Did Libya Really Destroy Pan Am 103?
Or Is There a Cover-Up?
By Andrew I. Killgore
The destruction of Pan Am
Airways Flight 103 was designed to be “The Perfect Crime.”
Bearing 269 passengers and a hidden explosive device, the Boeing
747 would pull away from London’s Heathrow Airport on Dec.
21, 1988, gradually tend north and west on its usual great circle
route as the shortest distance between London and New York. The
flight could be expected to be well out over the Atlantic within
The fates, however, decreed no. Gale-force
winds vexed the skies over London that day and the pilot, looking
to get “above the tempests,” guided the ill-starred “Maid
of the Seas” more northward. Thus, 38 minutes after takeoff,
the plane was over Lockerbie, Scotland when it exploded, killing
all 269 passengers, most of them Americans, and 11 persons on the
The turmoil in the skies over Britain
that day has reverberated ever since in confusing and contradictory
developments relating to the tragedy. It is as if the conspirators,
terrified that evidence on the ground in Scotland eventually would
point to them, have been able to manipulate such a level of misinformation
and misdirection that the truth forever would be concealed.
Dr. Robert Black, professor of criminal
law at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and mastermind of
the unique judicial arrangement for trying the two Libyan defendants
under Scottish law in the Netherlands, has told the Washington
Report that the investigatory evidence brought to his attention
during the first two and a half years after the Lockerbie crash
had not pointed to Libya at all. Rather, the focus of suspicion
seemed to be Ahmad Jibril’s Popular Front for the Liberation
of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC).
Dr. Black had favored, before too
much time had passed, some kind of trial to achieve closure. In
1991, however, pressure to concentrate the investigation on Libya
became so intense that, Black believes, only the governments of
the U.S. and Britain could have been behind it.
What exactly is the Libya connection?
The answer to that question may lead to the real beginning of the
In February 1986, according to
former Mossad case officer Victor Ostrovsky in his book The
Other Side of Deception—one of two revealing books he has
written since leaving Mossad—Israel planted a communications
device called “the Trojan” in the top floor of an apartment
house in Tripoli, Libya. The device could receive messages broadcast
by Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence service, on one frequency
and automatically relay them on a different frequency used by the
Evidence during the first years
after the crash had not pointed to Libya at all.
The Trojan soon seemed to
be broadcasting a series of terrorist orders to various Libyan embassies.
Spanish and French intelligence picked up the broadcasts and concluded
they were fake. The United States, encouraged by its “ally,”
which knew the broadcasts were Mossad disinformation—concluded
that they were genuine.
Only a few weeks after the Trojan
broadcasts began, the La Belle Discothque in West Berlin was bombed,
killing two American soldiers and a Turkish woman. Assuming that
Libya had bombed La Belle, a club frequented by U.S. soldiers, President
Ronald Reagan sent planes from England and from U.S. aircraft carriers
in the Mediterranean to bomb the Libyan cities of Tripoli and Benghazi.
More than 100 Libyans were killed, including Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi’s
adopted young daughter.
In describing the Israeli deception
that eventually led to the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, Ostrovsky
is careful not to point to Israel as the real perpetrator of the
La Belle bombing. But his sequence of events—the planting of
Trojan in Tripoli, its fake “Libyan” terrorist broadcasts,
followed by the bombing of the La Belle nightclub known to be frequented
by American soldiers—means that one cannot dismiss the possibility
that Israeli agents may have bombed La Belle. Israel’s always
fixed motive of making bad blood between the U.S. and the Arab and
Muslim worlds—and its history of setting up Libya, going back
to the nonexistent “hit squads”—certainly would have
been well served.
Climaxing the “Libya did it”
scenarios was the Jan. 31, 2001 conviction by a Scottish tribunal
at Camp Zeist, an old American military base near Amsterdam, the
Netherlands, of Abdel Basset Ali Mohammad Megrahi, who was sentenced
to life imprisonment for destroying Pan Am Flight 103. In an unusual
and puzzling decision, Megrahi’s co-defendant, Lamen Khalifa
Fhimah, was acquitted. The decision satisfied no one, particularly
as the three judges’ unanimous 75-page opinion all but demanded
a “not proven” rather than the “guilty” verdict.
A Paucity of Trial Coverage
A notable aspect of the Lockerbie
trial itself was the paucity of press coverage about it, at least
in the American media. In contrast, in the lead up to the trial
much was made of “key witness” Abdul Majid Giaka, a defector
from the Libyan intelligence service. Pre-trial American news accounts
left the impression that Giaka would nail down the “Libya-did-it”
theory: that the bomb was put aboard as unaccompanied air baggage
in Valletta, Malta, flown to Frankfurt, Germany, offloaded onto
yet another plane to London and then put aboard the ill-fated Pan
A basic reason for the widespread
doubt about Megrahi’s guilt is that Giaka was a flop on the
witness stand. American FBI agent Harold M. Hendershot, brought
to the witness stand to bolster Giaka’s testimony, also lacked
credibility. A poignant moment on a BBC television broadcast following
Giaka’s unpersuasive testimony, heard by the reporting officer,
was a question redolent of doubt by a middle aged American (from
his accent), “I wonder who killed our relatives?”
