Most of these apparently disparate conspiracy theories start from the premise that key evidence presented at the trial (eg timer fragment, parts from a specific radio cassette model, clothing bought in Malta, bomb suitcase originating at Luqa Airport) could have been fabricated by the U.S. and Britain for the "political" purpose of incriminating Libya.
However, the case would be reopened if the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) were to review the case and decide to refer it back to the High Court for a fresh appeal. Lawyers for Megrahi therefore applied to the SCCRC on September 23, 2003 asking that the case be reviewed. The following events have occurred since:
Even though Libya never formally admitted responsibility for Pan Am Flight 103 or UTA Flight 772, Libya "accepted responsibility for the actions of its officials" and agreed to pay compensation to the relatives of the victims.
- "evidence was obtained from Toshiba [by DERA's Alan Feraday] which showed that during October 1988 20,000 black Toshiba RT-SF 16 radio cassettes, the type used in the Pan Am bomb, were shipped to Libya. Of the total world-wide sales of that model 76% were sold to the General Electric Company's subsidiary in Libya, whose chairman was Said Rashid.[information added]"
- "In June 1990, with the assistance ultimately of the CIA and FBI, Alan Feraday of the Explosives Laboratory was able to identify the fragment as identical to circuitry from an MST-13 timer. It was already known to the CIA from an example seized in Togo in 1986 and photographed by them in Senegal in 1988. That took investigators to the firm of Mebo in Zurich. It was discovered that these timers had been manufactured to the order of two Libyans Ezzadin Hinshin, at the time director of the Central Security Organisation of the Libyan External Security Organisation and Said Rashid, then head of the Operations Administration of the ESO."
- "In September 1989 Tony Gauci, the shopkeeper, was interviewed by Scottish police officers. He convincingly identified a range of clothing which he had sold to a man sometime before Christmas 1988. Among the items he remembered selling were two pairs of Yorkie trousers, two pairs of striped pyjamas, a tweed jacket, a blue babygro, two slalom shirts collar size 16 and a half, two cardigans, one brown and one blue and an umbrella. He described the man, and subsequently identified him as Megrahi. More importantly at the time he was in no doubt that he was a Libyan."
A number of news media also investigated the bombing and the various theories that were put forward to explain it. One news team headed by Pierre Salinger accused the prosecution of disinformation, and of attempting to steer the investigation toward Libya.
"It turned out to be a more decisive blow against Libyan-sponsored terrorism than I could ever have imagined. ...There were revenge killings of British hostages organized by Libya, which I bitterly regretted. But the much-vaunted Libyan counter attack did not and could not take place... There was a marked decline in Libyan-sponsored terrorism in succeeding years" (Thatcher 1993, pp448-9).
For many months after the bombing, the prime suspects were the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command (PFLP-GC), a Damascus-based rejectionist group led by former Syrian army captain Ahmed Jibril. In a February 1986 press conference, Jibril warned:
Secret intercepts are believed to have recorded the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (Pasdaran) in Baalbeck, Lebanon making contact with the PFLP-GC immediately after the downing of the Airbus. Jibril is alleged to have received $11 million from Iran (although a banking audit trail to confirm the payment has never been presented). The CIA 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.
A verifiable fact is that Jibril's right hand man, Hafez Dalkamoni, set up a PFLP-GC cell which was active in the Frankfurt and Neuss areas of West Germany in October 1988, two months before PA 103. During what Germany's internal security service, the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (BfV), called Operation Herbstlaub (Operation Autumn Leaves), the BfV kept cell members under strict surveillance. The plotters prepared a number of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) hidden inside household electronic equipment. They discussed a planned operation in coded calls to Cyprus and Damascus: oranges and apples stood for detonating devices; medicine and pasta for Semtex explosive; and, auntie for the bomb carrier. One operative had been recorded as saying: "auntie should get off, but should leave the suitcase on the bus" (Duffy and Emerson 1990). The PFLP-GC cell had an experienced bomb-maker a Jordanian, Marwan Khreesat, to assist them. Khreesat made at least one IED inside a single-speaker Toshiba Bombeat 453 radio cassette recorder, similar to the twin speaker model RT-SF 16 Bombeat that was used to blow up PA 103. However, unlike the Lockerbie bomb with its sophisticated timer, Khreesat's IEDs contained a barometric pressure device that triggers a simple timer with a range of up to 45 minutes before detonation.
