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Novinite Insider » EDITORIAL | March 2, 2007, Friday // 00:00

by Svetoslav Ivanov, Darik News*

Bulgarian journalist Svetoslav Ivanov lifts the curtain of the Lockerbie assault, making unexpected disclosures

Iran has something to do with the explosion of the machine bomb's detonating and the Lockerbie assault turns out to be CIA's biggest secret.

The terrorist assault over the Scotland village of Lockerbie, made on December 21 1988, took the lives of 270 people. The Scotland Court, which sat in the Netherlands, decided the Libyan Abdel Basset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi is responsible for the bloodbath in the British sky. The accused was quickly sentenced in 2001.

Since then the Lockerbie case is rarely mentioned in Europe and politicians, especially the British ones, deny that the trial, led in the Camp Zeist military base, and the one against Libya-jailed Bulgarian nurses are tied up.

At the same time, there obviously are associations between the two cases. I could sum them up using the statement of Hans Koechler, UN's special envoy at the trial: "Until Europe and USA are not ready to admit there are serious faults in the Lockerbie trial, the British and Bulgarian governments' position on the sentence against the six medics in Libya would not be plausible."

The Lockerbie assault: On December 21, 1988, few minutes after crossing the border between Great Britain and Scotland, a bomb exploded on the board of the US air carrier Pan Am's Boing 747. The explosion tears off the cockpit from the plane. Dehermetization of the inside started and the temperature dropped to -500 C. The passengers' lungs froze in just 100 seconds, all liquids turned into shrapnel shells, which flew in the air and pierced the bodies. The air stream sucked away many of the people. Those, who had tightened their seatbelts, accreted with the seats. 243 passengers, 16 crewmembers and 11 Lockerbie citizens, over whose houses the plane crashed, did not live to see the Christmas Eve of 1988.

24-year-old Britain Flora Swier was among the victims. At the time, she went to visit her US boyfriend. Her father Jim recalls that when the assault happened, he was organizing a family Christmas party. "My wife called and told me to turn on the TV. Then I saw pictures from the terrible assault. My daughter Flora had to be on the board and we were panic-stricken. Nevertheless, we first wanted to be sure that was the same flight, as the taking-off hour did not match the original schedule. Unfortunately, that was exactly the same flight," Mr. Swier said.

The investigators picked up all the pieces, which had been scattered in a radius of 120 kilometers and slowly reconstructed the plane. The report, issued in 1990, read: "The blast had been caused by a bomb, placed in the luggage section of the plane".

Soon after that it emerged the bomb had been planted in a cassette recorder, which was put in a suitcase.

Few weeks earlier, Western Germany's Security Services busted several secret lodgings, supposed to be terrorist lairs. During the raid, known by its code name "Autumn leaves", several Palestinian citizens were arrested. They were claimed to be members of Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command, headed by the well-known terrorist Ahmed Jibril - a former Syria's army general.

After the search, the German special units found several cassette recorders, full of explosives. They were manufactured by Toshiba and were the same as the alleged bomb-cassette recorder that blasted Pan Am Flight 103.

For more than a year the main suspect for the assault is Jibril's organization. But who had ordered him the assault?

I looked for the answer in a conversation with Robert Baer, a former CIA agent, who worked in India, Beirut, Tajikistan and Northern Iraq. The plot of the Hollywood's production "Syriana", which won an Oscar in 2005, is based on his book "Sleeping with the Devil". The main character in the film, Bob, played by George Clooney, actually is Robert Baer himself.

In 1988 he is part of the team, which investigated the Lockerbie assault.

"We were warned about the assault in July 1988. We had info that Iranian representatives of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corpus have signed an agreement with a Palestinian group to bring down a plane. The investigation data was faultless. It couldn't have been better. That was nothing but the prefect investigation process," Baer revealed.

"After Lockerbie we gathered a lot of evidence, data for money transactions, records with Iranians, which unconditionally proved they were involved to some extent into the Pan Am Flight 103 blast," he added.

CIA concluded that Iran hired Ahmed Jibril to revenge for the bombing of an Iranian plane in the summer of 1988. It was brought down by an American earth-air rocket, fired from the military ship "Vincent" between Iran and the United Arab Emirates on July 3 1988. There were 290 passengers on board. All of them died on spot.

Meanwhile, the investigators of Lockerbie assault came upon another track that brought them to Malta. During the inquest of the place where the Pan Am plane had fallen, parts of clothes and an umbrella were found. They are supposed to be in the same suitcase as the bomb, which blew up the machine. These objects had been bought from a small shop in Malta. The police records read that the owner of the shop, Tony Gauchi, swore he remembered the man, who bought them, because of his odd behavior.

The Maltese merchant described the client as a tall Arab, who bought white trainers, an umbrella and other things. They were exactly like those, found in Lockerbie. For months the Scottish investigators interrogated Tony Gauchi time and time again.

In March 1990 he finally pointed out the photo of the Palestinian terrorist Mohammed Abu Talb. That confirmed the presence of Iranian trace in the case, as Talb was also a member of Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command.

Everything seemed clear - there were evidence, a motive, witnesses and other data retrieved by special investigating means.

Suddenly, FBI made a surprising finding. A tiny plastic piece, not bigger than a child's nail, was found among the plane's remains. The Americans are sure it was a part of the timer, which detonated the bomb device. This evidence directed the investigators to Libya.

The country's leader Muammar Qadaffi had also a motive to revenge the West for the bombings in Tripoli and Benghazi in 1986. So the US and British services started convincing the observers that the Lockerbie assault is Qadaffi's vengeance.

