Pan Am Flight 103

From Academic Kids

The , containing the  and  section, landed in a farmer's field near a tiny church in Tundergarth,
The nose, containing the flight crew and first-class section, landed in a farmer's field near a tiny church in Tundergarth, Scotland

Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up as it flew over Lockerbie, Scotland, on December 21, 1988, when 12–16 oz of plastic explosive was detonated in its forward cargo hold, triggering a sequence of events that led to the rapid destruction of the aircraft. Winds of 100 knots scattered passengers and debris along an 88-mile corridor over an area of 845 square miles. Two hundred and seventy people from 21 countries died, including 11 people on the ground.

Known as the Lockerbie bombing and the Lockerbie air disaster in Britain, it became the subject of that country's largest criminal inquiry, led by its smallest police force. It was widely regarded as an assault on a symbol of the United States, and with 189 of the victims American, it stood as the deadliest attack on American civilians until September 11, 2001.

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After a three-year joint investigation by the Scottish Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, during which 15,000 witness statements were taken, indictments for murder were issued on November 13, 1991, against Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer and the head of security for Libyan Arab Airlines (LAA), and Lamin Khalifah Fhimah, the LAA station manager in Luqa airport, Malta.

United Nations sanctions against Libya and protracted negotiations with the Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gadaffi secured the handover of the accused on April 5, 1999 to Scottish police in the Netherlands, chosen as a neutral venue. On January 31, 2001, Megrahi was convicted of murder by a panel of three Scottish judges, and sentenced to 27 years in prison. Fhimah was acquitted. Megrahi's appeal against his conviction was refused on March 14, 2002, and a further appeal to the European Court of Human Rights was declared inadmissable in July 2003. He is serving his sentence in Greenock prison near Glasgow, where he continues to protest his innocence.


1 The trial=

The passengers

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The map shows the town of Lockerbie, situated on the Scottish side of the border between Scotland and England.

PA 103 was Pan American World Airways' second daily FrankfurtLondonNew YorkDetroit flight. It had started as PA 103A in Frankfurt, Germany, operated by a Boeing 727 for the leg to Heathrow Airport in London, England. Forty-seven of the eighty-nine passengers on PA 103A changed aircraft there to a 747, which had arrived at noon from San Francisco, and had been parked at stand K-14, guarded for two hours by Pan Am's security company, Alert Security, but otherwise not watched. The flight, thereafter called PA 103, continued on its journey to JFK airport in New York.

There were 243 passengers on board and 16 crew members, led by the pilot, Captain James MacQuarrie, First Officer Raymond Wagner, and flight engineer Jerry Avritt. Thirty-five students from Syracuse University were on board, flying home from an overseas study program in London. Five members of the Dixit family, including three-year-old Suruchi Rattan, were flying to Detroit from New Delhi. They were supposed to be on Flight 67, which had left Frankfurt earlier in the day, but one of the children had fallen ill with breathing difficulties, and the pilot had taken the unusual step of bringing the plane back to the gate to allow the family to disembark. The boy soon recovered, and the family was transferred to PA 103 instead.

Suruchi was wearing a bright red kurta and salwar for her journey — a knee-length tunic and matching pants — and she became forever associated with a note left with flowers outside Lockerbie town hall:

To the little girl in the red dress who lies here who made my flight from Frankfurt such fun. You didn't deserve this. God Bless, Chas.

There were at least four U.S. intelligence officers on the passenger list, with rumors, never confirmed, of a fifth. The presence of these men on the flight later gave rise to a number of conspiracy theories, in which one or more of them were said to have been the bombers' targets. Matthew Gannon, the CIA's deputy station chief in Beirut, Lebanon, was sitting in Clipper Class, seat 14J. Major Chuck "Tiny" McKee [1] (, a 6 ft 5 in, 270 lb senior army officer on secondment to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in Beirut, sat behind Gannon in the center aisle in 15F. Two CIA officers, believed to be acting as bodyguards to Gannon and McKee, were sitting in economy: Ronald Lariviere, a security officer from the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, was in 20H, and Daniel O'Connor, a security officer from the U.S. Embassy in Nicosia, Cyprus, sat five rows behind Lariviere in 25H, both men seated over the right wing.

The four men had flown together out of Cyprus that morning. Major McKee is believed to have been in Beirut trying to locate the American hostages held at that time by Hezbollah. After the bombing, sources close to the investigation told journalists that a map had been found in Lockerbie showing the suspected locations of the hostages, as marked by McKee, though this discovery was not confirmed in court.

Also on board, in seat 53K at the back of the plane, was 20-year-old Khalid Nazir Jaafar, who had moved from Lebanon to Detroit with his family, where his father ran a successful auto-repair business. Because of his Lebanese background, and because he was returning from having visited relatives there, Jaafar's name later figured prominently in the investigation into the bombing, as well as in a number of conspiracy theories that developed.

The Helsinki warning

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A declassified CIA document referring to the Helsinki warning

On December 7, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a security bulletin saying that, on December 5, a man with an Arab accent had telephoned the U.S. Embassy in Helsinki, Finland, and had told them that a Pan Am flight from Frankfurt to the United States would be blown up within the next two weeks by someone associated with the Abu Nidal Organization. He said a Finnish woman would carry the bomb on board as an unwitting courier. The caller was out by only two days.

The warning was taken seriously at the time by the U.S. government. The State Department cabled the bulletin to dozens of embassies. The FAA sent it to all U.S. carriers, including Pan Am, which had charged each of the passengers a five-dollar security surcharge, promising a "program that will screen passengers, employees, airport facilities, baggage and aircraft with unrelenting thoroughness" (The Independent, March 29, 1990), but whose security team in Frankfurt had found the warning hidden under a pile of papers on someone's desk the day after the bombing (Cox and Foster 1992). One of the Frankfurt security screeners, whose job it was to spot explosive devices under x-ray, told ABC News that she had first learned what Semtex was during ABC's interview of her 11 months after the bombing (Prime Time Live, November 1989).

On December 13, the warning was posted on bulletin boards in the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, and eventually distributed to the entire American community there, including journalists and businessmen, as a result of which a number of people allegedly booked on carriers other than Pan Am, leaving seats empty on PA 103 that were later sold cheaply in so-called "bucket shops". PA 103 investigators subsequently said the warning was a hoax and a chilling coincidence.

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The lucky ones

A number of stories emerged after the bombing of people with reservations on PA 103 who missed the flight. The Four Tops were returning to the States for Christmas, but were late getting out of a recording session. Angry at being too late for the flight, they were arguing about it when they heard it had exploded (ABC News Prime Time Live, November 30, 1989).

