April 15 2010
last edits May 24
ref throughout: Khreesat Advises, PDF
Two Men, Tangled
Setting aside the cartoon storyline of Libyan guilt and dealing with the surprisingly coherent body of discarded facts along the SCOTBOM highway, we’re left with a separate and well-known set of most-likely villains. A cell of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, General Command (PFLP-GC) had formed in Germany in October 1988, convened on behalf of Iran and $10 million to avenge the U.S. shoot-down of Iran Air Flight 655 in July. The cell was not-quite-thwarted with the “Autumn Leaves” raids of October 26; one airliner altimeter bomb and an expert in getting it onto a plane had slipped away, just weeks before Flight 103 blew up in exactly the way it would if the missing bomb had been loaded at Heathrow.
This is a all a common and familiar theme here and elsewhere, but amidst this, there is some confusion over the relative roles and culpability between Jordanian ‘double agent’ bomb-maker Marwan Khreesat and elusive PFLP-GC member “Abu Elias,” supposedly the expert set to sneak the device(s) onto aircraft. The tangle cannot be sorted out with much certainty, as almost all we have is Khreesat’s word, as told in November 1989 to FBI special agent Edward Marshman. Based on his debriefings, Khreesat’s bosses with the General Intelligence Directorate (GID) “produced a composite sketch of Abu Elias,” Marshan noted, and attached a copy to his own report. Khreesat had examined this “and affirmed that the likeness was that of Abu Elias who [sic] he met in Damascus, Syria.” [p 29]
The two met again before Khreesat’s assignment with the PFLP-GC cell in Germany, when he took a separate trip to Yugoslavia. There he was met by Mobdi Goben, the PFLP-GC coordinator for that country, whom he knew as Abu Fuad. Khreesat’s GID case officer had “instructed him not to arm any explosive devices while in Yugoslavia,” and that ”he would be protected while in Yugoslavia.” He didn’t build any bombs while there, but did meet Hafez Dalkamouni, right-hand man to PFLP-GC founder Ahmed Jibril, and (allegedly) Jibril’s nephew Khaisar Haddad, whom Khreesat knew as Abu Elias.
“Khreesat did not know the function of Abu Elias in Yugoslavia,” Marshman’s report notes, “nor did he know the purpose of the meeting that was to be held in Yugoslavia.” [p 5] The meeting itself must be described in the pages not shared at trial, but apparently it was where he was assigned to the cell forming for the big revenge job. “Dalkamoni introduced Khreesat to Abu Elias,” the report states, and “said that Abu Elias was an expert in airport security," and he learned that "in 1987 Abu Elias was shown one of the BomBeat 453s that Khreesat worked on in 1985.” [p 10]
Khreesat's Bench Work
The 1985 job was, as Khreesat related it, to come to Syria and work up five altimeter bombs, similar to those he’d been making since 1970, but inside Toshiba BomBeat 453 model radios. These were for demonstration purposes only, and in different states when inspected. Two were ready to arm, one had no altimeter or timer in it, and "the other two needed two wires to be connected," Marshman recorded. [p 5] Khreesat went to great detail on the later history of each radio unit after being disassembled, but one was apparently kept intact for Jibril to show his nephew, and I'm guessing it was one of the two-wire-short ones (see below).
Strangely, Khreesat's original four altimeters and four timers were brought back to him after he arrived in Germany on October 13 1988, to rebuild as part of his new batch of four bombs. He's not as clear on the pricey detonators. One of the five 1985 radio housings was also handed back to Khreesat; this completely recycled BomBeat 453 is the unit he and Dalkamouni were arrested with on the 26th. The other IEDs that were intercepted months later, two Ultrasound radios and a computer monitor, were bought by Khreesat and Dalkamouni at a second-hand shop on October 18, according to the report. The fifth device we’ll discuss below.
Abu Elias as Watcher
“Khreesat never saw Abu Elias in Germany,” he told Marshman, but was made well aware of his presence. For October 22 Khreesat recalled Dalkamouni leaving him at the zoo for an hour before taking him back home. Following this:
“There was a lot of traffic on the way home, and on the trip Dalkamoni mentioned that Abu Elias had arrived in Germany that day. Previously Dalkamoni had said that Abu Elias was coming to Germany. Khreesat asked Dalkamoni why Khreesat was there if Abu Elias was such an expert. Dalkamoni replied that Abu Elias was an expert in airport security and Khreesat was the expert in building the IEDs. Abu Elias was of concern to Khreesat because Khreesat felt that he could not render the IEDs inoperable as Abu Elias would probably know it.”This last is of great importance, as Khreesat started to work on the bombs later that evening. He had presumably taken the same directions from the GID about keeping his bombs dud that he’d been given before Yugoslavia. But here he feels he’s being watched closely and must not disappoint. Thus were born five live altimeter bombs, one of which most likely tore down PA103 two months later. According to Khreesat, Abu Elias was the reason for that.
