The Lockerbie Trial, Pan Am flight 103
The man who was not there
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This case is not closed. The investigation continues, it has continued since the plane went down and it will continue until every individual who we can identify who played a role in this tragedy is brought to justice.
US Acting Deputy Attorney General Bob Mueller
January 31, 2001—The day of the Lockerbie Verdict 
“Did Iran contract with the PFLP-GC? Probably! But it cannot be proven in court. Did Iran ask Libya and Abu Nidal as you stated in an earlier article? Perhaps, but that too cannot be proven and never will be unless a reliable witness or two comes forward with documentary evidence,” said the FBI agent who led the Lockerbie investigation, who wrote to me. 
Former FBI Special Agent Richard A. Marquise was the chief of Terrorist Research and Analytical Center at FBI Headquarters in the ‘80s. In 2001, Marquise received the Attorney General Award for Distinguished Service.
“With regard to the James Baker discussion with a Syrian intelligence minister in 1989, I have no doubt the conversation occurred. At the time we strongly suspected the PFLP-GC which was sponsored by Syria. Baker was one of those people who could distinguish evidence from intelligence. His quote, if accurate, should have said we have the ‘intelligence’ but the word evidence connotes a stronger meaning so would have been more appropriate.” 
“We believe the Iranians had a motive to attack an American plane and they may well have ordered the bombing, but the physical evidence only links Libya to the attack. Unfortunately it does not tie anyone else, only if we had an insider. It has been nearly 20 years and one would think that by now someone would have come out of the woodwork to make the claim if legitimate.” 
This writer thus suggested to Marquise that Western intelligence had access to an insider with superb knowledge of the Iranian intelligence apparatus. Marquises’ reply was, to say the least, disturbing.
“With regard to Mesbahi, I have never heard the name until reading it in your article. I have no idea who he is but guess the defense must have heard of him and wonder why he was not a key witness at trial. It seems, based on what you report, he has some significant info—where—what is it?? I have no way of knowing,” Marquise wrote to me. 
In July 1997, the magazine Der Spiegel reported that German prosecutors had interviewed Abolghasem Mesbahi, previously only known as witness “C”, in a case concerning the assassination of Iranian dissidents in Berlin. 
Abolghasem Mesbahi is believed to be an alias. There is, however, no doubt that Mesbahi is a former high ranking Iranian intelligence official. It is alleged that he is the son of one of the fathers of the Islamic Revolution.
German Law Authorities came to regard Mesbahi as a credible witness. In fact, based on his testimony, an Iranian and three Lebanese were convicted of killing several Iranian Kurdish dissidents in Germany.
For the first time anywhere, Germany issued an international arrest warrant against a top ranking Iranian official, namely Iran’s former Intelligence Minister Ali Fallahian.
Without naming them explicitly, the court declared that Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Ayatollah Rafsanjani had authorized the assassination. Such ruling would have been all but impossible without Mesbahi’s precise knowledge of Iran Intelligence apparatus.
Three weeks before the beginning of the trial, Fallahian flew to Bonn and met with the top German intelligence official in an effort to free the five suspects and stop the prosecution. The prosecutor, Bruno Jost, would later declare that the attempt to interfere with the trial clearly pointed to the murder having happened on Tehran orders.
Besides linking Iran to the killing of dissidents in Berlin, Mesbahi claimed that Iran was behind the 1988 bombing of Pan Am airliner. Tehran promptly attempted to dismiss his testimony as part of an anti-Iran campaign by Western media.
“I can say that a witness has been interviewed and that his testimony blames Iran,” declared Job Tilmann, a spokesman for the Frankfurt prosecutors’ office.
Mesbahi told investigators that Iran had asked Libya and Abu Nidal, a Palestinian guerrilla leader, to carry out the attack on the Pan Am 103, which was destroyed in flight by a small bomb on Dec. 21, 1988.
According to Mesbahi, Iran planned the attack as revenge after the US cruiser Vincennes shot down an Iran Air Airbus over the Strait of Hormuz a few months earlier in 1988. Few, who studied the Lockerbie bombing, doubt the veracity of this statement.