Former Sex Pistol John Lydon and his wife, Nora, also had a narrow escape. "Nora and I should have been dead," he told the Scottish Sunday Mirror. "We only missed the flight because Nora hadn't packed in time. The minute we realised what happened, we just looked at each other and almost collapsed." [2] (,2763,1154000,00.html)

Jaswant Basuta got drunk in the passenger lounge after checking in, and sprinted to the gate to find the aircraft's doors had just been closed. He pleaded for the doors to be re-opened, but Pan Am duty manager Christopher Price refused. Just over an hour later, two police officers arrived in the passenger lounge to tell Basuta the flight was down and that he was a suspect, because his suitcase had been on the plane, but he had not — a breach by the airline of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules, which insist that the checked baggage of any passenger who failing board be removed from the aircraft's hold: so-called passenger-baggage reconciliation. While he was being questioned, his wife, Surinder — who believed he was on the flight — made a promise to the image of a Sikh prophet on the clock in the kitchen at home that she would hire priests to perform a special 48-hour prayer session if her husband survived. On a Friday morning two months later, she and her Jaswant went to a Sikh temple in New York, and with the priests she had invited, prayed from 10:00 a.m. on Friday until 10:00 a.m. on Sunday. "On one side of the door was death," Surinder told authors Matthew Cox and Tom Foster, "on the other, life. It's like someone pulled him back" (Cox and Foster 1992).

It took nearly six years after the crash for initial rumours about 23 South African lucky ones to be confirmed. In a news report datelined Johannesburg November 12, 1994 and entitled S.Africa minister denies knowing of Lockerbie bomb, David Tucker of Reuters Ltd reported: Former South African foreign minister Pik Botha denied on Saturday he had been aware in advance of a bomb on board Pan Am flight 103 which exploded over Lockerbie in Scotland in 1988 killing 270 people. The minister confirmed through his spokesman that he and his party had been booked on the ill-fated airliner but switched flights after arriving early in London from Johannesburg. He was travelling with South African officials to negotiate peace in Namibia and Angola. Botha was reacting to a report in the Scotsman newspaper on Saturday which said a documentary film "The Maltese Double Cross" alleged Botha, now South Africa's energy minister, and security chiefs were warned of the bomb and did not travel. "Had he known of the bomb, no force on earth would have stopped him from seeing to it that flight 103, with its deadly cargo, would not have left the airport," Botha's spokesman Roland Darroll told Reuters after consulting the minister. "The minister is flattered by the allegation of near omniscience." Gerrit Pretorius, at the time Botha's private secretary, said the then foreign minister and 22 South African negotiators, including defence minister Magnus Malan and foreign affairs director Neil van Heerden, had been booked on flight 103. "But to London an hour early and the embassy got us on an earlier flight. When we got to JFK (airport in New York) a contemporary of mine said 'Thank God you weren't on 103. It crashed over Lockerbie'," Pretorius told Reuters. Darroll said South African diplomats in the United States were convinced at the time that Botha and his team were on flight 103. He said the flight from Johannesburg arrived early in London after a Frankfurt stopover was cut out. "Had we been on 103 the impact on South Africa and the region would have been massive. It happened on the eve of the signing of the tripartite agreements," said Pretorius, referring to pacts which ended South African and Cuban involvement in Angola and which led to Namibian independence.

Last contact with Flight 103

The flight was scheduled to depart at 18:00, and pushed back from the gate at 18:04, but because of a 25-minute delay, not unusual during rush hour at Heathrow Airport, it took off from runway 27L at 18:25 instead, flying northwest out of Heathrow, a so-called Daventry departure. Once clear of Heathrow, the pilot steered due north toward Scotland. At 18:56, as the aircraft approached the border, it reached its cruising altitude of 31,000 ft, and MacQuarrie throttled the engine back to cruising speed.

At 19:00, PA 103 was picked up by Shanwick Oceanic Control at Prestwick, Scotland, where it needed clearance to begin its flight across the Atlantic Ocean. Alan Topp, an air traffic controller, made contact with the clipper as it entered Scottish airspace.

Capt James McQuarrie replied: "Good evening Scottish, Clipper one zero three. We are at level three one zero." Then First Officer Wagner spoke: "Clipper 103 requesting oceanic clearance." Those were the last words heard from the aircraft.

The explosion

At 19:01, Topp watched Flight 103 approach the corner of the Solway Firth, and at 19:02, it crossed its northern coast. The aircraft appeared as a small green square with a cross at its center showing its transponder code or "squawk" — 0357 310 68546.9. The code gave Topp information about the time and height of the plane: the last code he saw for the Clipper told him it was flying at 31,000 ft on a heading of 316 degrees magnetic, and at a speed of 313 knots calibrated air speed. It was 46.9 seconds past 19:02.

At that moment, the plane's code and the cross in the middle of the square disappeared. Topp tried to make contact with Captain McQuarrie, and asked a nearby KLM flight to do the same, but there was no reply. At first, Topp believed he was watching the flight enter a so-called zone of silence: dead space where objects are invisible to radar. But eight seconds later, at 54.7 seconds after 19:02, where there should have been one green square on his screen, there were four, and as the seconds passed, the squares began to fan out, covering an area that Topp knew represented one mile of airspace (Cox and Foster 1992).

A minute later, the wing section containing 200,000 lb of fuel hit the ground at Sherwood Cresent, Lockerbie. The British Geological Survey in southern Scotland registered a seismic event measuring 1.6 on the Richter scale as all trace of two families, several houses, and the 196 ft left wing of the aircraft disappeared. A British Airways pilot, Captain Robin Chamberlain, flying the Glasgow–London shuttle near Carlisle called Oceanic Control to report that he could see a massive fire on the ground. The destruction of PA 103 continued on Topp's screen, by now full of bright squares moving eastwards with the wind. [3] (,2763,216917,00.html)

How the aircraft broke up

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The explosion punched a 20 in wide hole, almost directly under the P in Pan Am, on the left side of the 225 ft fuselage. The disintegration of the aircraft was rapid. Investigators from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) of the British Department of Transport concluded that the nose of the aircraft separated from the main section within three seconds of the explosion.

The flight data recorder, a bright orange-colored recording device located in the tail section of the aircraft, was found in a field by police searchers within 24 hours of the bombing. There was no evidence of a distress call: a 180-millisecond hissing noise could be heard as the explosion destroyed the aircraft's communications center. Because several minutes of recording time were stored in volatile memory, which is erased when the power is cut, whatever happened in the cockpit just before the explosion was lost (Shifrin 1990).

After being lowered into the cockpit in Lockerbie before it was moved, and while the bodies of the flight crew were still inside it, investigators from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) concluded that no emergency procedures had been started. The pressure control and fuel switches were both set for cruise, and the crew had not used their oxygen masks, which would have descended within five seconds of any emergency (Cox and Foster 1992).

The nerve center of a 747, from which all the navigation and communication systems are controlled, sits two floors below the cockpit, separated from the forward cargo hold only by a bulkhead wall. Investigators concluded that the force of the explosion broke through this wall and shook the flight-control cables, causing the front section of the fuselage to begin to roll, pitch, and yaw.

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These violent movements snapped the reinforcing belt that secured the front section to the row of windows on the left side and it began to break away. At the same time, shock waves from the blast ricocheted back from the fuselage skin in the direction of the bomb, meeting pulses still coming from the initial explosion. This produced Mach stem shock waves, calculated to be 25 per cent faster than, and double the power of, the waves from the explosion itself (Cox and Foster, 1992). These shockwaves rebounded from one side of the aircraft to the other, running down the length of the fuselage through the air-conditioning ducts and splitting the fuselage open. [4] ( (pdf) A section of the 747's roof several feet above the point of detonation peeled away. The Mach stem waves pulsing through the ductwork bounced off overhead luggage racks and other hard surfaces, jolting the passengers.