Unbeknown to the PFLP-GC cell, its bomb-maker Khreesat was a Jordanian intelligence service (GID) agent and reported on the cell's activities to the GID, who relayed the information to Western intelligence and to the BfV. The Jordanians encouraged Khreesat to make the bombs but instructed him to ensure they were ineffective and would not explode. (A German police technician would however be killed, in April 1989, when trying to disarm one of Khreesat's IEDs). Through Khreesat and the GID, the Germans learned that the cell was surveying a number of targets, including Iberia Flight 888 from Madrid to Tel Aviv via Barcelona, chosen because the bomb-courier could disembark without baggage at Barcelona leaving the barometric trigger to activate the IED on the next leg of the journey. The date chosen, Khreesat reportedly told his handlers, was October 30, 1988. He also told them that two members of the cell had been to Frankfurt airport to pick up Pan Am timetables.
Acting upon this intelligence, the German secret police moved in to arrest the PFLP-GC cell on October 26, raiding 14 apartments and arresting 17 men, fearing that to keep them under surveillance much longer was to risk losing control of the situation. Two cell members are known to have escaped arrest including Abu Elias, a resident of Sweden who, according to Prime Time Live (ABC News November 1989), was an expert in bombs sent to Germany to check on Khreesat's devices because of suspicions raised by Ahmed Jibril. Four IEDs were recovered, but Khreesat revealed later that a fifth device had been taken away by Dalkamoni before the raid, and was never recovered. The link to PA 103 was further strengthened when Khreesat told investigators that, before joining the cell in Germany, he had bought five Toshiba Bombeat cassette radios from a smugglers' village in Syria close to the border with Lebanon, and made practice IEDs out of them in Jibril's training camp 20km (12 miles) away. The bombs were inspected by Abu Elias, who declared them to be good work. What became of these devices is not known.
Some journalists such as Paul Foot and PA 103 relatives (Dr Jim Swire) believed that it was too stark a coincidence for a Toshiba cassette radio IED to have downed PA 103 just eight weeks after the arrest of the PFLP-GC cell in Frankfurt. Indeed, Scottish police actually wrote up an arrest warrant for Marwan Khreesat in the spring of 1989, but were persuaded by the FBI not to issue it because of his value as an intelligence source. In the following spring, the late King Hussein of Jordan arranged for Khreesat to be interviewed by FBI agent, Edward Marshman, and the former head of the FBI's forensic lab, Thomas Thurman, to whom he described in detail the bombs he had built. In the 1994 documentary film Maltese Double Cross, the author David Yallop 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 upon the arrest of the PFLP-GC cell members. The former CIA head of counter-terrorism, Vincent Cannistraro, who previously worked on the PA 103 investigation, was interviewed in the film and said he believed the PFLP-GC planned the attack at the behest of the Iranian government, then sub-contracted it to Libyan intelligence after October 1988, because the arrests in Germany meant the PFLP-GC was unable to complete the operation. Other supporters of this theory believed that whoever paid for the bombing arranged two parallel operations intended to ensure that at least one would succeed; or, that Jibril's cell in Germany was a red herring designed to attract the attention of the intelligence services, while the real bombers worked quietly elsewhere.
Abu Nidal was widely regarded as the most ruthless international terrorist until that mantle was assumed by Osama bin Laden. Nidal (aka Sabri al-Banna) was reported to have died in a shoot-out in Baghdad on August 16, 2002. A former senior member of his group, Atef Abu Bakr, told journalists that shortly before his death Abu Nidal had confided to Bakr that he had orchestrated the PA 103 bombing.
After settling in Tripoli in 1985, Nidal and the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi allegedly became close, Gaddafi 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 destiny.