Dr. Swire lost his daughter Flora in the Lockerbie tragedy. On Jan. 11 of this year, Dr. Swire wrote to me that he never doubted who ordered the bombing, why they did it and who supplied the technology.
“As you know, I have always believed that it was Iranian revenge, whether or not the Libyans helped, and that the Syrians through Jibril supplied the technology.”
In a remarkable article published on the Columbia Journalism Review message-board, Hart Lidov, who was engaged to Flora Swire, made it abundantly clear that he also shared this point of view. 
Mesbahi alleged that parts of the bomb were put on a plane at Frankfurt airport, later assembled in London and finally loaded onto Pan Am 103.
If “assembled” means “armed,” this modus operandi is consistent with the bomb being the fifth IED built by Khreesat in October 1988 while he was working in Frankfurt for Jibril PFLP-GC. The fifth IED was never recovered. It was constructed to explode 38 minutes after takeoff, exactly when Pan Am 103 was obliterated.
Incidentally, Marquise is disputing the veracity of what I wrote previously concerning Khreesat.
“You mention a Dumfries and Galloway police report dated March 29, 1991, which blamed the attack on Khreesat. I do not think any such report was ever written—especially at that time as we were on to the Libyans by that time,” Marquise told me. Although the former FBI agent says that there may have been some documentation to this effect, he is adamant that no formal report was ever drafted. “I would have to read it to believe in it is real,” Marquise told me. (NB. The report dates actually from March 1989 but was discussed by Dalyell in March 1991.)
I have not seen this report, but I have good reasons to suspect that such a report exists and that it was shown to Black. Marquise does not believe that the Scots ever drew up an arrest warrant for Khreesat because, according to his investigation, not one shred of evidence tied Khreesat to the bombing. At this point, I can only report a clear-cut disagreement between Marquise and Black, who claimed on several occasions that he had seen the report, that the report did not blame Libya and that the Scots were ready to issue an arrest warrant.
I will also add that Paul Foot referred to the report in an article written in January 1992. Foot even wrote that this document was “the information which had prompted the then-Transport Secretary Paul Channon on March 16, 1989, to announce triumphantly to selected lobby journalists that the Scottish police had tracked down the man who bombed the plane and would be arresting him shortly.” (Foot actually wrote, I believe incorrectly, March 17.)
What is more, some authors have asserted that the warrant was never issued at the request of the FBI! “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.” 
On March 29, 1991, Tam Dalyell told the House of Commons that, the Dumfries and Galloway police issued a report entitled “Bombing of Pan Am 103—Interview of Marwan Abdel Razzaq Mufit Khreesat as a Suspect.”
The Scottish police’s report concluded: “There can be little doubt that Khreesat is the bomb-maker for the PFLPGC and there is a possibility that he prepared the explosive device which destroyed PA-103. As such he should not be at liberty.”
“One of the problems with writing a report such as you refer with strong language is that there was no PROOF, no EVIDENCE which could back that up. It was an officer’s assessment—great intelligence—but not proof that a prosecutor needs in court,” argues Marquise
Mesbahi said that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini personally ordered the revenge attack and that Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati had carried out the planning with Libya and guerrilla leader Abu Nidal.
Velayati acquired his M.D. from University of Tehran and pediatrics degrees from the Johns Hopkins University in 1971 and 1974, respectively. He was the foreign minister of Iran for about 16 years (Dec. 15, 1981, to Aug. 20, 1997), making him the longest-serving foreign minister in Iranian history. Velayati is the only high-ranking Iranian official who kept his post after the death of Khomeini.
US Authorities Were Informed
It is evidenced that statements given by Mesbahi were passed to American and British investigating authorities. Tam Dalyell has been a Labor member of the House of Commons from 1962 to 2005.
Mesbahi revelations prompted Dalyell to ask Henry McLeish, the minister for home affairs and devolution—Scottish office—some embarrassing questions.
During his rather astonishingly long career in the House, Dalyell led no less than 17 adjournment debates on the Lockerbie bombing, in which he repeatedly demanded answers by the government to the reports of Hans Kochler, the United Nations observer at the Lockerbie Trial.
