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Lockerbie bombing was work of Iran, not Libya, former spy says

Section: Daily Dispatches

By Gordon Rayner
The Telegraph, London
Monday, March 10, 2014

The Lockerbie bombing was ordered by Iran and carried out by a Syrian-based terrorist group, a former Iranian intelligence officer has admitted.

Abolghassem Mesbahi, a defector to Germany, said Pan Am flight 103 was downed in 1988 in retaliation for a US Navy strike on an Iranian commercial jet six months earlier, in which 290 people died.

He claims the Ayatollah Khomeini, who was Iran's supreme leader, ordered the bombing "to copy exactly what happened to the Iranian Airbus."

... Dispatch continues below ...


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Previously unseen evidence gathered for the aborted appeal hearing of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the former Libyan intelligence officer convicted of the bombing, supports Mr Mesbahi's claim and suggests that the bombers belonged to the extremist group the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC).

Documents obtained by Al Jazeera television for a documentary called "Lockerbie: What Really Happened?" name key individuals said to be involved in the bombing, including the alleged bomb maker, the alleged mastermind, and the man who may have put the bomb on the doomed Boeing 747.

The new evidence not only casts new doubt on the conviction of Megrahi but adds weight to previous claims that the truth about the bombing was covered up by Britain and the United States because they did not want to antagonise Syria, a key power on the doorstep of Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

Megrahi, the only man ever convicted of Britain's worst terrorist attack, dropped his appeal when he was granted compassionate release from prison in 2009 because he was suffering from cancer, but protested his innocence until he died in May 2012.

Ever since his conviction in 2001 there have been claims that Megrahi was the victim of a miscarriage of justice, and many of the families of the 270 victims of the bombing believe the true story has never been told.

Dr Jim Swire, whose 23-year-old daughter Flora died in the bombing, said last night he was "convinced" the Iranians recruited the PFLP-GC to carry out the bombing and had no doubt Megrahi was innocent.

He said the families of the dead "have a right to know who killed their loved ones and why they were not protected" and would carry on their fight to uncover the truth.

British film-makers Bill Cran and Christopher Jeans, who have spent the last three years investigating the Lockerbie bombing, were given access to the defence material by Megrahi, who hired a former Manhattan district attorney to review his case and gather new evidence.

Megrahi's conviction was based on the theory that Colonel Gaddafi personally ordered the terrorist attack in retaliation for the 1986 US bombing of Tripoli and Benghazi, in which Gaddafi's daughter was killed.

But the documentary claims that it was in fact an act of revenge for the loss of Iran Air flight 655 in July 1988, which was accidentally shot down by the USS Vincennes in the Persian Gulf.

Mr Mesbahi, who once reported directly to former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and now lives under a witness protection programme after defecting to Germany in the late 1990s, told Al Jazeera: "Iran decided to retaliate as soon as possible. The decision was made by the whole system in Iran and confirmed by Ayatollah Khomeni.

"The target of the Iranian decision-makers was to copy exactly what happened to the Iranian Airbus. Everything exactly the same, minimum 290 people dead."

The documentary claims the Lockerbie bombing was arranged during secret meetings in Malta attended by members of the Iranian, Syrian, and Libyan regimes, leaving open the possibility that Libya did play a part in the bombing.

However, it names a Syrian, Ahmed Jibril, as the mastermind of the attack. He was the head of the PFLP-GC and was allegedly recruited by the Iranians because of his previous experience of bombing aircraft.

He is alleged to have put a Palestinian, Hafez Dalkamoni, in charge of the terrorist cell, who in turn recruited Jordanian bomb-maker Marwan Khreesat.

Dalkamoni and Khreesat were arrested by German police months before the Lockerbie bombing, and four bombs, one of them almost identical to the Lockerbie bomb, were recovered at the time. Crucially, however, police were convinced they had made a fifth bomb, which Al Jazeera claims was used to bring down Pan Am 103.

The documentary also names a fourth alleged conspirator, Abu Talb, who it has linked to a clothes shop in Malta where clothes found in the bomb suitcase were said to have been purchased, and who may have been the courier who put the bomb on board the Boeing 747.

Robert Baer, a former CIA agent, told the programme makers the CIA and the National Security Agency had quickly formed the opinion that the PFLP-GC had carried out the bombing, sponsored by Iran.

The documentary suggests that the investigation suddenly changed tack, and switched its focus to Libya after a telephone call between President George H.W. Bush and Lady Thatcher -- possibly because the US did not want to antagonise Syria, which joined forces with the US and Britain to fight Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War.

Mr Baer claims that six days after Iran Air flight 655 was shot down, Iran approached the PFLP-GC and agreed to pay millions of dollars for a terrorist attack on a US airliner.

Colonel Muammar Gaddafi admitted responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing in 2003 and agreed to pay L1.7 billion in compensation to the families of the dead.

But his son Saif Al Islam has repeatedly said that the admission was merely an expedient political move to persuade the West to lift crippling sanctions and pave the way for lucrative oil deals, some of which were brokered by Tony Blair.

Diarmuid Jeffreys, the executive producer of the Al Jazeera film, said: "When you strip away all the assumptions that were made about al Megrahi's guilt -- and it's now widely believed that he was a victim of a miscarriage of justice -- then you're left with the question of who else could have been responsible.

"As you'll see from our investigation, Iran and PFLP-GC are the only suspects from that time who had the means, motive, and capacity to commission and carry out an attack like this."

Dr Swire told The Telegraph he was "delighted" by Al Jazeera's findings.

He said: "I became convinced that Megrahi was not involved during his trial. It was so obviously a setup.

"It seemed to me that the Syrian [bomb-making] technology fitted perfectly, and I'm not surprised to hear there is evidence that Iran was responsible.

"The families are going to launch a further appeal against the conviction of Megrahi with the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission because Megrahi's conviction is the tool which the authorities use to block our attempts find out the truth about who killed our loved ones."

The US State Department said it wanted "all those responsible for this most brutal act of terrorism brought to justice" while the UK Foreign Office said that the police investigation remained open because Scottish police and prosecutors "have always made it clear that they believe Mr Megrahi did not act alone."

The Iranian government declined to comment but has previously strongly denied involvement in Lockerbie.

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