THE new investigation into the Lockerbie bombing appears to be stalling after Scottish police officers failed to gain access to key suspects in Libya, Scotland on Sunday can reveal.
A team from the Crown Office and the former Dumfries and Galloway force was despatched to the north African country in February following an International Letter of Request (ILOR) sent by Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland to Libyan judicial authorities.
The team – accompanied by FBI officers – are trying to establish whether a new case can be brought against Libyans suspected of being involved in the plot that brought down a US airliner over southern Scotland in 1988, killing 270 people.
According to the Crown Office documents released under FOI legislation, the ILOR “seeks information in relation to the ongoing investigation of others involved in the plot”. But they go on to disclose: “There was no access to any individuals of interest during this visit.”
Instead, the team met officials and ministers in tightly-controlled secure buildings in Tripoli, fuelling suspicion that the new Libyan government does not want investigations to proceed.
Former Libyan intelligence officer Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi – who died in Libya from cancer last year three years after being released from prison in Scotland – is the only person ever convicted of the atrocity but the Crown Office believes he did not act alone and the attack on Pan Am flight 103 was “an act of state sponsored terrorism”.
They have previously sought information on his co-accused, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, who was acquitted at the trial of the two men at Camp Zeist in Holland in 2001.
But the FOI response indicates they are more interested in “others,” although the Crown Office will not comment publicly on their identity. They are believed to include Abdullah Senussi, the former Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi’s brother-in-law, head of the intelligence services, and Megrahi’s immediate boss.
Other potential suspects include Saeed Rashid, who, an FBI report previously claimed, “managed a sustained Libyan effort to conduct terrorist attacks against US interests since the early-1980s”, and Izz Aldin Hinshiri, who was suspected of buying the trigger device for the Lockerbie bomb.John Ashton, author of Megrahi: You are my Jury, and former FBI agent Richard Marquise have both said investigations should also target Gadaffi’s former intelligence chief, Moussa Koussa, who fled the country during the Libyan revolution.
Former FBI assistant director Buck Revell, who oversaw that agency’s Lockerbie investigation until 1991, believes the Libyan authorities are trying to protect members of the former regime, and urged sanctions as a way of extracting the truth. “I think it was rather naive of us to think they would be given access,” he told Scotland on Sunday.
“I don’t fault them for trying, but there was nothing to indicate they were going to get to speak to the people they wanted to.
“It was a long shot worth taking, given the magnitude of the tragedy, but people there are still protecting elements of the previous government. They don’t believe it is in their best interests to come clean.”
He urged western governments to take a harder line. Libya already faces sanctions over arms deals and military activities, but Revell urged broader economic restrictions.
“We should hold out support and co-operation until they give us support and cooperation,” he said.
“I would look at sanctions. We’ve got commercial interests which would be upset, but those interests should take a back seat. That’s the only way we will get back in. They’ve got to know it’s going to hurt them more not to co-operate, than to do so.”
The former chief constable of the Dumfries and Galloway force, Patrick Shearer, is due to meet the Justice for Megrahi Campaign, which believes Megrahi was innocent, this week to discuss their concerns over the investigation.
The Crown Office says the new investigation is still “live” but a spokesman for Police Scotland confirmed that “in an ideal world” the team would have liked to speak to “individuals of interest”.
Prime Minister David Cameron announced the team’s visit would take place when he was in Tripoli earlier this year. However, Hameda al-Magery, the new Libyan government’s deputy justice minister, was reported as saying: “Britain and America are asking us to reopen this file. But this is something of the past. We want to move forward to build a new future, and not to look back at Gaddafi’s black history. This case was closed and both UK and US governments agreed to this. They had their compensation.”
Gaddafi paid victims’ families more than $2 billion 10 years ago, although his regime insisted it was a political move and continued to deny being behind the bombing.