On April 21, 1998, Dalyell asked as to why the police inquiry had not interviewed Abolghasem Mesbahi. He asked also what approaches had been made to Gunter Rath, the state prosecutor in Frankfurt.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): What action the Crown Office has taken on the depositions and statements made by the Iranian defector, Mr. Abolghasem Mesbahi, to Mr. Gunter Rath, state prosecutor at Frankfurt, in relation to the Lockerbie bombing; and what discussions Her Majesty’s government have had with the Governments of the United States and the Federal Republic of Germany on the matter.
Mr. Henry McLeish: It would be inappropriate for the prosecuting or investigation authorities to give details of investigative steps that have been taken. I can assure my hon. friend that appropriate action has been taken in cooperation with our German and American colleagues to investigate the allegations made by Abolghasem Mesbahi.
Mr. Dalyell: Can the minister at least tell the House whether Mesbahi has been interrogated by the police in charge of the criminal investigation? If he has not, why not?
Mr. McLeish: With his usual courtesy, my hon. friend has given me a copy of the letter concerning this question that he received recently from the Lord Advocate. I am afraid that I am unable to take the matter further other than to confirm to my hon. friend that statements given by Mesbahi have been discussed with the German and American prosecuting and investigating authorities, as would be the case with any other significant matter. In the circumstances, I will be happy to pass on again to the Lord Advocate the comments of my hon. friend.
A Short Biography of Abolghasem Mesbahi
Abolghasem Mesbahi was born on Dec. 17, 1957, in Tehran, Iran. He studied theology at the famous University of Quom. In February 1979, Mesbahi was about to become an Imam when history decided otherwise. 
The leader of the revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Musawi Khomeini, picked him as the director of the detention center of Dschamschidieh, near Tehran. The center was a prison for the former high-ranking military under the Shah Reza Palavi.
In August 1979, Mesbahi is sent to Paris as second man in command. He is in charge of all intelligence matters. Beside Farsi and Arabic, Mesbahi also speaks fluently French, German and English.
His activities were directed primarily against exiled opponents of the Iranian government. In 1983, the French government declared Mesbahi persona non grata and expelled him for “intelligence activities incompatible with his diplomatic status.”
Soon after his expulsion from France, he was transferred to the Iranian Embassy in Bonn. As the intelligence coordinator for Western Europe, Mesbahi resumed the monitoring of the Iranian opposition.
In 1985, Mesbahi returned to Iran to assist the organization of the Ministry of Intelligence and National Security (also known as VEVAK from the Persian: Vezarat-e Ettela’at va Amniat-e Keshvar). The VEVAK is the primary intelligence agency of the Islamic Republic of Iran and allegedly the best funded Ministry.
In February 1986, Mesbahi left the VEVAK in order to serve as deputy head of the international and political office of the Foreign Ministry. Six months later, he was put in charge of United Nations affairs.
Needing a cover to infiltrate various dissident groups, Mesbahi joined the University of Geneva. There, he worked towards a PhD in political sciences under the supervision of Jean Ziegler.
It is believed that Mesbahi agreed to a twisted deal with the Swiss Authority. In 1987, he is questioned by a Swiss police officer named Leon Jobe regarding his previous activities in France and his current involvement in Switzerland.
In exchange for authorization to stay in the country, it is rumored that he promised, in writing, that Iran would not commit terror acts in the country.
During this period, Mesbahi acted as a back channel for Rafsanjani, then head of the Parliament, with his contacts in the European governments and the United States.
In this position he was involved in freeing Rudolf Cordes, a West German hostage seized in Beirut by the Shiite group Holy Strugglers for Freedom in January 1987 and held until September 1988.
While acting in that position, Mesbahi is said to have met former US President Ronald Reagan, French President Francois Mitterrand and a former French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas, as well as Germans Vogel, Koshnik and Eppler.
Mesbahi often sojourned at the Hotel du Rhone in Geneva. The bank account he used to pay his expenses happens to be same account that was used to transfer some money on former Argentine President Carlos Menem. [10, 11]
In November 1988, after returning from the US where he had met with former US President Jimmy Carter, Mesbahi was accused of being a double agent. He was arrested but released from prison on March 20, 1989, after only 120 days.
