Who Bombed Pan Am Flight 103?
The only terrorist ever convicted in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 was released from prison in August on “compassionate grounds” due to a terminal illness. Relatives of the victims were understandably outraged.
“He showed no compassion when he murdered our son along with 269 other people, and I see no reason why we should show compassion anywhere but in the prison cell he is currently in,” said one victim’s father.
In December 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, 38 minutes after departing from London. The explosion killed everyone on board, the majority of them Americans. Falling debris from the explosion killed another 11 Scottish civilians on the ground.
To this day, it is Britain’s deadliest terrorist attack ever. It would be for America too, if not for 9/11.
Charade of a Trial
In 1991, American and Scottish authorities indicted Libyan intelligence agents Abdel Basset al-Megrahi and Al-Amin Khalifa Fahima for carrying out the attack. It wasn’t until 1999, after years of oppressive sanctions, that Libya’s leader Muammar Qadhafi agreed to hand over Megrahi and Fahima to international authorities. Qadhafi did so on the condition that the trial be strictly limited to examining only the two suspects—no other groups or states could be held responsible for ordering the attack. In 2001, the trial resulted in Fahima being acquitted of all charges, whereas Megrahi was convicted of planting a suitcase bomb on a plane in Malta that was later transferred to a Pan Am flight in London.
Megrahi was sentenced to life in prison. And that was that—a neat-and-tidy end to a story about a crazed lunatic loner who constructed a sophisticated explosive device in order to destroy a 747 en route to New York.
What a charade that trial turned out to be. “Britain and America insist on the trial as a show of strength,” we wrote in June 2000. “But all we are doing is parading our pathetic weakness before the world.” The real story, we observed, was that the United States and Britain refused to go after the state sponsors: “The evidence strongly indicates that Syria and Iran were also involved in placing the bomb on the Pan Am Flight 103. But that evidence can’t be presented at the trial either. We are afraid to offend these terrorist nations. They too are probably guilty of mass murder against our peoples” (emphasis mine throughout).
As if that isn’t bad enough, now even the evidence compiled against Megrahi is being called into question. In 2007, after a four-year study, a Scottish court granted Megrahi his request for appeal and indicated the Libyan might have been wrongfully convicted.
David Horovitz, Jerusalem Post editor, investigated the 800-page judicial review in October 2007. “There was certainly no smoking gun,” Horovitz wrote. “No witnesses or forensic evidence tying Megrahi to the bomb itself.” He quoted several analysts and intelligence officials—even a relative of one of the bombing victims—who all maintain that Megrahi was wrongfully accused and that he would eventually be set free through the appeals process.
Amid widespread speculation in August that Scottish authorities would release him on “compassionate grounds,” Megrahi abruptly decided to end his appeal. (According to the Daily Telegraph, the appeal process could have continued even if Megrahi had been granted sick leave.) Within days of dropping his request for appeal, Megrahi was set free. One member of Scottish Parliament told Reuters that unidentified Scottish authorities had been “exerting undue pressure” on Megrahi to drop his appeal in order to prevent evidence in the case from being reexamined.
What’s pathetic about all the turns and twists in this story is that the most important question of all has been intentionally swept aside: Who was behind the Lockerbie bombing?
“British relatives of the victims are convinced of [Megrahi’s] innocence and had hoped that the appeal would help reveal who was behind the bombing,” the Telegraph wrote (August 18). No chance for that now.
For more than a year after the Lockerbie attack, the international investigation concentrated on an Iranian-backed, Damascus-based offshoot of the Palestine Liberation Organization, known as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine–General Command (pflp-gc), headed by Ahmed Jibril. According to a report that appeared in the Guardian, early on, “the widespread view was that the bombing was funded by Iran in retaliation for the mistaken shooting down of an Iranian airliner by the uss Vincennes, over the Persian Gulf in July 1988” (August 13). Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, vowed revenge, saying the skies would “rain blood.”
Dr. Jim Swire, whose daughter was killed in the Lockerbie attack, also blames Iran for the bombing. “The Iranians had told the world that they would seek revenge for the Vincennes attack,” he told Horovitz in 2007. “They had colluded in the past with the pflp-gc under Jibril, and now they colluded again.”
So, if true, why did American and British investigators back off the Iran-sponsored pflp-gc in 1990 and instead assign blame to Libya—another infamous U.S.-antagonist at the time? The Guardian wrote, “Those who question Libya’s involvement note that the U.S. and Britain changed tack after the Gulf War in 1990, when they badly needed the quiescence of Iran and the support of Syria, which was then protecting Jibril.”
Margaret Thatcher’s memoirs add significant weight to this argument. Thatcher, who was prime minister at the time of the Lockerbie bombing, failed to even mention the attack in her book, which was released in 1993. She did, however, refer to President Reagan’s air strike against Libya in 1986, which killed Qadhafi’s daughter.
After the 1986 air strike, Thatcher wrote, “There was a marked decline in Libyan-sponsored terrorism in succeeding years.” As Horovitz noted in his investigation, it is difficult to imagine her writing something like that if Libya had been the primary sponsor behind the Lockerbie bombing, which happened two years after U.S. fighter jets bombed Tripoli.
Writing in the early 1990s, Thatcher, like so many in the intelligence community, must have blamed Iran for the Pan Am massacre.
That’s not to say that Syria, or Libya, or the pflp-gc—or Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, for that matter—are without culpability. But debating over who pulled the trigger misses the more important point. It’s been more than 20 years and the state sponsors responsible for ordering the 1988 hit have not been prosecuted! And so, the hits keep right on coming: the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993; the 1995 attack on a U.S. military base in Riyadh; Hezbollah’s 1996 bombing at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia; the 1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and so on.
In his June 2000 article on the Lockerbie trial, my father wrote, “We are a ‘superpower’ too weak to administer justice for the victims and their families. We have the power but lack the will to use it.”
“So,” he concluded—writing just a few months before the attack on the uss Cole in Yemen; and a little more than a year before 9/11—“expect terrorism and violence to intensify against our peoples! This is the inevitable fruit of our shameful weakness.”
And, since the primary state sponsors of the uss Cole attack and 9/11 also have not been prosecuted, we can say once again: Expect terrorism and violence to intensify against our peoples.