The power of the explosion was enhanced by the difference in air pressure between the inside of the aircraft, where it was kept at breathable levels, and outside, where it was about a quarter of what it is at sea level. The nose of the aircraft, containing the crew and the first-class section, broke away, striking the No. 3 Pratt & Whitney engine as it snapped off.

Investigators believe that within three seconds of the explosion, the cockpit, fuselage, and No. 3 engine were falling separately. The fuselage continued moving forward and down until it reached 19,000 ft, at which point its dive became almost vertical. [5] (

As it descended, the fuselage broke into smaller pieces, with the section attached to the wings landing first in Sherwood Crescent, where the aviation fuel inside the wings ignited, causing a fireball that destroyed several houses, and which was so intense that nothing remained of the left wing of the aircraft. Investigators were able to determine that both wings had landed in the crater only after counting the number of large, steel flapjack screws that were found there (Cox and Foster 1992).

The victims

The passengers and crew

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All 243 passengers and 16 crew members were killed. A Scottish Fatal Accident Inquiry, which opened on October 1, 1990, heard that, when the cockpit was torn off, tornado-force winds would have torn through the fuselage, tearing clothes off passengers and turning objects like drink carts into lethal pieces of shrapnel.

Because of the sudden change in air pressure, the gases inside the passengers would have expanded to four times their normal volume, causing their lungs to swell and then collapse. People and objects not fixed down would have been sucked out of the aircraft into a crosswind of 130 mph and an air temperature of minus 50 F, their six-mile fall lasting about two minutes (Cox and Foster 1992). Some passengers remained attached to the fuselage by their seatbelts, landing in Lockerbie still strapped to their seats.

Although they would have lost consciousness because of the lack of oxygen, forensic examiners believe some of the passengers regained consciousness as they fell toward the oxygen-rich lower altitudes. Forensic pathologist Dr. William G. Eckert, director of the Milton Helpern International Center of Forensic Sciences at Wichita State University, who examined the autopsy evidence, told Scottish police he believed the flight crew, some of the flight attendants, and 147 other passengers survived the bomb blast and depressurization of the aircraft, and may have been alive on impact. None of these passengers showed signs of injury from the explosion itself, or from the decompression and disintegration of the aircraft. The inquest heard that a mother was found holding her baby; two friends were holding hands; and a number of passengers were found clutching crucifixes. Dr. Eckert told Scottish police that distinctive marks on the pilot's thumb suggested he had been hanging onto the yoke of the plane as he descended, and may have been alive when he landed.

Captain MacQuarrie, the first officer, the flight engineer, a flight attendant, and a number of first-class passengers were found still strapped to their seats inside the nose section, where it landed in a field by a tiny church in the village of Tundergarth.

The inquest heard that the flight attendant was alive when found by a farmer's wife, but died before her rescuer could summon help. A male passenger was also found alive, and medical authorities believe he might have survived had he been found earlier (Cox and Foster 1992).

Sixty passengers, including Major Charles McKee and Khalid Jaafar, landed on the town's golf course, while others landed in gardens or were found hanging from trees. Fifty passengers, many of them the Syracuse students, still attached to part of the fuselage, landed two miles northeast of Sherwood Crescent in the garden of Ella Ramsden at 71 Park Place. Ramsden's house was destroyed, but she survived with her dog, Cara, even though the house had collapsed around them.

Ten passengers were never identified. Eight of these passengers, including the CIA bodyguards Ronald Lariviere and Daniel O'Connor, had been assigned seats in the economy section above the wings, and are believed to have been attached to the wing structure as it landed in Sherwood Crescent.

Lockerbie residents

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Sherwood Crescent, Lockerbie

On the ground, 11 Lockerbie residents were killed when the wings, still attached by a piece of fuselage, hit 13 Sherwood Crescent at more than 500 mph and exploded, creating a crater 155 ft long and 40 ft wide, vaporizing several houses and their foundations, and damaging 21 others so badly they had to be demolished. Four members of one family, Jack and Rosalind Somerville and their children, Paul and Lynsey, died when their house at 15 Sherwood Crescent exploded. A fireball rose above the houses and flashed toward the nearby GlasgowCarlisle highway (A74), scorching cars in the southbound lanes, leading motorists and local residents to believe that there had been a meltdown at the nearby Chapel Cross nuclear power plant. The only house left standing intact in the area belonged to Father Patrick Keegans, Lockerbie's Roman Catholic priest. [6] (

For many days, Lockerbie residents lived with the sight of bodies in their gardens and in the streets, as forensic workers photographed and tagged the location of each body to help determine the exact position and force of the onboard explosion, by coordinating information about each passenger's assigned seat, type of injury, and where they had landed.

Local resident Bunty Galloway told authors Geraldine Sheridan and Thomas Kenning (1993):

A boy was lying at the bottom of the steps on to the road. A young laddie with brown socks and blue trousers on. Later that evening my son-in-law asked for a blanket to cover him. I didn't know he was dead. I gave him a lamb's wool travelling rug thinking I'd keep him warm. Two more girls were lying dead across the road, one of them bent over garden railings. It was just as though they were sleeping. The boy lay at the bottom of my stairs for days. Every time I came back to my house for clothes he was still there. "My boy is still there," I used to tell the waiting policeman. Eventually on Saturday I couldn't take it no more. "You got to get my boy lifted," I told the policeman. That night he was moved.

Despite being advised by their governments not to travel to Lockerbie, many of the passengers' relatives, most of them from the U.S., arrived there within days to identify their loved ones. Volunteers from Lockerbie set up and manned canteens, which stayed open 24 hours a day, where relatives, soldiers, police officers, and social workers could find free sandwiches, hot meals, coffee, and someone to talk to. The women of the town washed, dried, and ironed every piece of clothing that was found, so that as many items as possible could be returned to the relatives once the police had determined they were of no forensic value. The BBC's Scottish correspondent, Andrew Cassel, reported on the tenth anniversary of the bombing that the townspeople had "opened their homes and hearts" to the relatives, bearing their own losses "stoically and with enormous dignity," and that the bonds forged that day continue to this. [7] (</blockquote>


Two claims of responsibility were received the day after the bombing, neither of them taken seriously: one from Islamic Jihad, and another from the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution, an unknown group.

There were two obvious motives for the attack on PA 103:

April 1986 bombing of Tripoli and Benghazi

On 15 April16 April, 1986, U.S. warplanes launched a series of military strikes from British bases [8] ( [9] ( — the first U.S. military strikes from Britain since World War II — against Tripoli and Benghazi, Libya, killing Hanna Gaddafi, a baby girl Gadaffi and his wife had adopted, in retaliation for the bombing 10 days earlier of a Berlin nightclub used by U.S. soldiers, which had killed three and injured 230. [10] ( (Gadaffi had, in turn, ordered the Berlin bombing in revenge for the sinking of two Libyan boats by the United States in the Gulf of Sirte at the end of March.)