A development that called into question
the integrity of the Lockerbie trial only emerged in the media after
the trial was over. It was reported that American intelligence agents
were in the courtroom when Abdul Majid Giaka was questioned. The
Americans conferred with Giaka before he replied, leaving the impression
with some trial observers that the witness was being “coached.”
Jane Swire, whose daughter Flora died in the Pan Am 103 crash, was
quoted in the April 9, 2001 Birmingham (U.K.) Post that the
presence of the intelligence agents was “a little disturbing.”
Probably the biggest reason for questioning
the “Libya-did-it” scenario is the improbability that
terrorists looking to bring down a London-to-New York flight would
resort to the complicated Malta-Frankfurt-London-New York sequence,
with its requirement that baggage containing a bomb be transferred
off one plane and onto two others. Common sense dictates that placing
the bomb on the plane in London, where the flight originated, would
be much simpler and less risky. The Malta scenario does have the
advantage, however, of implicating nearby Libya and its leader Muammar
Despite Megrahi’s conviction,
therefore, his guilt is viewed with widespread doubt, linked to
the conviction that the bomb that destroyed Pan Am 103 was put aboard
the flight in London. Dr. Robert Black has told the Washington
Report that he holds this view, as does Dr. Jim Swire, spokesman
for the relatives of British nationals killed in the crash, and
the father of Flora. Dr. Swire told this writer that the British
nationals for whom he is spokesman share his conviction that the
bomb originated in London.
Jim Swire is a remarkable man. An
engineer specializing in explosives, he was an officer in the British
Army. He then decided to change directions, studied medicine and
became a practicing physician. Swire does not accept as credible
some of the Lockerbie trial’s technical details about the explosives
that brought down Pan Am 103.
Swire’s technical expertise
and quiet determination as a father who lost his daughter to pursue
the Pan Am 103 tragedy may yet trip up the real criminals who thought
they would carry out the perfect crime. Had they succeeded, based
on the sequence of events initiated by Mossad/ Trojan, Libya indeed
would have seemed the guilty party.
Nearing the End of the Trail?
At last, however, investigators
following the trail that may lead to the real criminals who destroyed
Pan Am 103—or others on a trail leading nowhere—may be
nearing its end. The Financial Times of Oct. 16 reported
that the appeal by a woman who lost her sister at Lockerbie for
“increased scrutiny of the intelligence agencies’ role
in the tragedy,” had been rejected, not by the three-man lower
court but by the five-judge appeal court which will begin hearing
Megrahi’s appeal on Jan. 23, 2002.
Professor Black told the Washington
Report that the court of appeal would not easily overrule its
fellow Scots on the lower court. If new evidence not heard by the
lower court should be presented, however, the higher court would
be less likely automatically to uphold Megrahi’s conviction.
The same Financial Times item says that a security guard
at Heathrow Airport is ready to testify that Pan Am’s baggage
area at Heathrow was broken into hours before the doomed Flight
103 took off. This would be entirely new evidence.
Further evidence, although not entirely
new, from the first trial, will question the credibility of a Maltese
shopkeeper who identified Megrahi as having purchased certain clothing
found in the wreckage on a particular day in Valletta, Malta. British
newspaper articles, including one last spring by Professor Black,
argue that, if he was describing Megrahi, the shopkeeper was wrong
about a critical date and extremely inaccurate in his description
of the purchaser. Yet the lower court somehow found, to Professor
Black’s astonishment, the shopkeeper’s inaccurate description
to be an indictment of the Libyan.
By a strange coincidence of timing,
on Oct. 31, as this article was being written, an article appeared
in The Washington Times about one Isaac Yeffet, the former
chief of security for the Israeli airline, El Al, whose record of
tight security precautions at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport
is touted as being unequaled. Yeffet was quoted as advising against
federalizing 28,000 baggage screeners at American airports.
In an article in the now defunct
Life magazine entitled “The Next Bomb,” (date unknown,
but obviously not earlier than 1986) Edward Barnes reports, “From
1978 to 1984 Isaac Yeffet, 56, was director of security for El Al…in
1986 Yeffet was part of a team commissioned by Pan Am to survey
25 of their branches around the world….Yeffet now runs a security
consulting business in New Jersey.”
Yeffet may have been successful in
maintaining perfect security for El Al at Ben-Gurion Airport. But
his efforts at Heathrow Airport in London, one of the airports he
surveyed for Pan Am, and to which he and his employees had full
rein, failed to save Pan Am Flight 103.
Yeffet’s professional expertise,
combined with his knowledge of Pan Am security procedures and vulnerabilites,
would seem to make him a compelling expert witness for the defense
at the upcoming Lockerbie appeal trial.
Andrew I. Killgore is the publisher
of the Washington Report
on Middle East Affairs.