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Chapter 13:

Suddenly Libya was solely to blame.

Along with other newspapers, the New York Times had signalled the change of tack a year earlier, on 10 October 1990, shortly before President George Bush met President Hafez Assad to discuss Syria's contribution to the mu]tinational task force confronting Saddam Hussein in the Gulf.

New evidence, it reported, indicated that Libyan intelligence agents may have assembled and planted the bomb that destroyed Pan Am Flight 103.

The 'new evidence' had been previously described by the French news magazine L'Express on 28 September. A fragment of plastic circuit board found at Lockerbie was said to be identical with the circuit boards used in timing devices seized with a quantity of explosives from two Libyans at Dakar airport in February 1988. Further inquiries, by the CIA, had established that these digital electric timers were prototypes, unique to Meister et Bollier of Zurich, who had made 20 of them for a Libyan intelligence organization in 1985.

'State Department officials were unavailable for comment,' the New York Times reported, thereby hinting at the source of the leak, but if the story had been aired as a trial balloon, it failed to lift off.

The Independent, in London, obliged with another blast of hot air. On 14 December, a week before the second anniversary of the disaster, it ran a six-column headline: 'Jet Bomb May Have Been Gadafi's Revenge.' Elsewhere in the paper, a seven-column headline, in even bigger type, stated, 'Libya Blamed for Lockerbie,' under the legend: 'Gulf crisis inhibits American action despite "conclusive proof" of bomb fragment's source.'

Under the first heading, the paper printed the text of a fax sent to Tripoli two months after the disaster by the head of the Libyan interests section at the Saudi Arabian Embassy in London claiming the bombing as a victory for Libya.

'The dispatch of the fax appears to have been disregarded at the time by the team of detectives investigating the bombing,' declared the Independent, concluding, unwarily, that 'after two years of pursuing members of Jebril's West German cell, and their associates across Europe, Scandinavia and the Mediterranean, it appears that these men were not responsible for planting the bomb.'

Further proof of Gaddafi's guilt, in the paper's view, was the mysterious Libyan who had bought the clothes wrapped around the bomb from a boutique in Malta less than a month before the tragedy. Quoting from the L 'Express story, the Independent described him as 'an associate of one of two Libyan secret agents picked up in Senegal in February 1988, in possession of a trigger device identical to the one recovered from the Lockerbie wreckage'.

Under the Independent's second major headline, this overstatement was partially corrected by reference to 'a detonator fragment' found at Lockerbie, but even so, this 'proof' that 'Libya was behind the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie' was described as 'conclusive' by the 'high-level sources' who had inspired the story.

To avoid 'alienating the Arab members of the Gulf alliance,' the paper went on, 'no indictments have yet been issued against the prime suspects, and the force of Scottish detectives in charge of the criminal investigation into the bombing has not formally been given the new evidence by other elements of the international inquiry team, which includes the FBI, CIA and German and British intelligence [authors italics].' (The 'new evidence' was greeted with derision in some quarters when it became known that the L 'Express story had originated over lunch with a senior official from the American Embassy in Paris. Suspicions of a CIA 'plant' deepened further when word leaked out that the matching of the Lockerbie circuit board fragment with the timers seized in Dakar was based on little more than a photographic comparison.)

A Libyan connection had, in any case, been assumed from the start, by Lester Coleman as well as most other experts aware of Libya's role as supplier of arms and explosives to terrorist factions around the world. In fact, the only genuinely new element in the Lockerbie investigation was Iraq's annexation of Kuwait on 2 August 1990, and the requirement this imposed upon the American intelligence community to put an acceptable face on Washington's alliance with Syria and its desired rapprochement with Iran.

With those two off the target list, the only available scapegoat was Muammar Gaddafi, always seen as a likely accessory before, during and after the fact of the Flight 103 atrocity, but never - until December 1990 - seriously proposed as the prime mover. From then onwards, all the 'evidence' offered as 'proof' that Libya was responsible for the mass murder at Lockerbie would come, not from the Scottish police or forensic scientists, but from the FBI and the CIA - and they had to work hard.

