|On 21 December 1988,
Pan Am Flight 103 was blown out of the sky over Lockerbie. 270
people died, making it the country’s worst mass murder.
In January 2001 Libyan Abdel Basset Ali Al-Megrahi was found
guilty of the murders, while his colleague Lamen Khalifa Fhima
was acquitted. Finally the case seemed solved. But was it?
Cover-up of Convenience by John Ashton and Ian Ferguson 
shows that the ‘Trial of the Century’ saw the wrong
people in the dock and an innocent man convicted. Worse still,
the eleven-year investigation failed to net the real bombers
and side-stepped awkward evidence that the intelligence services
failed to act on clear warnings of the attack.
The case against supposedly proven at the recent trial was that
on 21st December 1988 Abdel Basset Ali Al Megrahi placed a bomb
in a suitcase, which was loaded, unaccompanied, onto Air Malta
Flight KM 180 from Malta to Frankfurt, where it was transferred
to Pan Am Flight 103. The bomb was fitted with a distinctive
timing device known as the MST-13, a batch of which had been
supplied to the Libyan intelligence service by Swiss firm Mebo.
The company’s Zurich offices were shared by Libyan firm
ABH, in which Megrahi was involved. He was also alleged to have
bought the assortment of clothes that were in the bomb suitcase
from the Mary’s House shop in Malta on 7th December 1988.
At first glance the evidence that convicted him is compelling.
A fragment of circuit board from an MST-13 timer was found amid
the crash debris; the Mary's House shopkeeper Tony Gauci seemed
to identify him as the clothes purchaser; documents from Frankfurt
airport appeared to show that an unaccompanied bag was transferred
from Flight KM 180 to Pan Am 103; and the night before the bombing
he stayed at the Holiday Inn in Malta under a false name and
flew back to Tripoli the following morning.
What of the evidence that the bomb was loaded onto Flight KM
180 at Luqa airport in Malta? As the judges in the Lockerbie
trial acknowledged, there was none. Indeed, they noted that
Air Malta's rigorous security procedures appeared ‘on
the face of them . . . to make it extremely difficult for an
unaccompanied and unidentified bag to be shipped on a flight
out of Luqa’ and that this constituted ‘a major
difficulty for the Crown case.’ In justifying their guilty
verdict, the judges instead relied on the documents from Frankfurt
airport despite the fact that the documents proved nothing and
were highly unreliable.
As for the MST-13 timing device, the judges noted that the witnesses
from the Swiss company Mebo were also ‘unreliable,’
in particular Edwin Bollier, who had been responsible for delivering
the timers to Libya. Nevertheless, the judges accepted certain
uncorroborated elements of Bollier’s evidence helpful
to the prosecution. There was evidence that he had supplied
identical timers to the East German Stasi, which had close ties
to Palestinian groups, including the original prime suspects
in the bombing, the radical Palestinian group, the Popular Front
for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC,)
but the judges chose to accept, without proof, that the bomb
incorporated one of the Libyan timers.
The most remarkable section of the judgment concerned the evidence
of the shopkeeper Gauci. According to the prosecution he had
witnessed Megrahi buy the clothes for the bomb suitcase on Wednesday
December 7th 1988, but, while it was true that the could recall
a customer buying a mixture of clothes, he was unable to positively
identify either Megrahi or the date in question. Indeed, all
the evidence suggested that the clothes had been bought by a
different person two weeks earlier on November 23rd. Gauci recalled
that the customer was around 6 ft tall and about 50 years old,
whereas Megrahi is only 5 ft 8 in. and was, at the time, only
36 years old. The judges noted that there were ‘undoubtedly
problems’ with Gauci’s identification but nevertheless
accepted it as reliable and that the date in question was 7
Many legal experts were astonished by the way the judges repeatedly
made up for the deficiencies in the Prosecution case with their
own speculation. Trial observer Professor Hans Kochler, who
was nominated by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan,
concluded: ‘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
So, if the two Libyans are innocent, what really happened? Cover-up
of Convenience suggests the bombing was commissioned by Iran
and carried out by the Syrian-based Popular Front for the Liberation
of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC) with Hizbullah.
