Lockerbie: time for us to reveal the true culprits

By David Wolchover, September 27, 2011

The Arab Spring may have heightened tensions between Egypt and Israel but, on the upside, it also achieved Colonel Gaddafi's overthrow. Strangely, this could actually benefit the Jewish state - but only if Libya takes the initiative.

With Gaddafi gone, the world could
recognise, finally, that the perpetrators of the Lockerbie bomb were not from the Libyan secret service, did not include the man who was ultimately convicted, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, and indeed had nothing to do with Libya. The world could learn that the culprits were the original suspects, a gang of Palestinian terrorists.

As it takes its first steps, the new Libyan leadership will likely want to remove the stigma of Libya's association with the atrocity of December 1988 and seek international acceptance of al-Megrahi's innocence. A democratic Libya could wield a good deal of clout if it applied the sort of economic and diplomatic pressures Gaddafi used to secure al-Megrahi's release on compassionate grounds to urging the Scottish and British governments to declare him innocent. And they may be pushing at an open door.

It is no conspiracy theory to claim that the case against al-Megrahi and Libya was manifestly absurd, or that the government knows that. Any study of the details of his trial, a decade ago at Camp van Zeist in Holland, will reveal that, unbelievable as it seems, the Scottish judges who convicted him and rejected his appeal made an utter hash of the evidence. Moreover, they actually missed a key piece of evidence which, alone, would have been enough to sink the prosecution.

The Scottish government say they "do not doubt the safety" of al-Megrahi's conviction, a statement which implies a rational consideration of the evidence. Yet they have stonewalled on revealing whether the cabinet ever actually deliberated on the issue.

They know they are on weak ground. A little prodding from a powerful, influential, oil-rich country looking to restock its armoury and they will admit the obvious.

The case against al-Megrahi was manifestly absurd

How do we know the true culprits were Palestinian terrorists? In July 1988, the battle cruiser USS Vincennes shot down IranAir flight 655 over the Straits of Hormuz. The Americans were steeled for a terrorist response and the Western intelligence community was tipped off, probably by Mossad, that a deal to carry out such an attack had been struck between Iran and Ahmed Jibril, leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, "General Command". This was a Syrian-based ultra-extremist splinter group of the PFLP, with an active cell in West Germany. The deal was that Iran would pay them a bounty to destroy an American civil airliner departing from a European airport.

As a result, the West German police set up the "Autumn Leaves" surveillance operation, whereby a CIA proxy double-agent named Marwen Khreesat, an expert bomb-maker from Jordan, was infiltrated into the cell. He built a number of similar improvised explosive devices (IEDs) one of which was virtually identical to that which brought down Pan Am flight 103 a mere two months later.

The device was removed from under his nose and delivered to the cell's airport security expert, Abu Elias. Khreesat tipped off his control in Jordan and the police immediately swooped, rounding up members of the cell and seizing a second device, also virtually identical to the Lockerbie bomb.

"Abu Elias was never seized and the missing IED was never recovered, two facts enough in themselves to prompt the strongest suspicion. Combined with other compelling circumstantial evidence they plainly connected the cell with the bombing."

This is not conspiracy theory. It is non-contentious stuff, most of it given in evidence at Camp Zeist. Yet the judges turned a blind eye to the obvious and based their decision on a series of weak findings. What the Scottish judges did not appreciate was the utter horror Khreesat's CIA controllers must have felt in the aftermath of the Lockerbie tragedy: that a bomb made by their proxy in pursuance of his cover on their behalf was almost certainly used to bring down the Pan Am jet.

Therein lies the clue to why attention was drawn away from Iran and the PFLP-GC and why Libya became the scapegoat. But Israel has no need to defer to the embarrassed sensibilities of a handful of long-retired CIA staffers. Nor need it wait for pressure to build up from the new Libyan leadership.

Benjamin Netanyahu's government might not want to be seen too openly pressing for al-Megrahi's vindication and the corresponding condemnation of Palestinian extremists. Yet behind the scenes they ought to be attempting to secure that outcome. It can do Israel no harm for the world to learn that her enemies were paid $4.5 million to murder 11 residents of Lockerbie, and 259 innocent passengers, of all religions.

David Wolchover is a barrister. He recently analysed the trial evidence in a series of articles in Criminal Law and Justice Weekly, vol. 175

Last updated: 11:23am, September 27 2011