Even after the Independent's uncritical puff for what it had learned from 'high-level sources', America's trial balloon was slow to take off. Two days later, Julie Flint in The Observer, shot it down.

'British and American experts believe that Libya's involvement in the Lockerbie disaster was only tangential,' she wrote. 'Despite last week's banner headlines claiming Libya "was to blame" for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 two years ago this week, it is still thought the outrage was almost certainly ordered from Iran and planned from Syria.'

Citing Paul Wilkinson, professor of international relations at St Andrew's University and head of the Research Foundation for the Study of Terrorism, as a leading proponent of this view, she reported that he had known about the timer match for almost a year. As for the fax claiming the bombing as a victory for Libya,

... Professor Wilkinson said it was not 'disregarded' - as the Independent claimed on Friday - but 'given a low rating because it was such a piece of opportunist propaganda '.

'There is something suspicious about wanting to shift the entire focus to Libya when we have so much circumstantial evidence for the involvement of Iran, Syria, and the GC group, Ahmad Jibril's Damascus-based Popular front for the Liberation of Palestine  General Command [he said].

'A lot of fine forensic work will not be revealed until charges are brought to court, but the investigators have a pretty good idea about the sources of the case. There is also a pretty conclusive picture that here was a group - the GC - intent on bombing an American airliner.

 'The truth is probably that there was an unholy alliance,' says Professor Wilkinson. 'Groups such as the GC have often been assisted by sympathetic groups, and it is not necessarily the case that the whole construction of the bomb was Libyan and that Libya was responsible for designing it.'

'Supporting this theory,' Julie Flint concluded, 'is the fact that the Libyans arrested at Dakar were not carrying a radio-cassette bomb, as the Independent claimed, but component parts - ten detonators, 21 pounds of Semtex and several packets of TNT. Intelligence sources also say the CIA has evidence that Jibril designed much of the Lockerbie bomb.'

If so, the CIA was not about to admit it. With its trial balloon grounded again, the next attempt to patch it up came from Vincent Cannistraro, who claimed to have been in charge of the CIA's contribution to the Flight 103 investigation until his retirement in September 1990.

Having refurbished two bits of year-old evidence to support the new Libyan thesis, he now weighed in with a two-year-old intelligence report about a meeting in Tripoli before the bombing -in mid-November 1988 at which the Libyans were said to have taken over responsibility for the attack from the PFLP-GC after Jibril's West German cell was broken up.

According to Cannistraro, the report had been dismissed as unreliable at the time but now, in the light of the 'proven' Libyan connection, was the missing link that placed the blame squarely on Gaddafi.

He did not explain why the CIA had waited until December 1990, to draw this conclusion when the 'proof' had been available for at least a year, nor did he explain why no advance warning based on this report, reliable or not, had been passed down the line to those responsible for airline security. The so-called Helsinki warning, also dismissed as unreliable (and apparently for better reason), had at least saved the  lives of those who would otherwise have occupied the vacant seats on Flight 103.

And possibly it was just a coincidence that Cannistraro's revelations, fully in keeping with the CIA's tradition of conducting America's secret business in public, were made at about the same time that his former colleagues in the Drug Enforcement Administration set out to discredit Lester Coleman as an obstacle to general acceptance of the Libyan/ Air Malta explanation of the Lockerbie disaster.

On 21 December 1990, Steven Emerson appeared on Cable News Network and in a broadcast received in 151 countries described Coleman as a disgruntled former DEA informant responsible for recent allegations in the media that the DEA was somehow involved in the bombing of Flight 103.

And possibly it was also significant that after the Royal Arm;1ment Research and Development Establishment (RARDE) forensic team had identified the tiny fragment of micro-circuitry as part of the bomb's triggering mechanism, it was not the Scottish police who discovered the source of the murder weapon but the CIA 's intelligence analysts. It was Cannistraro and his colleagues who pointed them towards Dakar and the timers seized from two Libyan intelligence agents.

