Lockerbie: did we jail the wrong man?

Lockerbie was the worst terrorist atrocity ever committed in Great Britain and I fully agree with the many who feel that whichever fiend was responsible for murdering those 270 people should be banged up for life. But was that man Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi – the Libyan being freed by the Government on “compassionate grounds” next week so that he can be home with his family in time Ramadan? (Hat Tip: Tom Gross)

I’m not sure I believe it was. Nor, more to the point, do many in the CIA and in Israeli intelligence, not to mention the men who have probably done more research into the incident than anyone  – The Jerusalem Post’s David Horovitz and Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was killed in the attack.

What makes them all understandably sceptical of Libyan involvement is the question of motive. Sure the Lockerbie atrocity coincided with a period when US-Libyan relations were at an extreme low, with Libyans bombing a Berlin nightclub used by US troops, and the US launching air attacks on Benghazi and Tripoli in 1986. But the blowing up of a US airliner over Britain in 1988 was in an altogether different league of aggression and provocation. Would even Col Gaddaffi really have been so barmy as to authorise such an act? (Especially one which would lead to sanctions costing Libya an estimated $30 billion)

Iran, on the other hand, had a very obvious motive and stated it  very explicitly. Five months before Lockerbie, the USS Vincennes accidentally shot down an Iranian airliner – killing all 290 aboard – with a guided missile. Iran claimed the attack was deliberate and vowed revenge. The skies, promised Ayatollah Khomeini, would “rain with blood.”

Many of those in the know believe that the bombing was actually carried out by the PLO splinter group the PFLP-GC, acting on Iran’s orders. They believe that the Lockerbie bomb timing devices were manufactured in a PFLP-GC workshop on the outskirts of Damascus. And that the evil genius behind it was not hapless fall-guy Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi but the sinister Ahmed Jibril, with PFLP-GC cell leader Hafez Dalkamouni doing the dirty work.

Why then blame Libya? Realpolitik of the most cynical and reprehensible variety. The Lockerbie investigation coincided with the run-up for the first Gulf War, when Britain and Ameria were trying to build a broad a coalition and keep as many Arab nations as possible onside. Syria and Iran were more useful to their purposes than Libya, so it was Libya that got the blame. And if an innocent man spent the rest of his life in high security prison, well, that was a small price to pay for liberating Kuwait without creating too much division in the Arab world.

Dr Jim Swire has described it as “one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in history.”

Normally I’m highly sceptical of those paranoid conspiracy theories where the answer turns out to be that it was all a cover-up by Western governments. But on this occasion I believe the theory is right. Even if you rely solely principle of Occam’s Razor, it is infinitely more likely that Flight 103 was shot down by agents acting for Iran (with its clear and clearly expressed motive) than by some rogue operative acting for no obvious reason on behalf of Libya.

No disrespect to the families and victims of Flight 103. But I for one am glad that Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi is going home.