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The Lockerbie Bombing Trial: Is Libya Being
by Gary C. Gambill
Sunday Herald reported last week that the U.S. government placed a gag
order on a former CIA agent to prevent him from testifying in the trial of two
Libyans accused of carrying out the December 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103
over Lockerbie, Scotland that killed 270 people.
|The wreckage from
Pan Am Flight 103 (Greg
Dr. Richard Fuisz, a wealthy businessman
and pharmaceutical researcher who was a major CIA operative in Damascus during
the 1980s, told a congressional staffer in 1994 that the perpetrators of the
bombing were based in Syria. "If the government would let me, I could identify
the men behind this attack . . . I can tell you their home addresses . . . you
won't find [them] anywhere in Libya. You will only find [them] in Damascus,"
Fuisz told congressional aide Susan Lindauer, who has submitted a sworn
affidavit describing this conversation to the Scottish court that is trying the
One month after
their meeting, a Washington DC court issued a ruling that prohibits Fuisz from
discussing the Lockerbie bombing on national security grounds. When a reporter
called Fuisz last month with questions about Lindauer's affidavit, he replied:
"That is not an issue I can confirm or deny. I am not allowed to speak about
these issues. In fact, I can't even explain to you why I can't speak about these
issues." The report quoted a senior UN official who has seen the affidavit as
saying that "in the interests of natural justice, Dr. Fuisz should be released
from any order which prevents him telling what he knows of the PanAm
The investigation into the bombing by
Scottish police and the FBI initially focused exclusively on evidence linking
the blast to the Damascus-based Popular Front for the Liberation of
Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), a radical Palestinian group closely allied
with Syrian President Hafez Assad and other senior officials. However, the
investigation suddenly changed courses after Syria joined the U.S.-led coalition
against Iraq in 1991 and Iran stayed neutral. In November of that year, U.S.
investigators issued indictments against two alleged Libyan intelligence agents
and President George Bush declared that Syria had taken a "bum rap" on
Fuisz is not the first
to run afoul of the U.S. government for speaking about Syrian and Iranian
complicity in the Lockerbie bombing. Juval Aviv, the president of Interfor, a
New York corporate investigative company hired by Pan Am to conduct an inquiry
into the bombing, was indicted for mail fraud after Interfor announced its
conclusion that the PFLP-GC had been responsible.2 A former agent for the Defense Intelligence Agency
(DIA), Lester Coleman, was charged by the FBI with "falsely procuring a
passport" while he was researching a book entitled Trail of the Octopus
which fingered the PFLP-GC (Coleman left the country and published the book in
Britain).3 William Casey, a lobbyist who
made similar claims about PFLP-GC involvement, said in 1995 that the U.S.
Justice Department had frozen his bank accounts and federal agents scoured
through his garbage cans.4
Case Against Libya
prosecution's claim is that two Libyan intelligence agents, Al-Amin Khalifa
Fhimah and Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, planted Semtex plastic explosives inside
a Toshiba radio-cassette recorder in an unaccompanied suitcase on a flight from
Malta to Frankfurt, where it was transferred onto Pan Am flight 103, bound for
New York via London's Heathrow airport.
|A courtroom sketch
of Abdel Basset Al-Megrahi (center), and Al-Amin Khalifa Fahima (right)
during the trial proceedings on May 5. (Fred
The first important chain of evidence
links the bomb-laden suitcase on Flight 103 to Air Malta Flight KT180. Fragments
of the Toshiba radio-cassette recorder were found inside a brown Samsonite
suitcase, the only piece of luggage on the Flight 103 that was not checked by a
passenger. The suitcase had entered the baggage system at Frankfurt at the same
time and location as the Air Malta flight was unloading. According to
prosecutors, a tattered shirt with a Maltese label containing fragments of the
timing device was found by a Scottish man walking his dog 18 months after the
explosion (fabric samples from the shirt were said to indicate that it was
inside the brown suitcase).
However, Air Malta's computer records show no indication that a brown
Samsonite suitcase was on board Flight KT180, and the notion that an old man
walking his dog would stumble across a key piece of evidence a year and a half
after the explosion is a bit far-fetched. Moreover, according to a forensic
report which the defense will present during the trial, a bomb in a suitcase
stored in the aluminum luggage containers could not have created the dinner
plate-sized hole in the fuselage that brought down the plane--the bomb would
have had to be directly next to the plane's fuselage. If this true, then the
prosecution's entire explanation of how the bomb arrived on the aircraft in
Malta falls apart.