According to Atef Abu Bakr, Gaddafi asked Nidal to coordinate with the head of Libyan intelligence, Abdullah al-Senussi, an attack on the U.S. in retaliation for the 1986 bombing of Benghazi and Tripoli. Nidal then organized the hijacking of Pan Am Flight 73 in Karachi on September 5, 1986 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 device on board a flight from Belgrade (airline unknown), but the bomb failed to explode. For PA 103, Senussi allegedly told Nidal to supply the bomb, and Libyan intelligence would arrange for it to be put on a flight. No evidence has been produced in support of these theories.
Another version of this theory is that the CIA knew in advance this exchange would take 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 Maj. 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 based on Madison Avenue, New York. Aviv was a former Mossad officer who led the Operation Wrath of God team that assassinated a number of Palestinians who were believed to have been responsible for a massacre in 1972, when 11 Israeli Olympic athletes were killed by the Black September Palestinian group in Munich (see Munich massacre).
After PA 103, Aviv was employed by Pan Am as their lead investigator for the bombing. He submitted a report (the Interfor report) in October 1989, blaming the bombing on a CIA-protected drugs route (Barrons December 17, 1989). This scenario provided Pan Am with a credible defense against claims for compensation by relatives of victims, since, if the U.S. government had helped the bomb bypass Pan Am's security, the airline could hardly have been held liable. The Interfor report alleged inter alia that Khalid Jafaar, a Lebanese-American passenger with links to Hezbollah, had unwittingly brought the bomb on board thinking he was carrying drugs on behalf of Syrian drug dealers he supposedly worked for. However, the New York court, which heard the civil case lodged by the U.S. relatives, rejected the Interfor allegations for lack of evidence. Aviv was never interviewed by either the Scottish police or the FBI in connection with PA 103.
In 1990 the protected suitcase theory was given a new lease of life by Lester Coleman in his book Trail of the Octopus.. Coleman was a former journalist-turned-intelligence agent working with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) while employed by Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in Cyprus. Coleman claimed to have seen Khalid Jafaar in the DEA office in Nicosia, Cyprus once again implying that Jafaar was a drugs mule, but this time for the DEA instead of Syrian drug dealers. Despite no evidence being advanced to support Coleman's claims, the theory gained some credence when British journalist Paul Foot wrote a glowing review of Coleman's book for the London Review of Books. But on March 31, 2004—four months before his death—Foot reverted to the orthodox Iran/PFLP-GC theory in an article he wrote for The Guardian entitled "Lockerbie's dirty secret. In 2003 former CIA Officer Edwin Wilson's sudden release from prison confirmed Coleman's claims that the CIA played a role in the bombing. A federal judge freed Wilson, ruling his 27 year incarceration was illegal, and that he was working for the CIA when he supplied Middle East terrorist cells with explosives, something the CIA had denied.
The previously-mentioned 1994 documentary film The Maltese Double Cross – Lockerbie, which included interviews with Lester Coleman and Juval Aviv, seemed to favour a hybrid version embracing both the CIA-protected suitcase and the drugs mule versions of the theory. Shortly after the film was broadcast by Channel 4 television on May 11, 1995 Aviv was indicted on fraud charges. Aviv was quick to claim that these were trumped-up charges, and in due course they were dropped. The film can be viewed on the internet here by scrolling down to Allan Francovich - The Maltese Double Cross.