It was Cannistraro and his colleagues who also identified the mysterious Libyan who bought the clothes in Malta to wrap around the bomb, based on a photofit picture produced by the FBI from the shopkeeper's phenomenally detailed description of his customer ten months after he saw him for the first and only time.

It was Cannistraro and his colleagues who also identified this man as an accomplice of the two Libyans arrested at Dakar (and subsequently released) who took over from Ahmed Jibril after he asked for Gaddafi's help.

And it was Cannistraro's CIA colleagues who, with the FBI, eventually identified two other Libyans who were later indicted for the bombing by an American grand jury.

But that was a year later. In December 1990, nobody was much impressed by America's trial balloon for there were serious problems of credibility with the Libyan theory.

All the forensic evidence showed in support of the theory was that the timer used in the Lockerbie bomb appeared to be identical with a batch sold to the Libyans three years before the bombing, and that the clothing wrapped around the bomb came from Malta, which had close links with Libya.

Forensic science had no answer to the question of what happened to the timer after it was supplied to the Libyans by the Swiss, any more than it could say with certainty what happened to the Semtex plastic explosive after that was supplied to the Libyans by the Czechs. Both could have passed through any number of hands before being finally installed in the Toshiba radio-cassette player used to house the Lockerbie bomb.

The same was true of the clothing around the bomb and the Samsonite suitcase that contained the device.

Given Libya's established role as quartermaster to the world's terrorists, the forensic evidence alone could -and did -point as readily to the PFLP-GC as to the Libyans themselves. It identified the components of the bomb -not who made it or how it was put aboard Flight 103.

As accessories, the Libyans who supplied those components were as guilty as hell, as guilty morally and legally as anyone directly involved in commissioning or committing mass murder. But there was nothing in the available forensic evidence to prove that Libya was the sole author of the atrocity or even among the prime movers.

Beyond that, the official Libyan theory rested mainly on the proposition that the suitcase containing the bomb had been sent unaccompanied on an Air Malta flight to Frankfurt, where, undetected by Pan Am's inadequate security arrangements, it was loaded on to a feeder flight to London and then transferred to a third aircraft for the New York leg of the journey.

Apart from the inherent improbability that trained intelligence agents would simply add an armed suitcase bomb tagged for New York-JFK to a pile of international luggage waiting to be loaded in Luqa and then trust to luck that, unescorted, the bomb would get through the baggage-handling and security arrangements of two other major airports and be loaded aboard the target aircraft before the timer triggered an explosion, there remained the problem with the provenance and reliability of the Frankfurt baggage-list that was said to have identified the suitcase in the first place'.

Apart from the inherent improbability that the Lockerbie investigators never thought to ask for it, that it was left to a clerk to print out a copy on her own initiative before the computer wiped the record, only to return weeks later from holiday to find that still no one  ad asked for it, and that the BKA, after being given the list, sat on it for months before passing it along to the Scottish police, there remained the problem of the FBI teletype which left open the possibility that no such b~1g from Malta was ever loaded on Flight 103.

According to this five-page document, sent from the US Embassy in Bonn to the fBI director on 23 October 1989, 'From the information available from the Frankfurt airport records, there is no concrete indication that any piece of baggage was unloaded from Air Malta 180, sent through the luggage routing system at Frankfurt airport and then loaded on board Pan Am 103.'

The baggage computer entry 'does not indicate the origin of the bag which was sent for loading on board Pan Am 103. Nor does it indicate that the bag was actually loaded on Pan Am 103. It indicates only that a bag of unknown origin was sent from Coding Station 206 at 1 :07 p.m. to a position from which it was supposed to be loaded on Pan Am 103.'

The handwritten record kept at Coding Station 206 was no more explicit. According to the teletype, 'the handwritten duty sheet indicates only that the luggage was unloaded from Air Malta 180. There is no indication how much baggage was unloaded or where the luggage was sent.' On the agent's reading of the evidence, 'there remains the possibility that no luggage was transferred from Air Malta 180 to Pan Am 103 and that a piece of luggage was simply introduced at Coding Station 206 [author's italics].'

