On December 21st 1988 a bomb exploded aboard Pan Am 103, a transatlantic flight going over Scotland, headed for New York. The plane was destroyed in mid air, and sections of it rained down in and around the town of Lockerbie. 270 people were killed, including 11 on the ground, and as such it was, and remains, the most devastating act of terrorism to occur on British soil. Over a decade later in January 2001, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi was convicted of murder, though his co-accused was acquitted. Megrahi contested the conviction for years and numerous allegations arose of a corrupt investigation and a biased trial. There are good reasons to believe he is innocent.
One of the key pieces of evidence in the trial was a fragment of a circuit board from a timing device manufactured in Switzerland, a batch of which was said to have been sold to Libya. This turns out to be a complete fabrication. The owner of the Swiss company Mebo who manufactured the MST-13, Edwin Bollier, says that the FBI offered him $4 million in 1991 to testify that he had sold them to Libya. He refused, but one of his employees Ulrich Lumpert became a key witness at the trial. However, Lumpert now says that he lied in court, saying he stole a prototype MST-13 and gave it to someone investigating the Lockerbie bombing. Both a retired CIA officer and a former Scottish police chief have given statements that evidence was planted at the scene. Furthermore, the FBI investigator Thomas Thurman, who allegedly found the fragment on the ground, has been criticised for failing to properly oversee the forensic investigation of the 1993 WTC bombing, for routinely altering his scientific reports, and for lying in American murder trials.
Theories as to who really bombed Pan Am 103, and why, range far and wide, but unsurprisingly the name that keeps cropping up is the CIA. One story in particular is worth recounting. An attourney for the Pan Am airline hired Juval Aviv, president of a private intelligence firm called Interfor, to investigate the Lockerbie bombing. The airline was facing a lawsuit from victims families, alleging lax security, and needed to know whether to contest or settle. The Interfor report alleged that the bombing was carried out by the CIA against their own, to stop them from blowing the whistle.
The report says that Frankfurt was the centre for a CIA-protected Syrian heroin smuggling operation, whereby the CIA would ensure the Syrians could safely get their heroin into the US in exchange for the Syrians providing intelligence. Pan Am 103 was a regular scheduled flight through Frankfurt on the way to New York. This smuggling operation was run by probable triple agent Monzer al-Kassar and Mossad/PFLP-GC double agent Abu Nidal. At the same time (summer 1988) a separate CIA team went to Beirut to begin intelligence gathering for a possible hostage rescue.
Aviv goes on to say that Ahmed Jibril, founder of the PFLP-GC, a militant splinter group from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, knew about the Syrian-secured route through Frankfurt and decided to exploit it. He acquired a bomb and smuggled it through airport security by swapping it for luggage in the same manner as the Syrian heroin shipments. While this was in the works the second CIA team in Beirut discovered the protection their colleagues were giving to al-Kasser and Nidal's drug smuggling. They reported this to their superiors but received no word back.
According to the report, “The [McKee] team was outraged, believing that its rescue and their lives would be endangered by the double dealing.” - Lisa Pease, consortium news
By mid-December 1998, the Beirut team were planning to return to America to expose the smuggling operation. Around three weeks before the bombing Mossad warned the headquarters of the CIA and the German BKA (their equivalent of the FBI) that a major terrorist attack would happen at Frankfurt airport targeting a major US airline. Aviv's report says:
"Thereafter, the law enforcement presence, but not airline security, visibly increased around the other American carriers, but not Pan Am." - Interfor Report
Meanwhile, the CIA team in Frankfurt had learned of their being discovered by the group in Beirut through al-Kassar and around the same time both he and Nidal worked out Jibril's plan to bomb Pan Am 103. They wanted to protect their CIA-secured route so in the days prior to the bombing they tipped off the BKA about the danger to these flights, hoping Jibril would be intercepted and that they could carry on their smuggling. The BKA then told the CIA team in Frankfurt, who reported it to their superiors. CIA HQ then sent out warnings to various embassies and so on, but apparently not to Pan Am. By this time Al-Kassar's agents had discovered the Beirut team's plan to return to the US, including their travel plans which involved going through Frankfurt, and on Pan Am 103 to New York.
On the day of the bombing a BKA agent surveilling the baggage loading onto the plane noticed a bag very different to the ones normally used in the drug shipments. Concerned, he reported this to the CIA team on the job, who then reported it to their control.
