Lockerbie bombing: has the truth finally been revealed?
Former Iranian intelligence officer claims Iran was behind the Pan Am Flight 103 disaster, not Libya
IRAN, not Libya, was behind the Lockerbie bombing that killed 270 people, according to a former Iranian intelligence officer. Abolghassem Mesbahi, a defector to Germany, said Pan Am flight 103 was downed in retaliation for a US Navy strike on an Iranian commercial jet six months earlier. The new evidence – uncovered by an Al Jazeera television documentary, Lockerbie: What Really Happened? – suggests that Britain and the US covered up the truth about Lockerbie.
On 21 December 1988, Pan Am flight 103 blew up in the sky over Lockerbie, in south-western Scotland, after a bomb concealed in a suitcase exploded, killing all 259 people on the plane, as well as 11 residents in the town. In January 2001, Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, head of security with Libyan Arab Airlines, was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. His conviction was based on the theory that Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi personally ordered the terrorist attack in retaliation for the 1986 US bombing of Tripoli and Benghazi, in which his daughter was killed. In August 2009, Megrahi was released on compassionate grounds by the Scottish government and died in Libya three years later.
Have doubts been raised before?
Megrahi protested his innocence until his death and others have claimed he was the victim of a miscarriage of justice, including many of the victims' families who believe the truth has been withheld. Although Gaddafi admitted responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing in 2003, his son Saif Al Islam has repeatedly said that the admission was merely a political move to persuade the West to lift crippling sanctions and pave the way for lucrative oil deals.
What is the new evidence?
Abolghassem Mesbahi has told Al Jazeera that the Lockerbie bombing was ordered by Iran and carried out by a Syrian-based terrorist group. Previously unseen evidence gathered for Megrahi's appeal hearing, abandoned after he was released from prison, supports Mesbahi's claim. It suggests the bombers belonged to the extremist group the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC). A former CIA agent also told the documentary that the CIA and the National Security Agency had originally believed the PFLP-GC had carried out the bombing, sponsored by Iran. However, he said the investigation suddenly switched its focus to Libya following a telephone call between President George H W Bush and Lady Thatcher in March 1989. The documentary suggest this might have been because the US did not want to antagonise Syria, which joined forces with the US and Britain to fight Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War.
Who carried out the attack? The documentary claims Ahmed Jibril, the Syrian head of the PFLP-GC, was the mastermind of the attack. It also names a Palestinian, Hafez Dalkamoni, and Jordanian bomb-maker, Marwan Khreesat, who were both arrested by German police months before the Lockerbie bombing. Four bombs, including one that was almost identical to the Lockerbie bomb, were recovered at the time. Police were convinced they had made a fifth bomb, which Al Jazeera claims was the one used to bring down Pan Am 103. A fourth alleged conspirator was named as Abu Talb, who possibly put the bomb on board the Boeing 747.
What are the implications 26 years on?
The evidence casts new doubt on the conviction of Megrahi, but also adds weight to the suggestion that Britain and the US covered up the truth about the bombing, reports the Daily Telegraph. Some of the Lockerbie victims' families are now planning to launch a further appeal against the conviction of Megrahi with the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission. They say Megrahi's conviction is "the tool which the authorities use to block our attempts find out the truth about who killed our loved ones". The US State Department says it wants "all those responsible for this most brutal act of terrorism brought to justice", while the UK Foreign Office notes that the police investigation remains open because Scottish police and prosecutors "have always made it clear that they believe Mr Megrahi did not act alone". The Iranian government has declined to comment, but has previously denied involvement in Lockerbie.