A second chain
of evidence links the two Libyan suspects to Malta. Detectives traced the
charred remains of clothing tattered shirt to a clothing shop in Sliema, Malta,
whose owner, Tony Gauci, said that he recalled selling the clothes to a tall
Arab male, about 50 years old, in the fall of 1988. Investigators say he later
identified the man who bought the clothes as Megrahi. However, Megrahi was only
36 at the time, and Gauci greatly overestimated his height. Moreover, a member
of the PFLP-GC, Muhammed Abu Talb, was originally identified as the man who
bought the clothes during the early stages of the investigation.5
third primary piece of evidence said to implicate Libya are two fragments of an
electronic circuit board from the the timing device that detonated the
explosives on board the airliner. Investigators traced the fragments to a Swiss
company which manufactures electronic timers, Mebo Telecommunications. The head
of Mebo Communications, Edwin Bollier, told investigators that the fragments
came from an MST-13 timer he had sold to the Libyan government. However, Bollier
recently said he had made the identification solely from looking at photographs
of the fragments. When he was shown one of the actual fragments in September
1999, he concluded that "the fragment does not come from one of the timers we
sold to Libya." Bollier says that it appears to come from one of the three
prototypes built by his company--two of which were sold to the Institute of
Technical Research in East Germany (a front for the Stasi intelligence service),
while the third was stolen. He intends to testify to this at the trial, as will
Owen Lewis, a British forensic expert.6
fourth important piece of evidence is the testimony of a former Libyan
intelligence officer who will identify the two suspects as members of Libya's
intelligence service. While details of what he told investigators are scarce,
sources close to the defense have said that it is highly questionable.
A number of irregularities in the
investigation also detract from the plausibility of the prosecution's claims.
The American FBI agent who was instrumental in pushing the Libya hypothesis, J.
Thomas Thurman, was later suspended for manipulating evidence to favor the
prosecution in subsequent cases.7
The Case Against Syria/Iran
The primary hypothesis guiding the
investigation for the first year was that the bombing was perpetrated by the
Syria-based PFLP-GC, presumably acting on behalf of Iran. Ayatollah Ruhollah
Khomeini had vowed to retaliate for the U.S. Navy's July 1988 downing of an
Iranian airliner over the Persian Gulf, saying that the skies would "rain blood"
and offering a $10 million reward to anyone who "obtained justice" for Iran.
Ayatollah Ali Akbar Mohtashemi, Teheran's envoy in Damascus in 1988, was
believed to have recruited the financially-strapped group for the task.
Two months before the disaster, German
police arrested 15 terrorist suspects, all connected to the PFLP-GC, and
confiscated three explosive devices consisting of Semtex hidden inside Toshiba
cassette recorders--nearly identical to the one used in the Lockerbie bombing (
the only major difference being that they had barometric triggers, rather than
electronic timers of the type that investigators claim detonated the explosives
on board Pan Am flight 103). Moreover, U.S. officials reportedly had received
advance warnings that a flight to New York would be targeted around the time of
the Lockerbie bombing. In fact, Stephen Green, a senior Drug Enforcement Agency
(DEA) administrator, John McCarthy, the U.S. Ambassador to Beirut, and several
other U.S. officials were originally scheduled to fly on the ill-fated airliner
on December 21, but rescheduled at the last minute.
It's possible that the PFLP smuggled the
bomb on board Pan Am flight 103 from Malta. Abu Talb was sighted in Malta just
weeks before the bombing. When he was later arrested in Sweden, police found the
date of the Lockerbie explosion (December 21) circled on his calender.8
and most other evidence linking the Lockerbie bombing to the PFLP-GC is largely
circumstantial and difficult to substantiate, if only because the results of the
FBI's early investigation into its involvement were not made public. The
question is: Given the weaknesses in the case against Libya, why was the
investigation into PFLP-GC involvement suspended and should it be reactivated if
the two Libyan defendants are acquitted?
1 The Sunday Herald
(Glasgow, Scotland), 28 May 2000.© 2000 Middle East Intelligence
Bulletin. All rights reserved.
Guardian (London) July 29, 1995.
4 IPS Newsire, 3 May
5 The Daily Telegraph (London), 22
6 The Independent (London), 14
7 The Daily Telegraph (London),
22 December 1998.
8 AP Newswire, 29 April 2000.