Exclusive: USA is to charge alleged bomb-maker who destroyed jet over Lockerbie.16 December 2020
By Paul Martin.
In one of his final acts as US Attorney-General, William Barr is planning to indict the man he accuses of being the bomb-maker who murdered two hundred and seventy people when PanAm Flight 103 exploded over Scotland.
The Lockerbie disaster, which killed all 243 passengers, 16 crew and 11 people on the ground, took place thirty-two years ago next Monday.
The US Department of Justice is expected to reveal the bomb-maker to be Abu Agila Masud, who was also said to have built the device that killed two American soldiers in a disco in Berlin. In retaliation for the disco killings, President Ronald Reagan ordered strikes by American planes that bombed Colonel Moammar Gaddafi’s headquarters in Tripoli, the Libyan capital.
The criminal charges to be brought against Masud will allege that he put a timer into a Toshiba radio-cassette. It was connected to about a pound of Czech-made Semtex high-explosive, and the bomb blew up around half an hour after the PanAm flight took off from Heathrow Airport.
The only person convicted of the mass-killing, a Libyan intelligence officer Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, died two years after being released by the Scottish government because he had incurable cancer. Masud, it is alleged by the indictment, was seen with Megrahi in Malta, where a brown suitcase containing locally-purchased clothing was placed in the hold of an Air Malta plane, then transferred via Frankfurt to the PanAm Boeing.
At the last ceremony to mark the PanAm disaster, held each year near Washington DC, Barr spoke emotionally about his determination to bring more of the culprits to justice.
He said: ‘In 1991, I made a pledge to you on behalf of the American law-enforcement community: ‘We will not rest until all those responsible are brought to justice. That is still our pledge. For me personally, this is still very much unfinished business.’
Barr had become attorney-general under President George Bush a year after Lockerbie, and had put together the investigation that led to two arrests and one conviction. He returned as Attorney-General under President Trump, but leaves office late this month.
However, a former CIA intelligence officer, John Holt, has told Correspondent.World he is highly sceptical of the evidence against Megrahi, and also what is now known of the charge to be brought against Masud.
Holt considers it far more likely that the operation was masterminded and carried out on the instructions of Iran by a small radical group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command. That unit was already responsible for placing two previous bombs in civilian airliners.
There was an obvious motive, Holt pointed out. Five months before the PanAm disaster, a United States warship mistook a civilian Iranian Airbus for a fighter plane and shot it down near the Iranian coast, killing close to three hundred people.
‘I am astonished that if there was any evidence against Masud it has taken the US government years to decide to bring charges. It looks to me like a last-minute effort by Barr to create a legacy for himself: as the man who never gave up seeking the killers of the PanAm flight,’ said Holt.
The former CIA officer, who was operating in Malta during the Lockerbie investigations there, spoke this month to Correspondent.World, breaking his silence for the first time during and since his twenty-four-year–year career with the US intelligence agency.
‘I find it hard to believe there is any evidence that has just come up, that wasn’t there many years back. So the timing of this so-called unsealing of a criminal charge is very suspicious.’
In his speech at the memorial, Barr praised the work of the brother of one of the dead passengers. While making a three-part film about his search for his brother’s killers in the Lockerbie bombing, Ken Dornstein had first pointed the FBI towards Masud after a tip-off in Germany, and discovered he was being held, on different charges, in a Libyan jail.
It is not known where Masud is now.
‘If the Department of Justice is charging Masud, why on earth are they not charging his boss?’ asked Holt.
Colonel Gaddafi’s security chief and brother-in-law, Abdallah Senussi, has languished for years in a Libyan jail — after being sentenced to death for the many murders that took place against Gaddafi’s real or supposed opponents.
Scottish investigators sought to interview Senussi some years back, but have not said whether they did.
Members of Senussi’s tribe launched a vocal demonstration in a central Tripoli square last year, urging that the authorities release Senussi as a sign of national reconciliation. The authorities did not respond.
Countering Holt’s skepticism, the now-long-retired FBI investigator who co-ordinated the massive search for evidence, Richard Marquise, has given a detailed account to Correspondent.World about how and why the name ‘Masud’ cropped up during the investigations.
He has also revealed
how Masud came to be named as the bomb-maker in the Berlin disco; and
how Masud was found to have travelled on the same plane as the convicted Megrahi in the period before the Lockerbie disaster.
Correspondent.world will publish this interview soon.
WHAT US ATTORNEY-GENERAL WILLIAM BARR SAID AT THE ARLINGTON MILITARY CEMETERY A YEAR AGO, TO THE FAMILIES OF THE MURDERED PAN-AM PASSENGERS AND CREW:
Nothing was more important to me during my tenure than driving the investigation. And there was nothing more important to the whole Department, including all the dedicated prosecutors and FBI agents, and CIA officers, who worked tirelessly to pursue justice for you and for the whole country.
On the one hand, I am proud of the investigation that was conducted by the U.S. agencies and the Scottish police. It remains to this day, one of the most exhaustive and complex investigations in history.
Two years, ten months, and 25 days after the attack – on November 14, 1991, I announced charges against [Abdel Basset Ali] Al-Megrahi and [Lamin Khalifah] Fhimah of the Libyan intelligence agency who, along with other co-conspirators, planned and executed the bombing.
But as you know all too well, questions still remain about the perpetrators and the scale and nature of their evil plot.
I must say that, to this day, I am not satisfied with our country’s overall response to the attack. I never thought that putting two Libyan intelligence officers on trial should be the sum and substance of our response.
The attack was an action coldly plotted and launched by the Libyan regime. And I wanted to see a decisive and overwhelming action against Gaddafi and the JSO. I made the point that had we found out who the perpetrators were immediately after the attack, there is no doubt we would have done that. The fact that we took over two years to assemble the proof, should not have changed our actions.
I cannot help thinking that if we had acted more decisively then, perhaps we would have seen less state sponsored terrorism over the years.
In any event, I want to assure you that I and the Department remain committed to pursuing full justice for this atrocity.
In 1991, I made a pledge to you on behalf of the American law-enforcement community: “We will not rest until all those responsible are brought to justice.”
That is still our pledge. For me personally, this is still very much unfinished business.