Control replied: Don't worry about it. Don't stop it. Let it go. - Interfor Report
Among the dead at Lockerbie were five of the eight members of the Beirut team, on their way back to America. Also found was $500,000 in cash, an envelope marked '$547,000' containing travellers cheques, papers relating to the location of the hostages the team in Beirut were working to free and, according to local witnesses, large quantities of heroin. The Intefor Report concluded that the attack was enabled and allowed to happen by the CIA team in Frankfurt to prevent the exposure of the al-Kassar/Nidal drug smuggling. They considered the lives of their fellow CIA agents as worth less than the intelligence provided by the smugglers they were protecting. This and other stories are explored in Lockerbie and the CIA.
Libya is run by the military dictatorship of Col. Gaddafi, which recently celebrated 40 years in power. Despite, or in part due to the country's large oil and natural gas deposits, relations with this country are significant. In the early 1980s the US banned imports of oil from Libya, the start of a long period of economic sanctions by various White Houses. After Lockerbie, the UN and EU imposed their own set of sanctions. Gaddafi failed to cave. According to the model described by John Perkins, the economic hit men hadn't persuaded him to change his mind, so the jackals were sent in. In this case, MI6 funded Al Muqatila, a Libyan Islamic militant group, to carry out an assassination attempt in 1996. The attempt failed, killing civilians in the process.
However, Gaddafi does seem to have then changed his tactic and sought to reestablish relations with the West. In 1999 Libya handed over the two Lockerbie suspects for trial in Scotland. After Megrahi's conviction in 2001 they negotiated a compensation deal, formally accepting responsibility for Lockerbie and paying billions to the victims. ABC reported at the time:
Libya's Foreign Minister, Abdel Rahman Shalgham, has said that the Government will pay more than $16 million to each of the 270 victims after certain conditions are met.The following year, in February 2004 then PM Tony Blair accepted a formal invitation to meet with Gaddafi, which he followed up in March with a visit to Tripoli. A further meeting took place in 2007.
He says Libya will pay the compensation in instalments after UN sanctions and then US sanctions against Libya are lifted. - ABC
The most recent chapter in these 'improved diplomatic relations' has seen Megrahi released from jail on 'compassionate grounds' after serving 8 years for the alleged murder of 270 people. Now, he is probably innocent, and so there's no problem with releasing an innocent man so he can live out his final months (he has cancer) in his homeland, but that isn't what has happened. Megrahi dropped his latest appeal against his conviction on August 18th, and two days later he was freed by Scotland's Justice Secretary.
This was a vastly unpopular decision among those who believe he is guilty - around two-thirds of Scots believe he shouldn't have been released. Likewise Ed Balls, the schools secretary who let the taxpayers foot the bill for his attendance at the 2007 Bilderberg club meeting, said that British ministers did not support the move. Most recently, details of a phonecall between president Obama and the unelected PM Gordon Brown were leaked, showing that contrary to the 'warm and substantive' conversation portrayed by Downing St. the president 'blasted' the prime minister.
As part of their coverage of the story the Daily Mail included a cartoon depicting a man rolling a barrel, Guy Fawkes-like, up to the door of 10 Downing Street. The suggestion seems to be that releasing a terrorist from jail is such a terrible decision that the Mail wants people to bomb the Prime Minister's house in protest. Truly ridiculous, even for doublethink.
On August 30th Jack Straw denied that Megrahi's release had anything to do with an oil deal, though leaked letters published the same day indicated the opposite was true. By September 5th, Straw had admitted the connection. Similarly, Gordon Brown initially refused to support the claims for compensation from victims of alleged Libya-assisted IRA bombings, but rapidly changed his mind and has now pledged his support. Royal Dutch Shell signed a deal with Libya at the time of Blair second visit in 2007, as did BP, largely to the exclusion of American Big Oil. The Megrahi release is one of Libya's pay-offs for that deal, reportedly also agreed at the time of Blair's 2007 visit. It will also help put an end to the 'conspiracy theories' about Lockerbie, as Megrahi is no longer appealing against his conviction.
There is another benefit, almost entirely overlooked in mainstream coverage of the case. Megrahi's release coincided with the culmination of the retrial of seven men accused of the airline liquid bomb plot. The Times, however, threw off some of the shackles and made the association.
The guilty verdicts returned against the key figures in the airline plot trial at Woolwich Crown Court were greeted with relief in Whitehall yesterday.