July 1988 downing of Iranair 655

The second motive was the July 3, 1988, downing over the Persian Gulf of Iran Air Flight 655, a passenger jet incorrectly identified by an American warship, the USS Vincennes, as a hostile military aircraft. Two hundred and ninety passengers from six countries died, including 66 children, when the plane was shot down. The Iranian government and people were shocked when America continued with its Fourth of July Independence Day celebrations, which suggested to Tehran that the U.S. did not regret, and may even have intended, the deaths. Many observers believe this would have given Iran reason to order a revenge attack on an American flight six months later. Tehran Radio reported on November 14, 1988, three weeks before PA 103, that President Bush had called the downing of Flight 655 an "act of self-defense," and that the U.S. government had "refused to apologize." The broadcast ended with: "[T]he Islamic revolution considers the United States to be its staunchest enemy."

The investigation

Search for clues

From the start, the British government under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher treated the bombing as a criminal matter requiring a judicial response, not a terrorist act that might have triggered military reprisals. It was "murder, pure and simple," according to Scotland's chief law officer, the Procurator Fiscal. For a prosecution to succeed, the crash site had to be regarded as the scene of a crime, and every piece of debris from the plane, its passengers, and crew had to be retrieved in case it shed light on where the bomb had entered the security system, and who had carried it on board.

Lockerbie lies in the Dumfries and Galloway region of Scotland, and the area's Chief Constable immediately informed the British government of his intention to retain control of the investigation. In the year before the bombing, his police force, the smallest in Britain, had investigated 456 cases of sheep anthrax, had captured 626 stray dogs, and was now in charge of what was to become Britain's largest criminal inquiry (U.S. News & World report, November 18, 1989). A thousand Scottish police officers and members of the British Army carried out a fingertip search of the crash site that lasted months, retrieving more than 10,000 items from the fields and forests of southern Scotland, a search area of more than 845 square miles. The searchers were divided into parties of eight to 10 people, with the instruction: "If it isn't growing and it isn't a rock, pick it up" (Emerson and Duffy 1990).

British military helicopters flew over the crash site, pointing out large pieces of wreckage to the search parties. Smaller, private helicopters equipped with infrared cameras were drafted in to search the heavily wooded areas that surround Lockerbie, as these were small enough to fly in low to find and photograph hidden pieces of debris. Within hours of the bombing, a French satellite had delivered photographs of the area to searchers. The United States Department of Defense and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) arranged for spy satellites, capable of reading a newspaper on the ground from several miles in the sky, to provide high-resolution photographs of the woods (ibid.).

Every item picked up was tagged, placed into a clear plastic bag, labeled, and taken to the gymnasium of a local school, where each piece of debris was x-rayed, and checked for explosive residue with a device known as a gas chromatograph, which analysed the chemical composition of each item, after which everything known about it was entered into the computer tracking system called HOLMES, the Home Office Large Major Enquiry System (ibid.).

Reconstruction of the aircraft and luggage containers

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Technicians working on the reconstruction said it was like "a spooky phoenix rising from the ashes" (Emerson and Duffy 1990).

All the parts of the recovered aircraft were taken initially to a hangar in Longtown, Scotland, where they were examined by investigators from the British Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB), and from there, moved to Farnborough, Hampshire, where the fuselage was reconstructed. Investigators found an area on the left side of the lower fuselage in the forward cargo hold area, at position 14L, directly under the 747's navigation and communications systems, where a small section about 20 square in had been completely shattered, with signs of pitting and sooting. The skin had been bent and torn back in a so-called starburst pattern, petalled outwards, a pattern that was evidence of an explosion.

The forward cargo hold had been loaded by a Pan Am loader-driver, John Bedford, with the suitcases placed inside 148 cubic ft containers, most of them made of aluminum. After the explosion, most of these containers showed damage consistent with a fall from 31,000 ft, but two of them — containers AVE 4041PA and AVN 7511PA — showed unusual damage. From the loading plan, investigators saw that AVE 4041 had been situated inboard of, and slightly above, the starburst-patterned hole in the fuselage, with AVN 7511 right next to it. The reconstruction of container AVE 4041 showed blackening, pitting, and severe damage to the floor panel and other areas, indicating that what the investigators called a "high-energy event" had taken place inside it. [11] ( (pdf)

Though the floor of the container was damaged, there was no blackening or pitting of it; from this, and from the distribution of sooting and pitting elsewhere, investigators calculated that the suitcase containing the bomb had not rested on the floor, but had likely been on top of another suitcase.

Using the damage to adjacent container AVN 7511 to guide them, they concluded that the explosion had occurred about 13 in from the floor of AVE 4041 and about 24 in from the skin of the fuselage. Federal Aviation Administration investigators then conducted a series of tests, in which luggage containers similar to AVE 4041 were blown up in an effort to reproduce the same sooting and pitting pattern. The tests confirmed the AAIB opinion regarding the position of the bomb. [12] (

This evidence would be crucial in determining where the bomb suitcase had originated from. Bedford's evidence about the precise location of the container, and the location of the suitcases inside it, helped investigators piece together the movements and origin of the bomb suitcase. Bedford particularly remembered handling container AVE 4041, he told the investigators, because he was born in 1940, and his wife in 1941 (Cox and Foster 1992).

The Samsonite suitcase, the bomb, and the clothes

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A Toshiba RT-SF 16 Bombeat, identical to the one that housed the bomb.
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A mock-up of the Lockerbie bomb, courtesy of the Press Association

An analysis by the FBI forensic team and British Defence Evaluation and Research Agency of the fine carbon deposits on AVE 4041 and AVN 7511 indicated that a chemical explosion had occurred; that a charge of about between 12 and 16 oz of plastic explosive had been used; and that the explosion had occurred 200 mm from the left side of the container.

Dr. Alan Feraday and Dr. Thomas Hayes of the British Royal Armament and Defence Research Establishment (RARDE) in Fort Halstead, Kent, which houses one of the world's most advanced forensic laboratories, examined two strips of metal from AVE 4041, and found traces of pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN) and cyclotrimethylene trinitramine (RDX), components of Semtex-H, a high-performance plastic explosive manufactured in the village of Semtin, Czechoslovakia. [13] ( In March 1990, Czechoslovak President Vaclav Havel disclosed that the former communist regime had supplied about 1000 tons of Semtex via a company called Omnipol to the Libyan government. [14] ( [15] ( [16] (

During the fingertip searches around Lockerbie, 56 fragments of a suitcase were found that showed extensive, close-range blast damage. With the help of luggage manufacturers, it was determined that the fragments had been part of a brown, hardshell, Samsonite suitcase of the 26 in Silhouette 4000 range. A further 24 items of luggage, including clothing, were determined by RARDE to have been within a very close range of the suitcase when it exploded, and probably inside it.