He remained under house arrest for another year and half. Having been dismissed from the Ministry of Intelligence, he started a private business to support himself and taught at Tehran University.
On March 19, 1996, Mesbahi was warned by Ali Fallahian’s deputy, Saeed Emami, that the Special Affairs Committee had ordered his assassination. The Iran Special Affairs Committee is responsible for commissioning and overseeing political assassinations. Once the recommendation to assassinate an opposition figure has been made by the Committee, both the Supreme Leader and the president of Iran must give their consent for the operation to be carried out.
A Witness Known to the Former Iranian President
Mesbahi left Iran for Pakistan on April 6, 1996. He arrived in Kuwait on the April 18. From there, he contacted Jobe in Switzerland.
Then, on April 22, after he had made contact with former Iranian President Abdolhassan Banisadr, he moved to Germany where he was granted political asylum. He began briefing German authorities in September 1996. His debriefing lasted well into 1997.
Former Iranian President Abdolhassan Bani-sadr testified that the Mykonos murders [see below] had been personally ordered by Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, and then President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.
In an interview with Iran Human Rights Documentation Center conducted in January 2007, Bani-sadr stated that he had confirmed this information with well-placed sources with direct knowledge of the inner workings of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence.
“The person who ordered this attack, under the current Iranian constitution and under Islamic law, can be no other than Khamenei himself,” Bani-sadr stated in the court.
A Very Reliable Witness
On Sept. 17, 1992, agents of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) murdered several leading members of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI) at the Mykonos Restaurant in Berlin, Germany.
The Mykonos trial lasted three and a half years. The court met for a total of 246 sessions, heard 176 witnesses and considered documentary evidence including secret intelligence files. 
Prosecutors successfully obtained convictions in four of the five cases. Two of the accused, Rhayel and Darabi, received life sentences for their role in the murders.
The German authorities concluded that the Iranian government was “directly involved” in the Mykonos assassinations. In March 1996, Chief Federal Prosecutor Kay Nehm issued an international arrest warrant for the Iranian minister of intelligence, Ali Fallahian.
This unprecedented act of justice was made possible only thanks to the testimony of Abolghassem Farhad Mesbahi, who had been introduced to the court by Bani-sadr.
The government of Iran attempted to discredit Mesbahi by claiming that he had never had any connection to the Ministry of Intelligence.
Nevertheless, the court was able to find corroboration for Mesbahi’s statements. Mesbahi described the countries he traveled to and the missions he had accomplished. The court reviewed photocopies of his passports and visas, and never found one element of discrepancy.
Mesbahi always made precise distinctions between what he knew from his own experiences and what he had learned from conversations with other people or from hearsay. In order to establish the credibility of the information he received, Mesbahi quoted the names of his sources and their functions within different state agencies. Mesbahi documented the Mikonos murders based on the information he had gathered from five sources, including the killer.
Mesbahi’s testimony was supported by prominent German Middle East experts such as Professor Udo Steinbach and professor Heinz Halm. German Intelligence was able to confirm at least one of his allegations but never revealed what it was.
A Witness Known to U.K. Police
With time, Mesbahi grew increasingly angry at Iranian Intelligence involvement in the killing of dissident intellectuals in Iran and abroad. During the September 85 meeting when the organization of the VEVAK was elaborated, he strongly argued that the agency role should be limited to data gathering and analysis. Mesbahi opposed the plans of Ali Akbar Velayati who argued, successfully, that the VEVAK should also conduct assassinations and acts of terror abroad.
In 1984, Mesbahi had been involved in an assassination attempt on the exiled Iranian dissident and satirist Hadi Khorsandi in London.
Hadi Khorsandi is a prominent contemporary Persian poet and satirist. Since 1979 he has been the editor and writer of the satirical journalAshgar Agha. In the attempt, Mesbahi translated the order from Farsi to French to the hit team.
The night before murder implementation, Mesbahi revealed the plan to the U.K. police who arrested the suspects in possession of weapons.
A Witness Known to the FBI
In late 1997 Bernazzani was in charge of the FBI’s office of Hezbollah operations. He would later head the New Orleans FBI office. Bernazzani was sent to Buenos Aires to lead a team of FBI specialists helping Argentine investigators to crack the AMIA bombing case.