The teletype also disclosed that, on a guided tour of the baggage area in September 1989, Detective Inspector Watson McAteer and FBI Special Agent Lawrence G. Whitaker had actually seen this happen. They had 'observed an individual approach Coding Station 206 with a single piece of luggage, place the luggage in a luggage container, encode a destination into the computer and leave without making any notation on a duty sheet'. From this they concluded that a rogue suitcase could have been 'sent to Pan Am 103 either before or after the unloading of Air Malta 180'.

Although one government-inspired commentator tried later to dismiss the FBI teletype as 'an early memo ... that sketched one possible scenario, as of October 1989', and which subsequent everlts had rendered 'irrelevant' and 'pointless', it was less easy to reject the categorical denials by Air Malta, the airport staff at Luqa, the Maltese police and the Maltese government that any unaccompanied bag had been sent to Frankfurt on 21 December 1988, or, indeed, that any Maltese connection with the Lockerbie bombing had been established at all, other than that the clothing in the suitcase bomb had apparently originated on the island.

There was a question also about the device itself. In the official view, the use of the Swiss timer pointed clearly to Libya, not only because it had been supplied to its security agency in the first place, but because the PFLP-GC favoured a barometric-pressure triggering system for its Toshiba bombs.

Thomas Hayes, however, the forensic expert responsible for identifying the tiny piece of Swiss circuit board, was not prepared to commit himself on this point. In his book, On the Trail of Terror, David Leppard wrote later that, privately, Hayes believed the Lockerbie bomb had been a dual device, triggered by a barometric switch and then running on a timer, but that not enough of it had been recovered to be sure.

The possibility that Khreesat or Abu Elias or some other PFLP-GC bombmaker had incorporated a Libyan timer as well as Libyan Semtex into the Lockerbie bomb remained open, therefore - with the balance of probability tilted towards Jibril's group rather than the Libyans in view of its previous use of Toshiba radios as bomb housings.

But by now, the whole Lockerbie investigation was dogged by a sense of futility felt nowhere more keenly than at the Scottish Fatal Accident Inquiry which, just before Christmas 1990, recessed for a month after hearing 150 witnesses in 46 days.

Ian Bell wrote in the Observer:

Before it adjourned, it heard former Pan Am employees accuse the airline of refusing to pay for adequate security measures. Disgraceful, if true; but almost irrelevant. Pan Am did not kill its own passengers. The inquiry is unlikely to tell us who did ...

Only a handful of reporters now cover the inquiry, and their stories slip day by day down the news schedules, overtaken by fresh nightmares and by disasters which are simpler, easier to comprehend. The iron laws of the press have prevailed. Predictably, the international media circus, with its Olympian disdain for the parochial, has long since moved on.

The words and images of 1988 are stored in the cuttings libraries and video vaults, sinking into history. The big world of geopolitics, where the truth about Lockerbie probably lies, demands the presence of the troupe elsewhere.  For all we know, the political masters of those who destroyed Flight 103 are now our allies in the Gulf crisis.  For all we know, they may have been our allies two years ago ... The only important fact to have emerged from the inquiry is that those who know the truth will never willingly give evidence ...

As the months have passed, it has become clear that something like a campaign of disinformation has been 'waged, for reasons which can still only be guessed at. With only the single, terrible fact of 21 December known for certain, journalists have scavenged and speculated. Some have been used. Hence the sense of futility haunting the Lockerbie inquiry.

Nothing said there, one feels, will approach the truth about Flight 103. The Scottish legal system, for all its solemnity, has neither the strength nor the resources to solve the puzzle.

Neither had the House Government Operations sub-committee in Washington which, a few days before Coleman was publicly denounced in a CNN broadcast, opened hearings into allegations that the DEA was involved in the fate of Flight 103.

On 18 December, Stephen H. Greene, assistant administrator of the operations division of the DEA, described at some length how a 'controlled delivery' worked and agreed that the DEA often used the technique. But he strenuously denied that anything of the sort had been going on anywhere in Europe around the time of the Lockerbie disaster .