The Western intelligence services, in particular the CIA, have
admitted that Iran hired the PFLP-GC to avenge the accidental
shoot-down of Iran Air 655 over the Persian Gulf six months
before Lockerbie by the US battle cruiser the Vincennes. Jibril
despatched his right hand man, Hafez Dalkamoni and bomb maker,
Marwan Khreesat to West Germany, where Khreesat manufactured
at least five barometric bombs designed to blow up aircraft,
at least two of which were built into Toshiba radio-cassette
players. Six weeks before Lockerbie the West German Federal
Police, the BKA launched a massive raid against the PFLP-GC
gang, code-named ‘Autumn Leaves.’ Dalkamoni and
Khreesat were caught red-handed with one of the Toshiba bombs,
but the other bombs evaded detection and the second Toshiba
bomb was never recovered.
The book also rejects the claim that the bomb was despatched
from Malta in an unaccompanied suitcase. Although the exact
means by which it reached Flight 103 remain unclear, a variety
of Middle East and Western intelligence sources have claimed
it was either substituted for, or added to, luggage belonging
to a 20-year-old Lebanese American passenger Khalid Jaafar who
boarded in Frankfurt. These sources claim was being used as
a mule in a Middle East heroin trafficking operation run by
people with terrorist connections. There is also compelling
circumstantial evidence that the bomb was introduced at Heathrow.
According to the official version’ the Autumn Leaves raids
put a halt to the Iranian revenge mission, but other evidence
suggested it did not. Five weeks later US intelligence warned
of the continuing threat of an Iranian reprisal and noted that
some Middle Eastern terrorist groups active in Germany had the
infrastructure to conduct bombings. And at around the same time,
the State Department’s Office of Diplomatic Security received
a specific warning that radical Palestinians were planning to
attack a Pan Am target in Europe.
So who took over from Dalkamoni and Khreesat? Cover-up of Convenience
suggests the Autumn Leaves raids were only a hiccup in the Iranian
plot and that others took over the German operation where the
two men had left off.
Why the cover-up? The most obvious reason is that the American
Government and its close ally in London did not wish to antagonise
Iran and the PFLP-GC’s host and main sponsor Syria. The
administration of the then President, George Bush Snr, like
that of his predecessor Ronald Reagan, was highly sensitive
to the fate of US hostages in Lebanon, all of whom were held
by Syrian and Iranian controlled groups. So in the months of
the bombing, despite many leaks from Western intelligence that
Iran and the PFLP-GC was to blame, no action was forthcoming.
Following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 Syria
became an ally in the anti-Saddam coalition and behind the scenes
an intense diplomatic effort was made to ensure Iran’s
neutrality. Within months leaks from the official investigation
suggested the original theory of the bombing was wrong and that
the real culprits lay in Libya. Once the dust had settled over
the Gulf War battlefields, indictments were issued against Megrahi
and his colleague Lamin Khalifa Fhimah and the Iran, Syria and
the PFLP-GC were officially exonerated. Four days later the
last Western hostages were released from Lebanon.
As for the denial of the Jaafar/drugs connection, intelligence
sources have maintained that he was reporting back to US Central
Intelligence Agency and that the drug trafficking operation
took place with the Agency’s blessing. Since the heroin
suitcases by-passed the normal security procedures, it provided
the bombers with a failsafe means of getting the bomb on the
This scenario probably accounts for why American agents were
on scene within two hours of the bombing and why large quantities
of drugs found among the debris were officially denied. The
Americans were especially keen to recover baggage belonging
to Major Charles McKee, a military intelligence specialist who
was returning from an aborted hostage rescue mission in the
Lebanon. According to some of McKee’s former colleagues,
he was about to blow the whistle on the drug trafficking operation,
which he believed compromised his own team’s efforts.
Of course the American and British Governments can never admit
that dirty politics took precedence over justice. Only by insisting
on the guilt of the unfortunate Megrahi can they keep the lid
on the scandal of Flight 103.
Published by Mainstream, Edinburgh, 2001.