According to conspiracy theorist and self-styled private investigator Joe Vialls, who died in July 2005, the bomb on PA 103 was triggered not by a sophisticated timing device, but by the technique of radio detonation. The Vialls theory relies on the fact that each navigational beacon has its own unique radio frequency, which is usually in the range 108.0 to 117.95 megahertz (MHz) VHF. The Dean Cross beacon, shown at the bottom left of the map, marked the start of PA 103's final track on December 21, 1988. Maid of the Seas would then have been flying at about 500 mph between Dean Cross beacon and where it crashed on the town of Lockerbie, an overall distance of thirty two miles representing a point-to-point flight time of barely four minutes. As PA 103 passed overhead the Dean Cross beacon, a light would have flashed on in the cockpit alerting the pilots to change frequency in order to obtain permission for the Atlantic crossing from Shanwick Oceanic Control at Prestwick, Scotland. Using standard reaction times, according to Vialls, it would have taken between three and five minutes for the crew to be ready to communicate on the new frequency. In its PA 103 report, the Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) stated:
Vialls cited the following example of how the Israelis used the technique of radio detonation:
According to Vialls, the inside of a Boeing 747 is a Faraday cage, which would ensure that secondary emissions—from the captain's radio message to Shanwick Oceanic Control, for example—would be sufficient to activate the radio trigger of the bomb. Thus, the PA 103 bomb could have been triggered by an internally-generated command radio signal transmitted to or received from Shanwick. However, Vialls believed that the extent of the damage caused to the aircraft meant that the bomb was probably positioned close to the fuselage, rather than—as the prosecution maintained at the trial—being wrapped in clothing, packed in a suitcase and loaded inside a baggage container.The location of the bomb and its type have also been called into question by explosives engineer, John H. Parkes, who shortly after the crash was present at the scene. Parkes was not called as a witness at the trial but, in a 2006 interview in The Scotsman newspaper, he commented:
The radio detonation theory would probably rule out Libya from responsibility for the PA 103 bombing (although the Swiss firm Mebo – which was proven at the trial to have supplied sophisticated timing devices to Libya – actually fitted briefcases with the electronic equipment required to radio-detonate IEDs). Similarly, Syria and Iran – the other "usual suspects" and/or their sponsored terrorist groups – would have been unlikely to have had either the expertise or the technology to carry out a radio detonation. This leaves Israel, which originally developed the technique, and whose intelligence service, Mossad, Vialls himself blamed for the PA 103 bombing. This fitted with the general theme of Vialls's investigations: he blamed Israel and Mossad for a variety of international disasters and events, including the 2004 Asian Tsunami and the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. But Israel had no plausible motive for sabotaging PA 103. However, apartheid South Africa is alleged to have had such a motive, and this is examined below in the South-West Africa (Namibia) theory.
The theory is founded on three apparently unconnected facts:
The theory's chief proponent is former British diplomat, Patrick Haseldine, who was sacked on August 2, 1989 for, among other things, having accused the apartheid regime of responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing. In October 2007, Haseldine unsuccessfully called for a United Nations Inquiry into the death of Lockerbie bombing victim, UN Commissioner for Namibia, Bernt Carlsson.
A possible link with the previous radio detonation theory is also explored below.
At the Ronald Reagan/Mikhail Gorbachev summit of the leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union in Moscow (May 29-June 1, 1988), it was agreed that Cuban troops would leave Angola and Soviet military aid to Angola would cease as soon as South Africa withdrew from Namibia. The New York Accords, giving effect to these decisions, were signed at UN headquarters in New York City by representatives of Cuba, Angola and South Africa on December 22, 1988.
A Reuters news report of November 12, 1994 (pictured right) finally confirmed – after an interval of nearly six years – the early rumours that South Africa was closely linked to PA 103. A South African delegation of 23 negotiators, headed by foreign minister Pik Botha, arrived at London's Heathrow International Airport on December 21, 1988 en route to UN headquarters to sign an agreement relinquishing control of South-West Africa (Namibia) to the United Nations, as demanded by United Nations Security Council Resolution 435. The whole delegation – including the defence minister, General Magnus Malan, and the head of military intelligence, General C. J. Van Tonder – was booked for onward travel by flight PA 103. According to the Reuters report, their inward South African Airways (SAA) flight from Johannesburg had cut out a stopover in Frankfurt, which was SAA's European hub, and arrived early at Heathrow. The SA embassy in London managed to re-book Botha and six of his party on the 11:00 Pan Am 101 Flight to New York (according to the 1994 documentary film The Maltese Double Cross – Lockerbie). The German newspaper Die Zeit claimed that special security checks were then conducted on Botha's flight PA 101 at Heathrow —in keeping with standard practice for delegations of such size and importance (two cabinet ministers). These security measures were not extended to PA 103, because there would not be any need to since the flight no longer carried a delegation of government ministers. The remaining 16 negotiators cancelled their booking on PA 103 and returned by SAA to Johannesburg.
On December 19, 1988 UN Commissioner for Namibia Bernt Carlsson left New York for an official visit to Brussels. After a speaking engagement in the European Parliament, Carlsson was expected to return from Brussels to New York on December 20, 1988. He would have been there in good time for the signing of the Namibia independence agreement at UN headquarters on December 22, but according to the Swedish newspaper iDAG of March 12, 1990, Carlsson had been pressured to stop off at short notice in London to meet with officials of the De Beers diamond mining conglomerate.