The blast fragments included parts of a radio cassette player and a small piece of circuit board. This rang alarm bells within the intelligence communities in Britain, the U.S., and Germany. The German police had recovered a Semtex bomb hidden inside a Toshiba radio cassette player in an apartment in Neuss, Germany, in October 1988, two months before PA 103 exploded. The bomb, one of five, had been in the possession of members of the Damascus-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command (PFLP-GC), led by Ahmed Jibril, a former Syrian army captain. A RARDE scientist traveled to Germany to examine this bomb, and though he found that the Lockerbie fragments did not precisely match the Toshiba model, they were similar enough for him to contact Toshiba. With the company's help, RARDE discovered there were seven models in which the printed circuit board bore exactly the same details as the fragment RARDE had found.

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Further examination of the clothing believed to have been in the bomb suitcase found fragments of paper from a Toshiba RT-SF 16 Bombeat radio cassette player embedded into two Slalom-brand men's shirts, a blue baby's jumpsuit of the Babygro Primark brand, and a pair of tartan trousers. Fragments of plastic consistent with the material used on a Bombeat and pieces of loudspeaker mesh, were found embedded in other clothing which appeared to have been inside the bomb suitcase: a white, Abanderado-brand T-shirt; cream-colored pyjamas; a fragment of a knitted, brown, woollen cardigan with the label "Puccini design"; a herringbone jacket; and brown herringbone material, some of which bore a label indicating it came from a pair of size-34 Yorkie-brand men's trousers.

Contained within this herringbone material were five clumps of blue and white fibers consistent with the blue Babygro material. Trapped between two pieces of Babygro fibers were the remains of a label with the words "Made in Malta." This label was the first indication of possible Libyan involvement.

RARDE also found the fragments of a black nylon umbrella that showed signs of blast damage. Stuck to the canopy material, there were blue and white fibers, consistent with the fragments of the Babygro. [17] ( Investigators were left in no doubt that these items had been wrapped around the bomb inside the Samsonsite suitcase. If they could find the man who had bought the clothes, they believed, they would find the Lockerbie bomber (U.S. News & World Report, November 18, 1989).

Mary's House, Sliema, Malta

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Mary's House, the store in Sliema, Malta, where the prosecution alleged Megrahi bought the clothes that were wrapped around the Lockerbie bomb
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The charred piece of cloth still showing the word 'Yorkie' that led police to Mary's House, Malta
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It was this photograph of Megrahi, taken in the '80s, that Toni Gauci identified as the man who had bought the clothes.

As well as the Babygro carrying the label "Made in Malta," detectives discovered that Yorkie-brand trousers are manufactured in Ireland and Malta by Yorkie Clothing. In August 1989, Scottish detectives flew to Malta to speak to the owner, who directed them to Yorkie's main outlet on the island — Mary's House in Sliema, run by Toni Gauci, who would become the prosecution's most important witness.

Gauci recalled that, about two weeks before the bombing, he had sold the Yorkie trousers to a man of Libyan appearance, who spoke a mixture of Arabic, English, and Maltese with a Libyan accent. Gauci remembered the sale well, he told the police, because the customer didn't seem to care what he was buying. He bought an old tweed jacket that Gauci had been trying to get rid of for years, a blue Babygro, a woolen cardigan, and a number of other items, all different styles and sizes. He described the man as "5ft 10 in, muscular, and clean-shaven" (U.S. News & World Report, November 18, 1989). A Scottish police artist flew to Malta to compile a detailed sketch of the man.

Gauci had seen this customer before and, he told police, had seen him since the bombing, too, in Malta, just a few weeks previously. At this point, the Scottish police believed they might be in a position to make an arrest.

However, days later, the Sunday Times of London became aware of the story, not least because of the Scottish detectives' habit of going for a walk together at lunchtime every day, conspicuous as a group in their black police officers' trousers and white shirts. Rumors spread around the island that the Lockerbie police were in Malta looking for the bomber. An American journalist who approached one of the detectives to ask whether he was from Lockerbie was told "No comment" in a broad Scottish accent, which was taken as confirmation, and the story reached David Leppard, an investigative reporter with the Insight team of the Sunday Times, who published the story. Any chance of arresting the suspect in Malta was lost.

Before the detectives left his store that day, Gauci remembered something else. Just as the Libyan-looking customer reached the door, it had started to rain. Gauci had asked him whether he also wanted to buy an umbrella, and he did. The detectives bought an identical umbrella from Gauci, took it back to Lockerbie, and searched through the remains of the black umbrellas that were found at the crash site, until they found parts of one that seemed to match Gauci's.

The parts were sent to RARDE for examination, where traces of the blue Babygro were found embedded into the umbrella's fabric, indicating that both items had been inside the Samsonite suitcase. This match confirmed to the Scots that the man Toni Gauci had sold the clothes to was, indeed, the man they were looking for.

The timer fragment

Six months after the bombing, two Scottish detectives engaged in a line search in woods near Lockerbie found a piece of charred material, later identified as the neckband of a grey Slalom-brand shirt. Because of the charring, it was sent for analysis to the forensic explosives laboratory at RARDE. On May 12, 1989, Dr. Hayes identified the material as having been near the bomb, and found embedded in some of its penetration holes nine fragments of black plastic, a fragment of metal, a fragment of wire, and a fragment of white paper, all subsequently found to be fragments of a Toshiba RT-SF 16 and its manual.

Hayes also found embedded a 0.4-inch-fragment of green circuit board. On September 15, 1989, RARDE sent a Polaroid photograph of the fragment to the police to ask for help in identifying it. In June 1990, Thomas Thurman, an FBI explosives expert identified the fragment as coming from the same type of timer seized from a Libyan intelligence agent, Mohammad al-Marzouk, who was arrested in Dakar airport, Senegal ten months before PA 103 (The Independent, December 19, 1990). Marzouk was found to be carrying 21 lb of Semtex, several packets of TNT, 10 detonators, and an electronic timer — a so-called MST-13 timer — with the word Mebo printed on it. This fragment, which came to be known as PT/35(b), would lead detectives to Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi.


Investigators discovered that Mebo stood for Meister and Bollier, an electronics firm in Zrich, Switzerland. It emerged at trial that one of the owners, Edwin Bollier, had sold 20 so-called MST-13 timers identical to the one found in Senegal to Libya in 1985, in the hope of winning a contract to supply the Libyan military. The first time he supplied a batch of timers he had accompanied Libyan officials to the desert city of Sabha, and had watched as his timers were used in explosions. He told the court that he had met Abdel Basset al-Megrahi on that occasion for the first time, believing him to be a major in the Libyan army and a relative of Gadaffi's. [18] (,,334505,00.html)

After that meeting, Bollier said that Megrahi and his co-accused, Fhimah, who he believed were good friends, had set up a travel business together under the name ABH in the Mebo offices in Zrich. Fhima later went onto to become the station manager for Libyan Arab Airlines in Luqa airport, in Valletta, Malta.

The unaccompanied suitcase

In parallel to the forensic work, detectives were also tracing the origin of every piece of luggage that had been checked onto PA 103, either in London or through the interline baggage system. Interline baggage is baggage checked onto a flight in one location and automatically routed by the airline onto other locations. It is the weak link in airline security, because a bag not properly x-rayed by a low-risk airline in a low-risk airport may be routed without further checks through several other airports to high-risk airlines, so long as it is tagged correctly.

