Palestinian terrorists laid false trail in ‘perfect operation’ to avoid culpability for attack
By John Davison | 11 March 2014
“There was a further discussion about diverting the blame to Libya”
– Report, Forensic Investigative Associates, on meeting of Palestinian terrorists
Palestinian plotters behind the Lockerbie bombing laid a false trail to “divert the blame” to Libya. That was the staggering finding of a lengthy investigation carried out by a former senior prosecutor from America and an ex-deputy head of Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorist branch.
The “final report” by the two highly-experienced investigators destroys the official version of events surrounding the terrorist attack in 1988 on a Pan Am jumbo jet over a Scottish town.
Exaro revealed in December, in the run-up to the 25th anniversary of the Lockerbie bombing, how another draft of the confidential report concluded that police were “directed off course” by government interference in their investigation into the attack.
But Exaro can today reveal how a more comprehensive version of the report contains an even more astonishing finding.
Lawyers for Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who was convicted of the bombing, commissioned a London-based company of private investigators, Forensic Investigative Associates, to carry out the private investigation – codenamed ‘Operation Bird’.
Jessica de Grazia, who was New York’s chief assistant district attorney, and Philip Corbett, who was chief security advisor to the Bank of England after a career as a top-ranking police officer with the Metropolitan Police Service, completed the report in 2002.
They found that several Palestinian terrorists decided at meetings in Malta – held to plan the attack – to “divert the blame to Libya”. In particular, says their report, the plotters tried to incriminate al-Megrahi.
The original target of the police investigation into the Lockerbie bombing – before it was “directed off course” – was the PFLP-GC. But the focus switched to Libya, and the conclusions of de Grazia and Corbett suggest that the change in direction was based on evidence planted by the Palestinian group.
Their report, citing a key source, says: “‘It was a perfect operation,’ according to the informant. ‘Our only disappointment was that we expected 500 passengers, and the plane was not fully loaded.’”
Pan Am’s Flight 103, from London Heathrow to New York, crashed onto Lockerbie after a bomb in the luggage hold exploded. All 259 passengers and crew on the Boeing 747 were killed, together with 11 people on the ground.
Al-Megrahi was the only person convicted of carrying out the attack, allegedly on behalf of the Libyan regime of Muammar Gadaffi. After being released from prison on compassionate grounds in 2009, al-Megrahi died in Libya in 2012.
His lawyers hoped to use Operation Bird to appeal against his conviction.
The report gives a full, detailed account of what the Bird investigators believe happened in the run-up to the bombing, using information gathered from “more than half a dozen sources”.
The report gives accounts of three meetings held by the plotters before the attack. The key source, known as “Ivan”, claims to have been at these meetings.
The aim of implicating Libya was not just to cover tracks. The PFLP-GC’s leader, Ahmed Jibril, also wanted to shift the blame to Libya because he had fallen out with Gadaffi when he withdrew funding from the group.
“There was a further discussion about diverting the blame to Libya, which was regarded at the time as Jibril’s chief government enemy, after the US and Israel, because it had forced out Jibril’s cadres in a degrading and humiliating fashion in 1987,” says the report of a meeting in October 1988.
“Wherever the bomb was launched, they would place it in a suitcase that could be identified to Malta through its contents in the event that the bomb was discovered before it exploded,” it adds. By “contents”, the report was referring to clothing.
“They knew that Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was a member of the Libyan intelligence service and a manager of Libyan Airways, and therefore a likely suspect. He also resembled Abu Talb. Accordingly, it was decided that Talb would buy the clothing.”
Fragments of clothing, found in Lockerbie and made in Malta, duly proved crucial to al-Megrahi’s conviction.
Last month, Exaro disclosed that families of some victims of the bombing are to apply for a fresh appeal against al-Megrahi’s conviction.
John Davison reported from Lockerbie on the night of the attack for The Sunday Times.