Under pressure from Congress and the media, he said, the agency had reviewed its files and questioned its agents overseas to see if there was any basis in fact for the NBC and ABC newscasts and other media reports asserting that Khalid NazirJafaar had been involved in a DEA operation known as Corea or Courier.

The result, according to the DEA spokesman's sworn testimony, was a classified 350-page report, reviewed and confirmed by its sister agency, the FBI, showing that Jafaar had never been used as an informant or subsource and that no DEA agent or office had ever had any contact with him. Jafaar's two pieces of luggage had been identified by the Lockerbie investigators and neither showed any sign of explosives or drugs. Nor had there ever been a DEA operation or unit called Corea, or anything similar to that name. According to Greene, there had been three controlled deliveries through Frankfurt between 1983 and 1987, none involving Pan Am nights, and none after that.

This blanket denial might have been more persuasive if the report, or the files on which it was based, had been made available for inspection by some suitably qualified independent investigator, but the subcommittee fared no better in this respect than had counsel for Pan Am. Accused of hen-stealing, fox and vixen had once again insisted on going back to their lair alone to look for feathers.

If anything, suspicions of a cover-up were reinforced by the DEA's determination to act as counsel, judge and jury in its own cause, and nobody was much surprised when, three days before the deadline imposed by the Federal Tort Claims Act, Pan Am obtained leave from the United States District Court, Eastern Division of New York, to file a third-party liability claim against the US government in connection with the crash of Flight 103.

In an update of the story on the second anniversary of the disaster, Barron's, the American business magazine, quoted Vincent Cannistraro's dismissal of Juval Aviv's Interfor Report as 'absolute nonsense', and the more recent NBC and ABC newscasts that shared some of its conclusions as 'total rubbish and fabrication'.

Victor Marchetti, however, another CIA veteran, strongly disagreed. Formerly executive assistant to the deputy director under Richard Helms, Marchetti told Barron's he had always thought that 'the essence of the Interfor report was true ... I'm not concerned about a detail here or there that may be wrong'. With Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and the enlistment of Syria in the alliance opposing Saddam Hussein, 'the cover-up is now more true than ever. Which is why the lid is really on.'

A Middle Eastern intelligence analyst, who asked for his name to be withheld as he was employed by another agency, was even more emphatic.

'Juval Aviv is a very astute investigator who has come up with some very plausible explanations,' he said. 'I could find nothing that I knew to be untrue. And I found many  details that I knew to be true. Do I think the CIA was involved? Of course they were involved. And they screwed up.'

Asked to comment on the Independent's report that Libyan terrorists had put the bomb aboard Flight 103 by means of an unaccompanied bag sent from Malta, Aviv himself thought it was yet another attempt to distract attention from the truth.

The timing of this story [he told Barron's] at the same time as the Lockerbie inquiry, on the eve of the second anniversary of the crash, just as the threat of a Pan Am lawsuit emerges, is not a coincidence. They had to try to take attention away from the accepted theory that Jibril and the Syrians were responsible. That theory was never disputed until three months ago.

It docs not make sense to send a bomb unattended from Malta through Frankfurt to London - two stops where it could be found [he went on]. This means they just sent it off, hoping it would pass all the checks and get on the right flight. How often does a bag get lost and fail to make a connecting flight? Professional terrorists don't take such chances. Also, according to the Libyan story in the Independent, the detonator was just a simple timer -not a barometric pressure trigger. What would happen if there was a delay somewhere on that long trip from Malta through Frankfurt to London?

Preserving a balance throughout that had not been conspicuous in other media surveys of the Lockerbie investigation, Barron's concluded its article with a statement from Paul Hudson, a lawyer from Albany, New York, whose sixteen-year-old daughter had died in the crash. Without hard evidence, he remained sceptical of the Interfor Report's findings, but nevertheless called for a genuine public Inquiry.

'We're counting on the Congress to shed more light on this,' he said. 'The subpoenas that would have shed light have been blocked. What we're looking for is a congressional review of the DEA and the FBI investigations, and then, if they decide there is any basis to the allegations, a special counsel. Right now, the House and Senate judiciary committees have jurisdiction over the FBI and the DEA. But the congressional intelligence committees are like a black box. Things go in without anything coming out. They never issue any reports. They never hold any open hearings. They don't seem to be a vehicle that's going to get the truth out. Whatever they do is totally within the intelligence cloak.'