Frankfurt airport records for December 21, 1988, showed that an unaccompanied bag had been routed from Air Malta Flight 180 out of Valletta's Luqa airport to Frankfurt, where it had been loaded onto Pan Am 103A, the feeder flight to London. A properly marked Air Malta baggage tag would have routed the suitcase through the interline system from Malta to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to London, and London to New York.

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Lamin Khalifa Fhimah

The PA 103 investigators learned that the baggage for Air Malta Flight 180 was processed at the same time as the bags for Libyan Arab Airlines Flight 147 to Tripoli. They later discovered that Megrahi had been a passenger on this flight, having arrived in Malta two days earlier using a false passport. As he declined to take the stand during his trial, his explanation for his presence in Malta, and his reason for using a fake ID, was never heard.

Once alerted by Edwin Bollier of Mebo to the Megrahi–Fhima friendship and business relationship, Scottish police obtained permission to search Fhima's office in Malta. There they found a diary he had kept, in which he had reminded himself, on December 15, 1988, in English, to "take taggs from Air Malta."

The trial=

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The Scottish Court in the Netherlands

In 1998, as several Arab and African countries began to ignore the United Nations' economic sanctions against Libya, the Libyan government conceded to a trial in a neutral country. Colonel Gadaffi agreed to the accused being handed over to the Scottish police for trial before three judges without a jury, a stipulation of Gadaffi's. The British government also had to agree that the accused would not be interviewed by the police, and that no one else in Libya would be sought in connection with the bombing.

The neutral venue chosen for the trial was in the Netherlands, where the so-called Scottish Court in the Netherlands was established in a former United States Air Force base at Camp Zeist. The area was declared sovereign territory of the United Kingdom and governed by Scots Law under a treaty signed by the British and Dutch governments. In August 1998, United Nations sanctions against Libya were suspended, though not lifted.

The two accused arrived in the Netherlands on April 5, 1999, and the trial opened on May 3, 2000, 11 years, four months and 13 days after the bombing. The judges were Lord Sutherland, the longest-serving member of the Scottish High Court of Justiciary, Lord Coulsfield, and Lord MacLean.

Representing Megrahi were his solicitor, Alistair Duff, William Taylor QC, David Burns QC, and John Beckett. Fhimah was represented by Eddie McKechnie, Richard Keen QC, Jack Davidson QC, and Murdo MacLeod. The U.S. Department of Justice was represented by Brian Murtaugh, who had helped draw up the indictment against the accused, and Dana Biehl.

On the advice on his legal team, Megrahi did not take the stand in his own defense, which many observers felt hurt his case, because the court was left with no explanation for his presence in Malta on the day of the bombing or for his traveling there under an assumed name, using a fake passport. For its part, the prosecution also failed to call a crucial witness: the FBI's Thomas Thurman, who had originally identified the timer fragment that was the sole, hard piece of incriminatory evidence presented at the trial.

Verdicts were reached on January 31, 2001. Megrahi was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison, with a recommendation that he serve at least 20 years before he could apply for parole.

Fhimah was found not guilty. He returned to his home in Souk al Juma, Libya, the next day. An appeal by Megrahi was rejected on March 14, 2002, and he was moved into solitary confinement at Barlinnie prison near Glasgow, where previously he had lived in a specially constructed suite of cells, built to house him and Fhimah, containing several rooms, including a kitchen where he could prepare Arabic food. The site at Camp Zeist has been decommissioned and returned to the Dutch government.

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Megrahi's supporters call him Lockerbie's 271st victim.

A commission from the Organisation of African Unity criticized the conviction, and in June 2002 Nelson Mandela showed sympathy by visiting Megrahi in prison and calling for him to be allowed to serve his sentence in Libya or another Muslim country.

On November 24 2003, as required by European Human Rights law, the Scottish high court set Megrahi's tariff — the length of time he must serve before becoming eligible for parole — at 27 years, backdated to his detention in 1999. Scotland's Lord Advocate Colin Boyd lodged an appeal over the sentence after being approached by some of the families of the American victims, saying the sentence was "too lenient"; Megrahi's legal team is appealing it because they say it is too harsh.

In February 2005, Megrahi was moved unexpectedly from Barlinnie to Greenock prison, near Glasgow, where he no longer lives in solitary confinement. His lawyers have protested the move, which they say violates the agreement with Libya and the UN that Megrahi would receive special treatment. The following month Megrahi's wife, Aisha, and their three young children—who had all been living in Scotland and visiting him regularly in prison—returned to Libya to be with their two elder children.

By September 2005, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission ( is expected to rule on whether there has been a miscarriage of justice in Megrahi's case, and whether to allow a fresh legal appeal against his conviction.

Relations with Libya

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Colonel Muammar Gadaffi

On August 15, 2003, Libya formally accepted responsibility for the bombing, although the statement lacked an expression of remorse for the lives lost. The Libyan government paid each family $8 million, and on September 12, 2003, the UN removed the sanctions. An extra $2 million would have gone to each family had the U.S. State Department removed Libya from its list of states regarded as supporting international terrorism, but as this did not happen by the deadline, the Libyan Central Bank withdrew half a billion dollars in April 2005 from the escrow account in Switzerland into which the compensation for the victims had been paid. [19] (

Some observers believe that Libya's acceptance of responsibility amounted to a business deal aimed at having the sanctions overturned, rather than an admission of guilt. On 24 February, 2004, Libyan Prime Minister Shukri Ghanem stated in a BBC interview that his country had paid the compensation as the "price for peace" and to secure the lifting of sanctions. Asked if Libya did not accept guilt, he said, "I agree with that." He also said there was no evidence to link his country with the April 1984 shooting of police officer Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan Embassy in London. His comments were later retracted by Colonel Gadaffi, under pressure from Washington and London.

A civil action against Libya continues on behalf of Pan Am, which went bankrupt as a result of the attack. The airline is seeking $4.5 billion for the loss of the aircraft and the effect on the airline's business.

Alternative theories

Those who believe Megrahi is the victim of a miscarriage of justice maintain that Palestinian groups commissioned by Iran or Libya may have carried out the bombing. The two groups under suspicion are the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command (PFLP-GC) and the Abu Nidal Organization, though smaller, lesser-known groups such as the Popular Struggle Front have been mentioned as having worked as subcontractors for the PFLP-GC.

There are also stories about CIA activity in Lockerbie and alleged interference with evidence; and stories about CIA foreknowledge of the bombing.

CIA in Lockerbie

Within days of the bombing, Lockerbie was awash with rumors: heroin and money had been found, and the CIA had arrived in the town. None of these rumors was ever officially confirmed.

Two teenagers claimed to have found traveler's checks worth half a million dollars, and an envelope nearby with the figure $547,000 marked on it. Several polythene packages of white powder were found, according to Edinburgh's Radio Forth reporter David Johnstone (Johnstone 1989). No evidence of these finds was presented in court.

Another rumor was that a mountain-rescue leader walking east of Tundergarth was approached by a police officer and told he could proceed no further into a particular field, in which he could see a large red or orange tarpaulin. Other witnesses allegedly confirmed they had seen it, too, and that a white helicopter was hovering overhead, carrying a marksman, who waved away anyone who came too close to the tent. One witness told journalist Paul Foot that the tarpaulin was covering a container, which was too large to be the flight recorder (Ashton and Ferguson 2001).