Following his arrest along with the others on October 26, Khreesat “told the Germans that they should have waited one more day to make the arrests, as Dalkamoni was on the way to meet Abu Elias when they were arrested.” [p 2] Just from the read portions, we have Khreesat repeating this anticipated meeting four times in the report (p 2, 7, 22, 23) Yet “the Germans also asked Khreesat about Abu Elias. Khreesat advised that he did not tell the Germans anything about Abu Elias,” other than he was on his way to meet him, obviously.
The Fifth Device
This trip to bring the mystery man a bomb on the 26th is curious, considering he already got hold of the one he needed – the “fifth device” - two days earlier. This isn’t known but inferred; Marshman’s report has for October 24:
“Around 2.00 p.m. Khreesat took a shower. When Khreesat was in the shower, Dalkamoni knocked on the door and said that he was leaving to go to Frankfurt. After getting out of the shower, Khreesat went back to work on the IEDs. At this time he noticed that the fifth device was no longer in the workroom. He did not pay a lot of attention to this, as he was thinking about the upcoming meeting with Abu Elias. Khreesat speculated that Dalkamoni took the fifth device with him, as only Khreesat and Dalkamoni ever went into the room. After working on the IEDs until late that evening, Khreesat went to bed.” [p 23]It was only the following day that the agent again called his case officer and said “that he had prepared a device and given it to Abu Elias. Khreesat advised that he had assumed that the fifth device went to Abu Elias, as related above.” [p 24]
The unit used for that escaped IED was brought into the Abbasi home the 22nd in some boxes with the other devices and tools. “Also in the boxes was the fifth device, which was a Toshiba radio/cassette recorder. This device is further described infra. Khreesat does not know where the radio came from. It was not in a new box.” [p 21] He later described it, after looking at a catalog, as a bronze-colored RT-F423 model. [p 37]
The next day, October 23, “Dalkamoni came into the workroom with the fifth device. Dalkamoni told Khreesat that two wires had to be soldered together. Khreesat. […] soldered the two wires together.” He also noted for Marshman numerous strange modifications, some involving cardboard, and said that he “told Dalkamoni that the device was not very good, as the authorities could very easily discover that the radio had been altered into an IED.” The altimeter could be seen beneath the cassette relay. [p 22]
The bomb maker did not know where it came from but thought it might have been “obtained by Dalkamoni when he left Khreesat at the zoo for the hour” the day before. “Khreesat speculated that Dalkamoni may have met Abu Elias, as on the way back to Neuss from the zoo, Dalkamoni mentioned that Abu Elias was in Germany.” [p 20]
It was Built by Abu Elias
Indeed, it’s a decent guess that the interloper brought the fifth device with its (reportedly) sloppy work, and considering his earlier inspections of Khreesat's work, it's even possible he built the thing himself. Some unspecified intelligence held by Arafat’s PLO (among PFLP-GC’s competitors) said as much in 1992, as reported in Time:
The bomb that ended up on the Pan Am jet could have been assembled by Khreesat. However, last month the Palestine Liberation Organization reported that it was built by Khaisar Haddad (a.k.a. Abu Elias), who is also a member of Jibril's Popular Front. Haddad purchased the detonator, the P.L.O. said, on the Beirut black market for more than $60,000. [source]All this helps clarify what first seemed a rather confusing statement in Marshman’s report.
Khreesat advised that he does not know what type of device was used to bring down Pan Am Flight 103 on December 21, 1988. Khreesat advised that he does not think he built the device responsible for Pan Am 103, as he only built the four devices in Germany which are described herein. [p 37]If Abu Elias built that bomb, then indeed Khreesat only built four devices, none of them the one that apparently escaped with Abu Elias. It almost seems that Khreesat himself suspects the fifth IED - that he only finalized - to have brought down Flight 103, as so many others suspected.
The interloper was apparently to take his work back after Khreesat’s modification and slip away to do his real work. But the modification was one even Dalkamouni knew – solder two wires. Why didn’t Abu Elias just solder it up himself? Why insist on Khreesat’s token touch? If Khreesat’s tales are true, we’re faced with a clue and a mystery about the thinking of Jibril and Dalkamouni. If not, we’re faced with a compound mystery and a lot of small uncertain clues. The issue can now be considered “explored” but nowhere near “resolved.”