No such hearings were held, of course -on either side of the Atlantic. Instead, Washington relied on the public's dwindling interest in the two-year-old disaster, the shortness of its memory, and what Ian Bell had described as 'the iron laws of the press' to blur the improbabilities that riddled the authorized version of events. Though it never really flew, the Libyan trial balloon had served its purpose. Eleven months later, the indictment of two Libyans for the mass murder of 270 people at Lockerbie struck most Americans as little more than a formality, giving practical effect to what they - and most of the media - already thought they knew.

It was now openly an all-American show, although Robert Mueller, assistant attorney- general, paid tribute to the Scottish police, who deserved, he said, 'the most unbelievable praise of any law-enforcement agency in the world'.

Believable or not, the praise was echoed by his boss, acting Attorney-General William Barr, who, coupling their work with that of his own investigators, congratulated the team on a 'brilliant and unrelenting operation'. Other American officials hailed the indictments as 'one of law enforcement's finest hours', but those who still cared were not convinced. Neither was Israel. Nor the PLO. Nor even Germany.

The official sequence of events, as set out in the American indictment, began with the sale of 20 custom-built Swiss electronic timers to the Libyan Ministry of Justice in 1985. In 1988, they were issued to Libyan intelligence agents abroad, many of them working under cover as employees of Libyan Arab Airlines (LAA), along with detonators and plastic explosives.

Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, one of the two men named in the indict- ment, was said to have stored the explosives at Malta's Luqa airport, where he was LAA station manager, and to have built the bomb with the second defendant, Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, Libya's chief of airline security, hiding it in a Toshiba radio.

On 7 December 1988, al-Megrahi was alleged to have called at the Sliema boutique and bought the odd assortment of clothes that were used to wrap around the radio bomb. On 15 December, Fhimah made a note in his diary, reminding himself to take some Air Malta luggage tags from the airport. On 17 December, al-Megrahi flew to Tripoli for a meeting, followed by Fhimah next day, and both returned to Malta on 20 December with a suitcase for the bomb. On 21 December, the fatal day, they were said to have placed the suitcase with its Air Malta tags among the luggage being loaded on to international flights from Luqa airport.

Besides the Libyan connections established by the forensic evidence, the US Justice Department now had two witnesses.

The first was known to be Tony Gauci, son of the owner of Mary's House, the boutique in Sliema from which the clothing in the bomb suitcase had allegedly been purchased. Gauci had remembered the sale so vividly that, almost ten months later, he had given the Scottish police a probable date for it, 23 November 1988, and provided a FBI videofit artist with a detailed description of his customer - he believed, a Libyan.

According to reports in the  media at that time, the resulting likeness was thought to be that of Abu Talb, a PFLP-GC terrorist who had visited Malta twice before the bombing and was subsequently arrested in Sweden while in possession of large quantities of clothing purchased in Malta.

In the indictment, however, the sale was said to have been made on 7 December 1988, and the purchaser was identified as Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi.

The government's surprise second witness was Abdu Maged Jiacha, described as a Libyan intelligence officer who had worked undercover as assistant station manager for LAA at Luqa.

In the autumn of 1991, he had defected to the United States - 'for financial reasons' -and identified Fhimah and al-Megrahi as the bombers.

The investigators had also come into possession of what was said to be Fhimah's personal diary, improbable though it must havt' seemed to them that a trained intelligence agent would keep one or put anything in writing, let alone the incriminating English word 'taggs' (sic) in the middle of an entry in Arabic and then, according to media reports, leave the diary behind for the investigators to find. (Jiacha 's 'financial reasons' were understood to be a reward of $4 million and resettlement in California under the Federal Witness Protection Program.)