Whatever was under the tarpaulin, the bulk of the apparent intelligence activity in Lockerbie appears to have been connected to the presence on the flight of Major Charles McKee, or more particularly, whatever he was carrying in his suitcase. McKee is widely believed to have been in charge of a Special Forces team about to attempt a rescue of the American hostages being held by Hezbollah in Lebanon. His public file, obtainable through the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, although heavily censored, shows he was a career spy, highly thought of, and used to dangerous missions. American intelligence sources told journalists that his suitcase contained details of the mission, including diagrams of buildings where, it was believed, the hostages were being held.

McKee's suitcase was found by a dog handler a few days before Christmas on Carruthers Farm, near Waterbeck. Shortly afterwards, it was allegedly removed by two Americans, who said they worked for Pan Am, and who put the case back later, minus its contents. On Christmas Eve, a group of Scottish police officers was asked to accompany the two Americans to the location where the case had been found, and was still lying. Before they arrived at the site, according to authors John Ashton and Ian Ferguson, the officers realized they were being used, and were expected to "find" the cleansed suitcase as if for the first time, so it could be logged in as evidence. The officers made their excuses and left. Two British Transport Police dog handlers allegedly "found" the case for the Americans later the same day (ibid.).

No evidence has emerged to support these allegations, but so many journalists have been told about them that it is widely assumed there is some truth to them. For the accused's lawyers, the stories indicate that, if the CIA was indeed removing evidence from the hills around Lockerbie, the integrity of the chain of evidence, crucial to a fair trial, may have been disturbed. These concerns have led to conspiracy theories, which again lack evidence to support them, claiming that the CIA not only removed evidence, but planted it, too, in order to pin the blame for the attack on Libya.

Iran, the PFLP-GC, and Operation Autumn Leaves

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Ahmed Jibril of the PFLP-GC who in 1986 said: "There will be no safety for any traveler on an Israeli or American airliner.

Some of the PA 103 relatives' groups believe that the Iranian motive was prematurely discounted by investigators. For many months after the bombing, the prime suspects were the PFLP-GC, a Damascus-based rejectionist group led by former Syrian army captain, Ahmed Jibril. Jibril had stated clearly at a press conference in February 1986 that "[t]here will be no safety for any traveler on an Israeli or U.S. airliner" (Cox and Foster 1991, p. 28)

Investigators believe that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, or Pasdaran, headquarters in Baalbek, Lebanon, made contact with the PFLP-GC immediately after the downing of Iranair 655. Investigators told journalists that Jibril is believed to have received $10 million from the Iranians, though evidence of this has never emerged. The Central Intelligence Agency allegedly intercepted a telephone call made two days after PA 103 by the Interior Minister in Tehran to the Iranian embassy in Beirut, instructing the embassy to hand over the funds to Jibril and congratulating them on a successful operation. Again, no evidence to support this claim has ever been presented.

What is known is that a PFLP-GC cell of 17 men was active in the Frankfurt and Neuss areas of Germany in October 1988, two months before PA 103. During what they called Operation Herbstlauf (Operation Autumn Leaves), the Bundesamt fr Verfassungsschutz (BfV), Germany's internal security service, kept members of the group under tight surveillance, watching and listening as the bombers prepared a number of improvised explosive devices hidden inside household electronic equipment, referring to the operation in telephone calls to Cyprus and Damascus in code: "oranges and apples" stood for detonating devices, "medicine and pasta" for the Semtex, "auntie" for the bomb courier. During one telephone call, one of the operatives was reported as saying: "Auntie should get off, but should leave the suitcase on the bus" (Duffy and Emerson 1990).

The bombs Khreesat made included at least one inside a single-speaker Toshiba Bombeat 453 radio-cassette recorder, similar to the twin-speaker RT-SF 16 Bombeat used to blow up PA 103. Investigators believe that a second Toshiba radio-cassette recorder bomb was also prepared by the cell, but that it went missing just before the Germans moved in to arrest the men.

The detonating device of the PFLP-GC Toshiba bomb was not the same as the one that was used in the Lockerbie bomb (ibid.). The bombs the PFLP-GC built contained barometric triggers, designed to go off when the aircraft reached cruising height, whereas the PA 103 bomb contained a simple timer. A barometric trigger on the PA 103 bomb would have caused it to explode when the Air Malta flight reached cruising altitude. A bomb with a reliable timing device, on the other hand, can be flown on several flights before detonating at a pre-set time.

The information about the bombs the PFLP-GC were making in Germany is known to Western intelligence agencies because the group's bomb maker, Marwan Khreesat, was a former bomb maker for the PFLP-GC turned Jordanian double agent, and was reporting everything the group did back to the GID, the Jordanian intelligence service. The GID, in turn, was passing the information to the German police. The Jordanians had instructed Marwan Khreesat to manufacture bombs, but also to make sure they were dysfunctional and wouldn't explode. However, in April 1989, a German police technician was killed when one of Khreesat's bombs, which had been seized by the police, exploded while being disarmed.

Through Khreesat, the Jordanians and Germans learned that one of the flights the cell appeared to be targeting was Iberia Flight 888 from Madrid to Tel Aviv via Barcelona, chosen because there was a stopover in Barcelona where the bomb courier could disembark, but no change of aircraft, so that the bomb would remain on the plane. The date chosen, Khreesat reportedly told his handlers, was October 30. He also told them that two members of the cell had been to Frankfurt airport to pick up Pan Am timetables.

Because of this intelligence, on October 26, the German police moved in to arrest the group, raiding 14 apartments and arresting all 17 men, fearing that to keep them under surveillance much longer was to risk losing control of the operation. However, at least two members of the cell are known to have escaped arrest, including Abu Elias, an Arab living in Sweden who, according to ABC News' Prime Time Live (November 1989), was an expert on bombs sent to Germany by Ahmed Jibril to check Khreesat's devices, because Jibril was suspicious of Khreesat. At least one of the Toshiba bombs is believed to have disappeared, too.

The suspected link to PA 103 was further strengthened when Khreesat told investigators that, before flying to Germany, he had bought five Toshiba Bombeats from a smugglers' village in Syria near the Lebanese border, and had made practice bombs out of them in Jibril's training camp 14 miles away. The bombs were inspected by Abu Elias, who declared they were good work. What happened to these devices is not known.

Some journalists and PA 103 relatives believe it is too stark a coincidence that, eight weeks later, a Toshiba radio-cassette recorder was used to down PA 103. Scottish police wrote up an arrest warrant for Marwan Khreesat in the spring of 1989, but were persuaded by the FBI not to issue it, because the FBI saw Khreesat as a potential source, rather than as one of the bombers. The late King Hussein of Jordan arranged in 1990 for Khreesat to be interviewed by the FBI and Thomas Thurman, the FBI's forensic expert, during which Khreesat described in detail the bombs he had built.

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Vincent Cannistraro, former head of counter-terrorism for the CIA, believes the PFLP-GC may have subcontracted the bombing to Libya after being commissioned by Iran.