According to Bernazzani, Mesbahi had been discredited among US analysts because “he had lost his access to high-level Iranian officials well before the 1994 bombing and was poor, even broke.”  Bernazzani stated that he had found no evidence linking Tehran to the bombing.
This is interesting for several reasons. Firstly, the FBI clearly knows Mesbahi and they fully admit that he had been a high-ranking intelligence officer. Moreover, if he was poor when Bernazzani interviewed him, it implies that he had not been rewarded financially for his testimony at the Mykonos murders trial in Germany.
Incidentally, Argentina issued a warrant against Iranians for the Buenos Aires bombings. Mesbahi revealed the existence of a secret Menem account in Switzerland and revealed a substantial transfer of money from Tehran. Swiss authorities confirmed both allegations. 
“Eamon Mullen, the Argentine government’s chief prosecutor in the case, stated that investigators had confirmed that a deposit had been made into an account controlled by Mr. Menem at the bank named by Mr. Mesbahi and in the amount he had specified,” revealed The New York Times in July 2002.
In March 2007, Argentina issued the third international arrest warrant for Ali Fallahian.
In April 2006, Jacques Antenen, an investigative magistrate in the Swiss canton of Vaud, requested Swiss federal authorities to demand the arrest of Ali Fallahian on grounds that Fallahian had “decided and ordered the execution of Kazem Rajavi,” who was shot to death near his suburban Geneva home in 1990.
An Accusation Allegedly Confirmed by Nidal
Atef Abu Bakr is a former spokesman for the Abul Nidal Organization (ANO) and one of Nidal’s closest aides between 1985 and 1989. In a series of interviews published in the Arabic Al Hayat newspaper Bakr said that Abu Nidal told him that his organization was behind the explosion on Pan Am flight 103. 
“Abu Nidal told a meeting of the Revolutionary Council leadership: I have very important and serious things to say. The reports that attribute Lockerbie to others are lies. We are behind it.”
“If any one of you lets this out, I will kill him even if he was in his wife’s arms,”’ Abu Nidal added, according to Bakr.
Having become persona non grata in Syria, Abu Nidal started his move from Syria to Libya in the summer of 1986. His operations, and those he falsely claimed, were bringing discomfort to Damascus. His move to Libya was completed by March 1987.
Settling in Tripoli, Abu Nidal and Libya’s leader, Muammar al-Gaddafi, allegedly became close friends sharing, according to some observers, “a dangerous combination of an inferiority complex mixed with the belief that they were men of great destiny.”
In the aftermath of the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing, Gaddafi, seeking to distance himself from Nidal, expelled him in 1999. 
Two Warnings Had Mentioned ANO
During a visit to Libya, investigative journalist David Yallop, who specializes in unsolved crime and miscarriage of justice, interviewed Nidal. Among many revelations, Nidal told Yallop that he was under great pressure from the Syrian government to reactivate and commit an act of terror against an American airliner. Yallop wrote immediately an eight-page report about the matter and passed it to MI6, asking them to forward it to the CIA.
On Dec. 5, 1988, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a security bulletin saying that on that day a man with an Arabic accent had telephoned the US Embassy in Helsinki, Finland.
The anonymous caller had told them that a Pan Am flight from Frankfurt to New York would be blown up within the next two weeks by someone associated with the Abu Nidal Organization.
Marquise told me an interesting story about the Helsinki warning concerning a meeting between him and Oliver Revell, then executive assistant director of the FBI, whose son is said to have cancelled his reservation on Pan Am 103.
“I had a meeting with Revell in his office, just the two of us to go over something I was writing for him, on 12/14/88. As I recall it was his 50th birthday—making him eligible to retire—we joked about it.
“Although I was in charge of terrorist research for the FBI at the time, we had no discussion about the “Helsinki Warning” which was, by that time, a week old. It is very possible it had not yet reached him as I do not recall it either. People often give the FBI (and other government agencies) too much credit for being on top of everything—every time. I would be willing to bet that information had not reached us.”