The issue of warrants for Fhimah and al-Megrahi on 14 November 1991 was accompanied by a statement from President Bush's spokes- man, Marlin Fitzwater, insisting that Iran and Syria were not involved. The Pan Am bombing, he said, was part of a consistent pattern of Libyan-sponsored terrorism that could no longer be ignored. President Bush was discussing a coordinated international response with other Western leaders and all options were open, including the forcible seizure of the two men from Libya.

Amplifying this statement, Washington officials claimed that Libya had tried in various ways to implicate Syria and Iran - by using a Toshiba radio-cassette recorder, for instance - but there was no evidence of their involvement. Everything, including intelligence data, pointed to a solely Libyan operation in retaliation for President Reagan's bombing of Tripoli in 1986.

'The Syrians took a bum rap on this,' President Bush famously declared.

Any suggestion that such a conclusion might have been politically directed was simultaneously rejected on both sides of the Atlantic. Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, Scotland's Lord Advocate, said he would have resigned if exposed to political pressure, and Assistant Attorney- General Bob Mueller insisted that no one had even tried to iinfluence the investigation.

The sceptics were not convinced.

'Does George Bush take us for fools?' asked Bonnie O'Connor, of Long Island, New York, when a Newsday reporter invited her opinion. Her brother had died in the wreck of Flight 103.

Dr .James Swire, who had lost a daughter at Lockerbie and was the leading spokesman for the British families, told The Times that he still believed the atrocity had been carried out by the PFLP-GC, acting as mercenaries for the Iranians, although he was anxious to see the two Libyans brought to trial by any means short of force. He thought Jibril had probably used them to confuse the chase.

Professor Paul Wilkinson agreed. 'There are no grounds for assuming that Libya was the only country involved,' he said, suggesting again that there had been 'an unholy alliance' between Iran, Syria and Libya.

The Israelis concurred. 'The revelation that Libya was involved does not necessarily mean that previous allegations against Syria and Iran are false,' said Anat Kurz, of the Jaffee Centre for Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv. 'It may be all three countries worked together.'

Yossi Olmert, head of the Israeli government press office, thought so, too. 'We are not surprised by the findings,' he said. 'It is what we call sub-contracting.'

Volker Rath, the German public prosecutor, tactfully said nothing at the time but later announced that Germany was suspending proceedings against the two Libyans for lack of evidence.

With the exception of a few journalists perhaps over-committed to the official Anglo- American view after following it so assiduously for three years, the press, too, was mostly unenthusiastic.

'The arrest warrants are unlikely to quell speculation that more than one country was involved,' wrote Alan Philps, diplomatic correspondent of the Daily Telegraph. Citing an additional reason for the change of tack, he went on to suggest that 'laying the blame at the door of Libya will lift a burden from the shoulders of diplomats working to reconvene the Middle East peace conference and to release the last remaining British hostage in Lebanon, Mr Terry Waite.

'Had either Syria or the Palestinians been shown to be involved,' he said, 'it would have added a complication to the peace conference, perhaps provoking an Israeli walk-out.'

The magazine Private Eye was more scathing, having already denounced the Thatcher and Bush governments for agreeing 'that  hey will not pursue any further the terrorists who bombed the plane over Lockerbie since they are known to be close to the Syrian government' (28 September 1991).

A week after the indictments were published, its 'Lockerbie Special Report' noted that

 ... in recent weeks, Bush and Major have been under some pressure from the families of people who died at Lockerbie. One US group of families recently visited Britain and started to agitate for action. The statement about the two Libyans was the two governments' answer. The wretched Lord Fraser, the Lord Advocate of Scotland, was ordered to read out 'results' of his police inquiry which were completely different from those already read out to newspapers all over the world ...

In the House of Commons, Douglas Hurd went out of his way to exculpate the 'other governments' {Syria and Iran) which his colleague Paul Channon had denounced in March 1989.

(Sceptical from the start of official announcements about the disaster, Private Eye added this footnote to a later story [8 May 1992] about the suitcase of drugs found among the wreckage at Lockerbie: 'PS: Lord Fraser of Carmyllie has been promoted in John Major's new administration to be minister of state at the Scottish office. ')

More temperately, Adrian Hamilton in the Observer reminded his readers 'that the US charges of Libyan complicity in the Rome bar bombing of 1986 - used as a pretext for the US raid on Tripoli - proved groundless. It was Lebanese terrorists, probably at the behest of Syria, who planted the device which killed an American serviceman ...The assault on Libya is all too conveniently timed to let Iran and Syria off the hook and speed the release of hostages.'

