer on their own.

Minter said Mas'ud has no substantial assets and has not been employed for a decade. He makes mortgage payments on a home in Libya, and his children help cover his living and medical expenses.

[From a Fox News report:]

Abu Agila Mohammad Mas'ud Kheir Al-Marimi's arraignment was (...) pushed back to Feb 8.

US Magistrate Judge Moxila Upadhyaya formally appointed federal public defender Whitney Minter to represent him Wednesday, Reuters reported. (...)

Upadhyaya also set a Feb 23 date for a detention hearing.

Wednesday 18 January 2023

CIA Director's Libya visit prompts speculation about Senussi handover

[What follows is excerpted from an article headlined CIA Director’s visit to Libya Not Just a Visit published yesterday on The Libya Update website:]

The visit of the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency William J Burns to Libya was surrounded by a halo of mystery and a lack of details about its reasons, which opened the door to wide speculation, especially about its timing. The visit came weeks after the handover of Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud, suspected of making the bomb that destroyed a passenger plane over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 that killed 190 Americans, amid rumors that more suspects will be extradited. (...)

The head of the Libyan government in Tripoli, Abd al-Hamid al-Dbeibeh, had received Burns, accompanied by the Chargé d’Affairs of the US Embassy and his accompanying delegation, in the presence of Libya’s Foreign Minister Najla El Mangoush, and the head of the intelligence service, Hussein al-A’eb. This was amid remarkable secrecy on what was discussed or agreed upon during the visit.

According to the media office of the Libyan government, Burns stressed “the need to develop economic and security cooperation between the two countries.” (...)

Ned Price, the Spokesperson for the US Department of State said he cannot comment on the visit of US Intelligence Director William Burns to Libya. (...)

This American secrecy about the reasons for this visit increased the interest of observers in Libya, with anticipation of its results soon. This is especially regarding the extradition of more suspects in the “Lockerbie” case, such as Abdullah al-Senussi, the former intelligence chief and brother-in-law of Colonel Gaddafi. He was the second man in the Gaddafi regime, who is currently in a prison in the Libyan capital. (...)

The visit of an American official of this level to Libya for the first time since 2012, amid a complex situation in the country, and weeks after the controversial handover of Mas’ud to Washington, all of this makes the visit worth the attention that has been focused on it, according to the Libyan academic and analyst, Abdul Ghani Atia.

“This visit will completely shuffle the cards in the Libyan scene. On the one hand, it was no surprise that many talk that Abdullah Al-Senussi will be handed over to the US,” Atia believes.

“If Al-Senussi, who is accused of war crimes inside Libya and considered a controversial figure in the country, is extradited, this will represent a cave of treasures in the Lockerbie case. The man was Gaddafi’s right arm, and he is even more dangerous than Saif al-Islam, the son of Gaddafi himself.” Atia said.

[A further article about the implications of the visit can be found in US spy chief gives his support to Libya PM as part of a deal over Lockerbie? by Martin Jay on the Strategic Culture Foundation website.]

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.]