The Maltese shopkeeper Gauchi was interrogated once again. This time, however his attention was turned to two Libyan citizens' photos - Abdel Basset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi and Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah.

As if he had been prepped, the Maltese said Megrahi was the person, who bought the goods from his shop.

Absolutely unexpectedly and illogically, the Iranian trace vanished into thin air.

The former CIA agent Robert Baer said the reason for that was simple - it was much easier to blame Quadaffi than Tehran.

"At the time we were able to raise a blockade to Libya and even to declare war on it but not on Iran. The Iranian trace was covered. All previous investigation results were isolated and nobody dared to talk about it. Nowadays it is still the same," the American confesses.

Soon after that Megrahi and Fhimah were accused. However, the question if those accusations lay on solid evidence remained.

Megrahi and Fhimah were clerks of the Libyan airlines in Malta. According to Professor Robert Black from Edinburgh University, who is one of the most respected Scottish lawyers, the US services had known Megrahi very well.

"Long before Lockerbie, the Americans had imposed trade sanctions on Libya and most of the airplanes in Libyan - Arab airlines were Boeings. In order to keep them in the sky, the Libyans needed spare parts. Megrahi's main job was to get such parts. In that capacity, he was well known to the CIA. They were looking for a scapegoat at the Lockerbie case and Megrahi's name and movements they already knew," the professor said.

Nowadays, Professor Black is one of the most passionate critics of the court's work on Lockerbie case although before he was considered its ideologist.

At the time when Megrahi was accused, Black did not suspect that the Libyan actually was a scapegoat. London and Washington were preparing for the trial.

On professor Black's recommendation, the Netherlands and particularly the former military base Camp Zeist, temporarily announced to be a territory of the UK, was chosen for a stage of the trial.

Qadaffi agreed that his country's citizens should be indicted in compliance with the Scottish legislation.

The first hearing was on May 3, 2000.

The chief prosecutors' evidence was the small part of the timer. They claimed it was one of the twenty, which had been sold to the Libyan secret services in 1985. Those barometric timers activate themselves at a certain altitude. They were produced in Edwin Bollier's Switzerland workshop.

Bollier, by the way, denied he sold them to the Libyans.

Nowadays, the validity of this evidence is being challenged also by Jim Swier, the leader of Lockerbie victims relatives' organization. He claims that the timer's part was found in the beginning of 1989. Police put it in a special package with a label "charred tissue". Years later, it appears in the courtroom with another label - "charred pieces". Nobody confessed the label had been changed.

"The court did not test the timer and it was not proved it could activate an explosive. After the trial was put to an end, some experiments were made: different quantities of explosive were blasted in a way, similar to the way the bomb on Flo\ight 103 exploded. It was done with the purpose to find whether the devices will be completely blown up. There remained only black ash because of the high temperature and power of the blasts," says Mr. Swier.

He assumes that CIA has just "tossed" the evidence.

International observers and lawyers, who were aware of the case's course, were sure that the evidence would not be taken into consideration. The explosive expert and former CIA agent shares this opinion.

"I have been working for CIA for 21 years. I have dealt with explosives most of the time. I claim that it is impossible to calculate the explosion's time if the bomb was put in Malta and the plane landed twice during the flight. Additionally, the worst way of organizing such an assault is to set the bomb in Malta. Much more suitable is to do this on Heathrow Airport, where most of the staff are Muslims and US enemies. But the British would never admit the airport is unsafe. That is one of the reasons for denying that the bomb was planted in London.

Once again the shopkeeper Tony Gauchi sat at the witness stand.

Robert Black is seriously confused by his controversial testimonies.

"The shopkeeper never identified Megrahi as the person concerned. All the time he was just saying that Megrahi resembles a lot this person. Besides, before the trial he described the client as being at least 50 years old and six feet tall. At the time Megrahi was 36 years old and is five feet, eight inches tall. That is a difference of more than ten centimeters."

The trial in Camp Zeist started look like a farce. The victims' relatives also doubt of its transparency.

On January 31 2001 Abdel Basset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi was sentenced to life imprisonment and Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah was acquitted.

"This decision was a failure. The evidence led at the trial was so weak that, in my view, no reasonable court could be satisfied with such. I think that the Scottish judges felt it would be extremely embarrassing to the Scottish criminal justice system and particularly to the public prosecutor, who is a very important figure in the country's legal system, if neither of the two Libyans accused in the Lockerbie trial was convicted," Professor Black said.

Despite Jim Swier's family were not sure of how just the sentence was, they accept USD 10,000 compensation, which Libya started paying to each of the suffering families.

Megrahi was sent to Barlinnie prison and was first isolated in a room, built especially for Muammar Qadaffi, called "Qadaffi CafГ©".

At present the alleged assailant is in the Greenock prison.

Darik Radio decided to visit him there in the appointed for that purpose day.

After long conversations with former and present lawyers of the Libyan that lasted for several weeks, lawyer Tony Kelly advised me not to meet him. He said it was impossible to talk to the prisoner.

In 2003 Megrahi handed an appealing application in the Scotland committee for reconsidering the sentence. He claimed he was a victim of a court mistake. Megrahi's purpose is to redirect the case to Scotland's Supreme Court, which could institute a new trial.

The decision will be made until the end of June 2007.

For that reason, the Libyan did not want to discuss the case.

Bulgaria would be also interested in clarifying the Lockerbie case.

*Translated by Margarita Stoyancheva, Sofia News Agency

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