A.M. Rosenthal, in the New York Times, felt that too many people had taken part in the investigation for the truth to remain hidden for ever. 'Among those I have talked to over the past years,' he said, 'I have found none who believed that Libya alone paid for, planned and carried out the crime - exactly none.'

Pierre Salinger of ABC News seemed equally unconvinced that it was Libya's sole responsibility after he went to Tripoli in December 1991 to interview the two accused and to discuss their indictment with Colonel Gaddafi. Though he had his doubts about al- Megrahi - his 'answers to questions were not always convincing' -he found Fhimah 'a simple man, and it was hard to believe that he had been involved in a terrorist case. Both Mr Megrahi and Mr Fhima told me they would be happy to meet Scottish or American investigators and talk to them about the case.'

Their willingness to do so was confirmed by Libya's foreign minister, lbrahim Bechari, who said that Western investigators were welcome in Libya and that the Libyan judge looking into the allegations, Ahmed al-Zawi, would like to have more US or Scottish evidence in the case so that he could conduct a solid interrogation of the two men.

Gaddafi himself, when questioned by Salinger, said: 'I am angry about the accusations against Libya, but I am satisfied that things are moving according to law. I am satisfied there is a legal way to deal with this.'

Donald Trelford, editor of the Observer, was told much the same thing by Gaddafi in a further interview a month or so later.

'He challenged the US and Britain to produce evidence against the Libyans,' Trelford wrote. "'The truth is, they don't have it," he added. Libya has arrested the two men named by the Scottish Lord Advocate last November. ..and begun a judicial investigation of its own. Gadaffi invited British and US lawyers to attend the inquiry and interrogate the accused, and welcomed representatives of victims' families.'

Even the Palestine Liberation Organisation {PLO), though working to a different agenda from that of other critics of the official line, felt that the Libyan contribution to the Lockerbie disaster had been of a low-level technical nature.

In an 80-page report leaked to the press on both sides of the Atlantic, the PLO described a number of meetings between Ali Akbar Mohtashemi, the Iranian minister of the interior, Ahmed Jibril of the PFLP-GC and other officials in the late summer of 1988 to plan a revenge attack on an American airliner. According to the PLO's sources, the Toshiba radio-cassette bomb used to destroy Flight 103 had been built by Khaisar Haddad, also known as Abu Elias, a blond, blue-eyed Lebanese Christian member of the PFLP-GC, who passed the completed device on to an Iranian contact in Beirut.

This suggestion fitted neatly with the BKA's identification of Abu Elias as an associate of Hafez Dalkamoni, head of the PFLP-GC's West Germany cell until the arrests of October 1988, and with the Lockerbie investigators' belief that Abu Elias took charge of the attack after that.

Whatever its motives in preparing the report, no one could seriously challenge the quality of the PLO's sources in the Palestinian community. Even for those most deeply committed to the official view, these revelations could only reopen the vexed question of why the Scottish police and the FBI had changed their minds so comprehensively after claiming for at least 18 months that the bombing had been carried out by Ahmed Jibril's PFLP-GC at the instigation of Iran and Syria.

There were other questions, too.

If Libya was solely responsible for the bombing of Flight 103, why did the US government resolutely refuse on grounds of national security to open the relevant files for judicial or congressional examination, if necessary in camera, in order to dispose of alter- native theories, rumours and speculation about the real cause of the Lockerbie tragedy?

If Libya was solely responsible, why had the government lied to Congress and the media about the activities of the Drug Enforcement Administration in Cyprus?

If Libya was solely responsible, why had the US government gone to such lengths to silence one of its own intelligence agents on the subject of the DEA's operations in Cyprus, and when that failed, to discredit what he had to say?

If the government's hands were clean, why did it insist on hiding them behind its back?

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