May 30 2010
edits June 5
Everyone who accepts Abdelbaset Ali al Megrahi's guilt for the PA103 bombing agrees he couldn't have acted alone. Speculation runs primarily upward to Col. Gaddafi, but also sidewise to his imagined ground level accomplices. Only one was ever clearly fingered, originally as a JSO (Libyan intelligence) operative: Lamin Khalifah Fhimah. It was decided he was working with Libyan Arab Airlines at Malta’s Luqa airport only as cover for his JSO plotting with Megrahi on Malta.
The 1991 indictments against both accused are based on Fhimah penetrating the airport system, up to and including getting the bomb case onto Air Malt flight KM180. As of the 2000 trial, the final Opinion of the Court says, “the Crown no longer suggest that the second accused was a member of the Libyan Intelligence Service,” though his LAA "cover" employment was still acknowledged. Aside from this curious reversal, the Crown maintained a string of “inferences” regarding Fhimah’s December 1988 activity. The Zeist judges considered these claims and rightly dismissed them as “speculation rather than inference.”
These supporting points will be dealt with separately, with this article focused on what the judges called “the principal piece of evidence against [Fhimah],” being the clues read from “two entries in his 1988 diary.” One of these pages is shown below.
At the back of the diary there were two pages of numbered notes. The fourteenth item on one page is translated as “Take/collect tags from the airport (Abdulbaset/Abdussalam)”. The word ‘tags’ was written in English, the remainder in Arabic.These were taken as a careless plotter jotting down clues of his plot in a diary he kept. He even wrote “tags” in English lettering to make sure the Brits he was targeting could come back and read it easily. The judges explain further:
On the diary page for 15 December there was an entry, preceded by an asterisk, “Take taggs from Air Malta”, and at the end of that entry in a different coloured ink “OK”. Again the word ‘taggs’ (sic) was in English.
The Crown maintained that the inference to be drawn from these entries was that the second accused had obtained Air Malta interline tags for the first accused, and that as an airline employee he must have known that the only purpose for which they would be required was to enable an unaccompanied bag to be placed on an aircraft.The three Scottish judges rightly dismissed the bolded assertion: "it would be going too far to infer that he was necessarily aware that they were to be used for the purpose of blowing up anaircraft." Finally, they summarized their opinion on this evidence and inferences in paragraph 85:
There is no doubt that the second accused did make the entries in the diary to which we have referred. In the context of the explosive device being placed on KM180 at Luqa in a suitcase which must have had attached to it an interline tag to enable it to pass eventually on to PA103, these entries can easily be seen to have a sinister connotation, particularly in the complete absence of any form of explanation.However due to a lack of any single clear outside clue, they could not read much into it. Giaka had stories, but the judges didn’t believe them, and otherwise it was nothing but Crown speculation:
Had it been necessary to resolve this matter, we would have found it a difficult problem.
While therefore there may well be a sinister inference to be drawn from the diary entries, we have come to the conclusion that there is insufficient other acceptable evidence to support or confirm such an inference, […] In these circumstances the second accused falls to be acquitted.If the judges had sufficient clues before forcing them back to consider these entries, it sounds like they could well have accepted his guilt; they cite the entries as fairly suspicious given the “absence of any form of explanation.” But that’s a silly thing to expect – these are quick notes by Fhimah to Fhimah, to access his own brain. Of course he’s not going to explain the background of each note.
But some clues could be gathered by snooping around a bit, as famed reporter Ed Bradley did for a 60 Minutes segment in 1999 [transcript]. After explaining the supposed importance of the diary entries, and covering the lack of evidence for any suspicious suitcase coming from Malta, Bradley returned to those odd entries.
People here who knew Fhimah say he wanted to get his airline’s [Libyan Arab Airlines] baggage tags printed in Malta for less than it cost to print them in Libya. That way he could make a commission on the deal. They say he wanted the Air Malta tags as a sample to show the printer. And there are other notations in this diary that support that story. On December 10th Fhimah wrote “go to the printer.” Another note in the back of the diary says “contact the printer.”It’s not jotted down right next to his alleged slip-up, but the non-terrorist explanation is to be found. The unusual lettering might suggest he was going to an English-speaking printer on Malta (Maltese and English are the official languages there). This distinct possibility lessens the clarity and importance of the central alleged clue. The other supporting guesses were weaker yet as evidence, and clearly it was no mere technicality that Fhimah was acquitted. There really was “no case to answer” as he plead. A little known fact is that Scots law allows judges three rulings: guilty, not guilty, and not proven (meaning likely guilty but not clear enough to say so). The judges chose the clearer statement “not guilty.”
And if Megrahi’s necessary airside accomplice were truly innocent of the charges, that leaves us with nothing but speculation as to who did assist the bomber. Because Megrahi couldn’t have acted alone, if he acted at all.