This had become the court case that could not be allowed to fail. The courts had to show that juries could handle complex terrorism cases and vindication was needed for stringent security at airports.
The Government also required a public declaration — more than ever now, given the damage done by the release of the Lockerbie bomber — that Britain was not soft on terrorism.
Questions persist, however, about why it has taken three years and more than £50 million to bring Abdulla Ahmed Ali and the other bombers to justice.
Their first trial ended inconclusively a year ago with a jury acquitting one man portrayed by the Crown as a significant terrorist and failing to agree on whether or not the plan to blow up airliners had ever existed.
That state of affairs could not be allowed to stand and a retrial began in March under a new judge who fired off repeated warnings to the media to report the case with great care. - The Times
While the Times sees the Megrahi release as a political reason why the trial had to produce guilty verdicts, there is potentially another influence. Megrahi's release may have helped induce the jury to return guilty verdicts, as the obvious backlash against the 'soft' decision to release Megrahi gave the jurors a clear message as to the spirit of the nation. After all, Megrahi was convicted of putting a bomb on a plane. If indeed the Megrahi deal was struck back in 2007, around the time of the oil deals and the Blair visit, then his release happening just as the jury in a terrorism trial retired to consider their verdict is very convenient for those playing Terrorball. The end of the trial also coincided with the run-up to the 8th anniversary of 9/11. This provided yet more context in which the jury were supposedly remaining impartial.
Perhaps it is therefore unsurprising that they ended up convicting three of the eight re-accused of the liquid airline bomb plot, and one further on the charge of conspiring to murder persons unknown. Ali, Sarwar and Hussain were all found guilty of this mysterious murder conspiracy with an undeclared, undefined target at the first trial, where the jury couldn't come to a verdict on the main charge of targeting airliners. At the second trial they were found guilty of the airline plot, though how just the three of them could have accomplished such an elaborate scheme isn't clear. The jury was hung on the issue of Umar Islam's involvement in the airline plot, but convicted him for the magical mystical murder conspiracy.
Savant, Khan and Zaman were all found not guilty of the airline plot, after the original trial's jury couldn't come to a verdict, but they may all face yet another trial for the unknown murder conspiracy after the jury in effect repeated the indecision of their predecessors. In off the bench for possible provocateur Mohammed Gulzar, found innocent of everything at the first trial, was Donald Stewart-Whyte. Like many substitutions, it seems he was just there to make up the numbers, and possibly so people would forget about Gulzar. Whyte was also exonerated on all counts and it isn't clear why he wasn't prosecuted at the first trial but was at the second. Indeed, it isn't clear why he was prosecuted at all.
The so-called 'martyrdom' videos of the accused played a strange role in this trial. The defendants said they were for a protest documentary, but according to John McDowall, head of the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command:
“They claimed the videos were threats designed to influence the Government and intimidate the public. The jury rejected this, instead accepting the clear evidence that they were a pre-cursor to their attempted martyrdom." - metpolice
However, Savant, Khan and Zaman all made 'martyrdom' videos and they were found not guilty of the airline plot by the same jury. Khan is of particular interest because he was approached by MI5 who apparently tried and failed to recruit him as an informant. Whether this was Khan or someone else, the Times reported during the original arrests in August 2006 that MI5 may have had a mole within the group. This is supported by the allegation made by Andy Hayman (former assistant commissioner of the met police) that the US-led arrest of the original alleged mastermind Rashid Rauf nearly bungled the ongoing surveillance of the alleged liquid bomb plotters. This chimes with reports from the time of the arrests saying they were hurried by pressure from Washington, and that the authorities wanted to monitor the men for longer.
Despite this extensive monitoring it is still uncertain where the plot originated, if indeed there was a plot. Evidence introduced at the second trial but not the first was used by the prosecution to intimate that shadowy forces in Pakistan were behind it all. A series of truly bizarre e-mails were presented as 'coded messages' between Ali and Sarwar in Britain and apparent Al Qaeda ringleaders in Pakistan. They were published by the BBC, who said:
One of Ahmed Ali's contacts is thought to have been a British man, Rashid Rauf, who helped plan plots for al-Qaeda. It's unclear whether he received any of these e-mails directly. - BBC
Rashid Rauf was the original alleged mastermind of the plot and seems to disappear, reappear, die and resurrect at the behest of the security services, as previously discussed here. He is now once again being reported as alive, and allegedly plotting a new wave of attacks on Britain involving airliners. Similarly, though he was acquitted at the original trial Mohammed Gulzar was used by the prosecution as part of their argument in the retrial.
