Sunday, May 7, 1989

Nazir Jaafar, who was trained as a lawyer in Lebanon, would like to see some evidence.

 He would also like to face his dead son`s accusers.

 But there is no real evidence against his son, and the accusers are ``official sources`` quoted by journalists: accusers without names or faces.
Jaafar`s oldest son, Khalid, was a passenger on Pan Am Flight 103 when the jumbo jet exploded in the cold night skies above Lockerbie, Scotland, last December, killing all 259 people on board and another 11 on the ground.

 Investigators are now certain the explosion was caused by a bomb concealed in a radio-cassette player. They believe the player was placed in a hard-sided suitcase that eventually was stowed in one of the Boeing 747`s forward cargo holds. That much is part of the public record.

 What investigators have not yet been able to do is link the suitcase to any passenger on Flight 103.

 But Khalid Jaafar, by virtue of being the only passenger on the plane with an Arabic name, has become everyone`s favorite suspect.

 Media speculation that the 21-year-old American citizen was duped into carrying a bomb onto the plane has been so incessant that his father and others in Detroit`s large Arab-American community worry that the public has already come to accept it as fact.

 For the Jaafar family, living under this shadow has taken its toll. Nazir Jaafar`s 10-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter have been taunted by classmates. His wife twice has been rushed to the hospital with anxiety attacks. Nazir Jaafar admits he has become overly dependent on Valium.

 ``I never thought there could be anything worse than death,`` he said. ``But this is worse. The life I am living is worse than death.``

 Jaafar last spoke to his son on Dec. 20, the day before the crash. The young man, who was staying with family friends in West Germany, called home to give his father details of his travel plans.

 The following day, the elder Jaafar was working at the gas station he owns in Dearborn when he received a frantic call. It was his wife telling him the Pam Am plane had crashed, that there were no survivors.

 The world was appalled and terrified by the spectacle of Flight 103. The Jaafars mourned their son in the usual glare of publicity and curiosity that attends catastrophes of this scale. Their misery was prolonged because searchers could not find his body until more than two weeks after the crash.

 Within days, investigators were fairly certain the explosion was caused by a bomb. On Dec. 29, the first reports linking Khalid Jaafar to the bomb began to surface.

 The Washington Times, quoting a ``source close to the family,`` said the family believed terrorists may have learned of Khalid Jaafar`s flight plans and planted the bomb in his suitcase. It added that Jaafar`s mother lives in Damascus and is a first-cousin of Syrian President Hafez Assad.

 The Washington Times never contacted Nazir Jaafar. He says he has no idea who the ``source close to the family`` might be.

 He also said he and his ex-wife have been divorced for 20 years, that she had little contact with their son and that she is not a relative of the Syrian president.

 Such thin evidence didn`t prevent other media from pouncing on the story. The Jaafars` house in Dearborn was suddenly surrounded by an army of reporters.

 When Nazir Jaafar left Lebanon in 1975, it was to escape that country`s tormented politics.

 As a lawyer and the only son of a prominent family, Jaafar was in line for a seat in Lebanon`s parliament. But when the civil war erupted, he decided to move to Scranton, Pa., where he set up an import-export business. He later would move to San Diego before settling in Dearborn two years ago.

 Jaafar owns a gas station in Dearborn, unusual for a lawyer perhaps, but not for Dearborn, where Lebanese emigres own virtually all the gas stations.

 Jaafar is a compact, sad-eyed man with a precise manner of speaking.

 ``When I took the oath to become a U.S. citizen, I believed in those words,`` he said. ``I love this country. I believe that what is good for this country is good for me, for my children and for my children`s future.``

 But with his son`s death, Jaafar`s American Dream has turned into a nightmare.

 Within a few days of The Washington Times story, the FBI said it had no information linking Jaafar`s son to the bomb, and that he was no more a suspect than anyone else on the passenger roster.

 On Jan. 3, 13 days after the crash, searchers found Khalid Jaafar`s hand luggage. It was undamaged, obviously not involved in the explosion.

 West German authorities already had concluded that Jaafar had one or two carry-on bags but did not check any luggage when he boarded the flight in Frankfurt.

 But the media`s suspicions wouldn`t go away.

 In mid-March, British newspapers reported that the attack was masterminded by a Libyan terrorist and that Jaafar unwittingly carried the bomb on board when the radio-cassette player was presented to him as a gift.

 It attributed its information to unnamed ``detectives.`` Cable News Network picked up the story for U.S. broadcast.

 Nazir Jaafar called authorities in Lockerbie to see whether the story was true. They told him it wasn`t.

 Jaafar said he then called CNN and pleaded with them to check with the authorities in Lockerbie.

 ``I begged them, but they said it was the weekend and they didn`t have anyone available to call,`` he said. Besides, he was told, nobody was accusing his son of doing anything deliberate.

 Jaafar, however, derives little comfort from the media`s definition of guilt and innocence.

 ``Imagine people looking at you and thinking your family is responsible for the deaths of so many people,`` he said. ``Unless my son`s name is cleared, we are condemned to live under this black cloud.``

 Khalid Jaafar was reared by his grandparents. He graduated from an elite private school in Beirut, and had vague ambitions of becoming an architect. His immediate interests, however, were cars and sports.

 Khalid liked having a good time. He was not interested in politics. His father and others in the Lebanese community in Dearborn find it difficult to imagine him becoming even tangentially involved with any of Lebanon`s violence-prone political crazies.

 Nor does Khalid seem the type who could be easily duped. In Lebanon, with its car bombs and kidnappings, suspicion is a natural reflex.

 Nazir Jaafar said he has spoken to the FBI several times in recent weeks, and that each time he has been assured there is no evidence linking his son to the bomb.

 ``Why does the government whisper these things in the ears of reporters and at the same time they are telling me there is no evidence against him?`` he asks.

 For a moment, the anger drained from his voice. ``If my son is linked somehow, please, show me,`` he pleads. ``As his father, I have to know.``