Some relatives, investigators, and journalists have speculated that Libyan and Iranian-paid agents may have worked on the bombing together; or that one group handed the job over to a second group when the Germans rounded up the PFLP-GC members in Frankfurt. The former head of counter-terrorism for the CIA, Vincent Cannistaro, who worked on the PA 103 investigation, has told reporters he believes the PFLP-GC planned the attack at the behest of the Iranian government, then subcontracted it to Libyan intelligence after October 1988, because the German arrests meant the PFLP-GC was unable to complete the operation.

Other investigators believe that whoever paid for the bombing arranged two parallel operations intended to ensure that at least one would succeed, or that Jibril's German operation was a deliberate red herring, designed to attract the attention of the intelligence services, while the real bombers worked quietly elsewhere.

Iran and the London angle

Megrahi's defense team believes the bomb may have been placed on board the flight at Heathrow, not in Malta. The 747 that carried the passengers on the London-New York leg of the flight had arrived from San Francisco at noon on December 21, and stood unguarded on the tarmac for much of the period before Flight 103's passengers began to board at between five and six o'clock in the evening. The Iran Air terminal in Heathrow stood adjacent to the Pan Am terminal — the Flight 103 passengers would have seen the enormous poster of Ayatollah Khomeini on the wall by the Iranair check-in desk — and the two airlines also shared tarmac space. The Scottish Fatal Accident Inquiry heard evidence that the luggage container AVE 4041, which was found to have contained the bomb suitcase, had stood unsupervised on the tarmac for a period of 40 minutes that day.

Libya and Abu Nidal

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A former member of Abu Nidal's group has said Abu Nidal arranged the bombing on behalf of Gadaffi.

Before the rise of Osama bin Laden, Abu Nidal, or Sabri al-Banna, head of the leftwing, secular, rejectionist Fatah - the Revolutionary Council, was widely regarded as the world's most ruthless terrorist-mercenary. After his death in Baghdad on August 16, 2002, a former senior member of his group, Atef Abu Bakr, told journalists that Abu Nidal had orchestrated PA 103 on behalf of Colonel Gadaffi.

After settling in Tripoli in 1985, Abu Nidal and Gadaffi allegedly became close, Gadaffi sharing what The Sunday Times called "Abu Nidal's dangerous combination of an inferiority complex mixed with the belief that he was a man of great destiny." [20] (,,2089-393455_1,00.html)

According to Atef Abu Bakr, Gadaffi asked Abu Nidal to coordinate an attack on the U.S., in retaliation for the bombing of Benghazi and Tripoli, with the head of Libyan intelligence, Abdullah al-Senussi. On September 5, 1986, an ANO team hijacked Pan Am Flight 73 in Karachi, killing 22 passengers and wounding dozens of others. In August 1987, Abu Nidal allegedly tried again, this time using an unwitting bomb mule to carry a bomb on board a flight from Belgrade (airline unknown), but the bomb failed to explode. For PA 103, Senussi allegedly told Abu Nidal to supply the bomb, and Libyan intelligence would arrange for it to be placed on a flight.

Neither the Scottish police nor the FBI are believed to have acted on Atef Abu Bakr's statement.

CIA-protected-suitcase theory

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Juval Aviv, a former Mossad officer and the lead investigator for Pan Am, wrote a report claiming that the bomb suitcase had boarded the flight via a CIA-protected drugs route.

One theory, for which no evidence has been produced, suggests that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had set up a protected drugs route from Europe to the United States — allegedly called Operation Corea — which allowed Syrian drug dealers, led by Monzer al-Kassar (who was involved with Oliver North in Iran-Contra) to ship heroin to the U.S. using Pan Am flights, in exchange for intelligence on Palestinian groups based in Syria. The CIA allegedly protected the suitcases containing the drugs and made sure they were not searched. On the day of the bombing, the theory goes, terrorists exchanged the drugs for a bomb.

Another version of the same theory is that the CIA knew this exchange had taken place but let it happen anyway, because the protected drugs route was a rogue operation, and the American intelligence officers on PA 103 — Matthew Gannon and Major Charles McKee — had found out about it, and were on their way to Washington to tell their superiors.

The former version of the protected-suitcase theory was suggested in October 1989 by Juval Aviv, the owner of Interfor Inc., a private investigation company on Madison Avenue, New York. Aviv says he is the former Mossad officer who led the Israeli "Wrath of God" team that assassinated several Palestinians believed responsible for the 1972 Munich Massacre, during which 11 Israeli Olympic athletes were killed by the Black September Palestinian group. Aviv told his story to Canadian journalist George Jonas, who published it in 1984 as Vengeance, which was made into a movie in 1986 called The Sword of Gideon.

After PA 103, Aviv was employed by Pan Am as their lead investigator. In October 1988, Aviv submitted a report to the airline — the so-called Interfor report — blaming the bombing on a CIA-protected drugs route (Barron's, December 17, 1989). This scenario provided Pan Am with a defense against claims for compensation from relatives, because if the United States government had helped the bomb bypass Pan Am's security, the airline could not be held liable. The Interfor report alleged that Khalid Jafaar, the Lebanese-American passenger, had unwittingly carried the bomb on board, thinking he was carrying drugs on behalf of the Syrian drug dealers he supposedly worked for. However, the New York court hearing the relatives' civil case against Pan Am rejected the Interfor report for lack of evidence. Aviv was never interviewed by the Scottish police or FBI in connection with PA 103.

In 1990, the protected-suitcase theory was given new life by Lester Coleman, a self-proclaimed former freelance journalist-turned-informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in Cyprus. Coleman claimed to have seen Khalid Jafar in a DEA office in Nicosia, Cyprus, once again implying that Jafar was a drugs mule, this time for the DEA instead of Syrian drug dealers. In 1993, Coleman turned his story into a book, Trail of the Octopus. [21] ( No evidence has been advanced to support his claims, though the theory gained credibility in 1994 when British journalist Paul Foot wrote a glowing review of Coleman's book for the London Review of Books. [22] (


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Dark Elegy by Susan Lowenstein
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There are a number of private and public memorials to the PA 103 victims. Dark Elegy [23] ( is the work of sculptor Susan Lowenstein of Long Island, whose son Alexander, then 21, was a passenger on the flight. The work consists of 43 statues of the naked wives and mothers who lost a husband or a child. Inside each sculpture there is a personal memento of the victim.

U.S. President Bill Clinton dedicated a memorial to the victims at Arlington National Cemetery on November 3, 1995, and there are similar memorials at Syracuse University; Dryfesdale Cemetery, near Lockerbie; and in Sherwood Crescent, Lockerbie.

Syracuse University holds a memorial week every year called "Remembrance Week" to commemorate its lost students. Every December 21, a service is held in the university's chapel at exactly 14:03 (19:03 UTC), marking the exact moment the aircraft exploded in 1988. The university also awards university tuition fees to two students from Lockerbie Academy each year, in the form of its Lockerbie scholarship.

See also


Further reading

fi:Lockerbien pommi-isku ja:パンナム機爆破事件 nl:Pan Am vlucht 103 zh:泛美航空103航班


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