On December 21, 1988 Bernt Carlsson arrived at Heathrow from Brussels on flight BA 391 at 11:06 with a booking to travel onward to New York by flight PA 103 at 18:00. The UN Commissioner for Namibia was met at the airport by Bankole Timothy of De Beers and taken by car to London. After the meeting with De Beers, Carlsson was brought back to Heathrow Airport, arriving at about 17:30. Carlsson's already checked-in suitcase would have remained at Heathrow airport for about seven hours, thus providing South African airside-authorized personnel with ample opportunity to substitute it for the bomb suitcase. This is contrary to evidence given at the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing trial in 2000 which led the Judges to conclude that the so-called primary suitcase was introduced as unaccompanied baggage at Luqa Airport in Malta, conveyed by Air Malta flight KM180 to Frankfurt International Airport, transferred there onto feeder flight PA 103A to Heathrow Airport, loaded into the interline baggage container AVE 4041PA at Heathrow, and put on board PA 103 in the forward cargo hold. However, the fact that South African Airways incorrectly switched baggage at Heathrow on December 21, 1988 was confirmed by a Pan Am security officer, Michael Jones, at the Lockerbie fatal accident inquiry (FAI) in October 1990. Jones told the FAI a breach of aviation rules had been committed because the suitcase of South African passenger, Miss Nicola Hall, had been put on the earlier Pan Am 101 flight (with Pik Botha's delegation) whereas Miss Hall was booked – and died – on PA 103.
Conspiracy theorist Patrick Haseldine has suggested that, on instructions from the State Security Council, South African military intelligence operatives at Heathrow would have installed the bomb on PA 103 when it was confirmed that their target, Bernt Carlsson, was to join the flight at the last minute at Heathrow. According to the theory of radio detonation, this bomb would have been set to detonate when PA 103 contacted Shanwick Oceanic Control air traffic control in the vicinity of the Dean Cross radio navigational beacon.
According to the Swedish newspaper iDAG, within a week of the death of Bernt Carlsson on flight PA 103, his office safe at the United Nations had allegedly been broken into. Furthermore his apartment, which had been sealed by the UN's security staff, had also apparently been burgled. There is however no evidence linking the South African government to the burglary, not has any motive been provided.
The Electronic Magnetic Logistical Component (EMLC), a division of the SADF, developed such specialist weapons in the form of letter, car and briefcase bombs, as well as gadgets like umbrellas and radios. Moreover, the Directorate of Military Intelligence — with close links to Western intelligence agencies — would have been fully aware of the arrest of the PFLP-GC Frankfurt cell; the "Helsinki warning"; and, the motives of both Libya and Iran for revenge against the United States.
South Africa had however, not imported 700 tonnes of Semtex or the timers from Switzerland as Libya did, both of which had been used in this attack.
Some other deficiencies in this conspiracy theory are the following:
No motive has ever been presented for South Africa to kill Carlsson. Carlsson's death did not change the outcome or the time frame of the Namibian peace process either, since the New York Accord was signed and UN Resolution 435 and 629-—both implemented without delay—-had always called for a South African Administrator-General (AG) and a UN Special Representative.
Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi was found guilty at the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing trial and his initial appeal was rejected in 2002, Libya continues to be held responsible for the Lockerbie bombing, and has paid $2.16 billion in compensation to the families of the 270 victims. However, as a result of a 4-year investigation by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC), Megrahi was granted leave on June 28, 2007 to lodge a second appeal against his conviction.
The second appeal will be heard by five judges in 2008 at the Court of Criminal Appeal. A procedural hearing at the Appeal Court in Edinburgh took place on October 11, 2007 when prosecution and defence lawyers discussed legal issues with a panel of three judges. One of the issues concerns a number of CIA documents that were shown to the prosecution but were not disclosed to the defence. The documents are understood to relate to the Mebo MST-13 timer that allegedly detonated the PA103 bomb. A further procedural hearing at the Edinburgh Appeal Court is scheduled for December 20, 2007.