From late July the cell's activities intensified, following the arrival of Mohammed Gulzar, a man the police said was the "superintendent" for the plot. He flew into the UK on 18 July on a false passport under the name of Altaf Ravat. At the first trial last year he was cleared of all charges, but the prosecution still maintained in court that he played a key role.
Gulzar, originally from Birmingham and a friend of Rauf, was wanted for questioning over a murder in the UK and had previously fled to Pakistan and later South Africa. He arrived at Heathrow airport with a new wife he had met at Islamabad airport just a few months before, which the crown said was part of his cover. The couple had spent a short holiday in Mauritius as part of their honeymoon. The court heard that in the days following Gulzar's arrival, cell members purchased equipment from stores such as Ikea and Tesco, including beakers, syringes, storage jars and suitcases to store materials in the woods near Sarwar's home. - Guardian
Exactly what has now happened to Gulzar isn't certain, but that the prosecution were still portraying a vindicated man as the 'superintendent' of the plot during the retrial not only adds weight to the suggestion that he was a provocateur, it also speaks volumes for the ludicrous nature of the retrial. If a man has been found innocent of the charges then the prosecution should not be able to continue to make such allegations. Indeed, the allegations should be classed not only as inadmissable evidence, but potentially as defamation. Gulzar could sue them, though obviously that won't happen if he's working for the same masters as the state prosecution lawyers.
Aside from Rauf and Gulzar, the press have now tried to introduce a third apparent Al Qaeda mastermind - Abu Ubaida al-Masri. He is another curious character. The Daily Mail published an article about him on September 8th, saying that the end of the liquid bomb (re)trial meant they could 'reveal his role' in orchestrating not only that plot, but apparently also 7/7, the 21/7 'bombings' where there were no bombs and the fertiliser plot. There is very little evidence for this, and al-Masri is conveniently dead as of April 2008, though like Rashid 'Lazarus' Rauf that status may be revised as time goes on.
However, it is worth noting that al-Masri fought in the West's dirty wars in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Chechnya, linking him to the long history of involvement of mujahideen in black operations. He turned up in Munich in 1995 seeking asylum, and though he associated with various local 'Al Qaeda' members he lived there apparently without any problems for four years. In 1999 his claim for asylum was finally rejected and he was jailed pending deportation, but then released for no obvious reason. During the same period he also lived in Britain. Strangely, while the Daily Mail claims that they could only talk about his role after the end of the trial, American news outlets such as Foxnews and the LA Times have been banging on about him for over a year.
In sum, an investigation and prosecution lasting three years, costing over £100 million, called the 'biggest in British history', using two trials and four juries (two juries in the retrial were dismissed due to disagreements and fallings out, though the media widely report the fourth jury as the second), still required the 'coincidence' of the 8th anniversary of the world's most famous terrorist attack, and the 'coincidence' of the release of a man accused of blowing up an airliner, to convict three guys of plotting to blow up airliners.
A final 'coincidence' in this recent game of Terrorball is the release of a picture of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Having been imprisoned, and frequently tortured, in Guantanamo Bay for several years the new image is somewhat different from the old one, and may not even show the same person. KSM was the basis for much of the 9/11 Commission's version of events, or at least statements attributed to him by the CIA. He confessed to his involvement in the attacks, and some other stuff he wasn't even accused of, and dismissed his military-appointed lawyer in the hope of speeding up his 'trial' and execution.
He wants to be a suicide defendant if you like, as opposed to a suicide bomber. - Daily Mail
In keeping with this very convenient persona the new image shows him dressed like Osama Bin Laden, with an extraordinarily long beard. Also, the pictures have been doing the rounds on the internet for some weeks it was only on the day prior to the anniversary of 9/11 that the mainstream media started publishing the one of his looking like Bin Laden. Just in case you are in any doubt what reaction you are meant to have, the BBC quoted a 'terrorism researcher':
What's problematic for me is it really humanises the guy - BBC
The last thing the Terrorballers want is for us to see someone like KSM as a human being, because it might undermine the years of effort they've put into treating them like vermin and convincing us that that any concession to human rights for suspected terrorists is 'crazy'.