On Dec. 9, Pan Am security official Jim Berwick went to Helsinki and was told by a US intelligence agent that the warning is a hoax. If neither Revell, nor Marquise knew about the Helsinki warning, who from what agency, and based on what evidence, decided the warning was a hoax? 
“The FAA, State Dept. and airlines were immediately notified but by Dec. 10, Finnish police had concluded the threat was not credible. On 12/12/88, a DOS official in Helsinki told Pan Am the threat was not credible. My own personal recollection was the Helsinki Warning was totally investigated AFTER the bombing and determined as fact that it was not a credible threat based on who made the threat. It may well be that by the time the FBI saw the threat, the assessment of the Finnish police had already been made and it was discounted. I cannot tell you how many ‘threats’ the government receives daily—even back then. To investigate them all would not be practical,” Marquise replied to me.
It is known that the Finnish police had concluded by Dec. 10 that the warning was a hoax. But it would also appear that they had second thought over this matter.
In European countries and the US, terror hoaxes are severely punished. In 1992, Stephen Docherty was sentenced to four years in jail for calling the police regarding a bomb about to go off at Victoria station. The man responsible for the Helsinki warning call was eventually identified as Samra Mahayoun, a Palestinian man resident in Finland. Marquise told me that he had made the call in order to impress his girl friend.
On Nov. 17, 1992, the Finish Embassy in London told the Cadmans, who lost their son Bill in the tragedy, that sufficient evidence had not been assembled to convict the chief suspect, whose identity had not yet been revealed to the public at the time and was only described as a Palestinian man resident in Finland.
According to Paul Channon, the former secretary of state for transport, the number of bomb threats against aircraft relevant to the U.K. in 1988 amounted to 16.
Channon also reluctantly admitted that none of the other threats was nearly as specific as the Helsinki warning, which correctly predicted the airliner, the airport of origin, the city of arrival and only missed the time window by one day. If Nidal is indeed behind the bombing, the caller also named the organization responsible for the bombing of Pan Am 103.
Why Wasn’t Mesbahi Called at the Trial?
“Nidal’s possible involvement was one more of the many questions which we feel absolutely demand an independent inquiry into Lockerbie,” Dr. Swire said.
“I understand that close associates of Nidal are now saying that he, and he alone, was responsible for Lockerbie. If these allegations are true they blow everything relating to Lockerbie out of the water, including the trial in Holland,” argued Dalyell.
If the Lockerbie investigation does indeed continue, why on Earth has no one in the U.K. or the US paid any attention to Mesbahi’s allegations concerning the bombing?
Marquise told me that he will see Bernazzani in May and intends to ask him questions regarding statements included in this article.
2. Private communication from Marquise to the author on Feb. 11, 2008 (second).
3. In an article titled “Confession of an Iranian Terror Czar,” I wrote:
According to an investigative journalist, the Bush administration knew the role of the PFLP-GC in the bombing of Pan Am 103. In mid 1989, Secretary of State James Baker visited with Syrian Foreign Intelligence Minister Farouk al-Sharaa.
“What are you doing about the ... group?”
“What are you talking about,” asked al-Sharaa? “Jibril,” answered Baker. “We know they are responsible for Lockerbie. What are you doing about them?”
“How do you know that?”
“We have the evidence,” Baker replied. “And the evidence is irrefutable.”
4. Private communication from Marquise to the author on Feb. 11, 2008 (first).
7. “How low can we go?” Hart Lidov and Oliver ‘Buck’ Revell.
8. The Fall of Pan Am 103: Inside the Lockerbie Investigation, Steven Emerson and Brian Duffy, 1990.
14. “Iran Blew Up Jewish Center in Argentina, Defector Says” (see 10 above).
17. The author wishes to thank Marquise for his valuable comments regarding an earlier draft of this piece, and in particular, for pointing out a mistake. I had initially written “had been told by an FBI agent” which is not likely since the FBI did not have an office in Finland in 1988. I do not know which US intelligence agency passed the information to Jim Berwick.
Ludwig De Braeckeleer has a PhD in nuclear sciences. He teaches physics and international humanitarian law. He blogs on “The GaiaPost.”