David Leppard on Abu Elias

February 13 2011
slight edits 2/15

I’m delighted to add a very strange new point to the body of knowledge and/or lore surrounding “Abu Elias,” the apparent builder and controller of the Lockerbie bomb. (see: all threads about Abu Elias) This latest is from David Leppard’s highly interesting riddle of a book On the Trail of Terror (April 1991). It was among the first privileged works allowed to announced the turn to Libya in detail, months ahead of the sanctions. It drew on insider sources and related - in great detail - all the relevant clues that didn’t specify al-Megrahi or Fhimah - the Frankfurt printout, the Maltese clothes, the timer fragment, etc.

In fact, the original lead from 1988-1990, the Iranian-backed plotting of the Syririan-based PFLP-GC (Jibril network), is still tied in here. That's good for Leppard because he earned his spots reporting on just that lead in 1989 and '90. After he “changed his spots,” as Paul Foot put it, Leppard’s take became the same as that proposed by CIA Lockerbie chief Vincent Cannistraro in the early 1990s. It was the same Iranian-backed PFLP-GC plot everyone had, with good reason, suspected, just taken over by Libyan intelligence following the October 1998 "Autumn Leaves" bust.

In this series of raids, the bomb-making PFLP-GC cell near Frankfurt, their massive weapons cache, and tangle of targets, was disrupted by German feds who then set almost everyone free. Only the cell's weapons master Ghadanfar and its ring-leader Dalkamouni were kept in lock-up. The bomb-maker, Marwan Khreesat, was a double agent and flew back to his bosses in Amman, Jordan.

This version, where the Libyans picked up the slack, modified the rogue bomb with one of their timers, and arranged for the Malta plot to send it on to PA103, was the insider’s favorite for a while. But after some time, the original portion withered and fell off for lack of official recognition or further repetition (this part, if not the whole shift, can be chalked up to Gulf War-era re-orientation). Lockerbie gradually became a Libyan plot alone, presumably motivated by the nearly three-year-old U.S. air raids on Libya. As President Bush put it in 1992 or so (from memory), the original suspects “took a bum rap” in ever being suspected.

And all this despite the Autumn Leaves bust being quite possibly irrelevant to the original plot. One of the five bombs and one of the plotters escaped the raids entirely, together it seems and moving towards something. No one has ever explained what stopped them, or what they needed any Libyan help for. All that really needed done from there was likely carried out, by whom exactly we don't know, at terminal three Heathrow between 0:00 and 17:00 on December 21.

I thought I’d already checked Leppard’s book for reference to airport security expert Abu Elias, but missed this sole entry until just the other day. In its last three pages, the book concludes with its only mention of this highly relevant fugitive, as a part of the “Libyan connection.”
One final question mark for the Lockerbie team is the identity of the man Jibril asked to liaise with the Libyans in the eight weeks between Operation Autumn Leaves and the night of the bombing. The Scots, the Germans, and the Americans now believe that after 26 October 1988, with Dalkamouni in prison, another leading Jibril operative, called Abu Elias, may have played an important role in arranging the tie-up with Libyan agents and directing at least part of the Maltese end of the conspiracy.
There’s been no other mention of, nor evidence for, this notion of Abu Elias meeting with Libyans. At least, not that I’ve run across yet. It’s a very strange way to end a book to fuse the new direction with perhaps the best lead of the old, this young relative of Ahmed Jibril’s who apparently didn't trust Khreesat. Leppard adds some details consistent with other reports that would emerge:
The FBI have a photofit picture of Elias which shows the handsome features of a blond 25-year old Palestinian who heads the PFLP-GC’s military section in Damascus.
25 years old is new to me - nothing I'd seen before gave an age. This almost certainly refers to the Jordanian GID's sketch, apparently made after Khreesat's first (and, I think, only) meeting with the mysterious operative in 1985. As the 1989 report by FBI agent Marshman says:
The GID officers produced a composite sketch of Abu Elias that was done by Khreesat some time ago. Khreesat examined the composite and affirmed that the likeness was that of Abu Elias who he met in Damascus, Syria. This composite is attached to this FD302. [source: trial transcripts]
If he were a bare 25 years of age in 1985, to head the military section in Damascus (as others report) even by 1988 is clearly young. It's a bit too young to be Basel Bushnaq of Virginia, read literally. He's allegedly the same person as Abu Elias, but his records show he was born in late 1955, making him 29 or 30 at the time of any 1985 meeting. But if that’s not his original name, as Christine Grahame MSP alleges, it’s probably not his real birth date or even year.

And perhaps the 25-year-old estimate, whoever's it was, was erred on that end. This age addition is close enough to be consistent with the other disturbing clues that Ms. Grahame might be right, but is not apparently much of a clue in itself.

Leppard continues:
Dalkamouni admitted in his prison interviews that he had met Elias at the Front’s offices in Damascus. But he has denied seeing him in Germany.
Ah! Khreesat says he never saw Abu Elias in Germany, but that Dalkamouni did, something he was told of repeatedly. Abu Elias had studied Khreesat’s work in 1987, and could perhaps spot a fake, like he was instructed by Amman to build. He might inspect the work being done for the big Iranian job.

And Khreesat says that of the five armed “Khreesat bombs” made under this threat, one was not his at all, and only appeared at the same time Dalkamouni said Abu Elias had arrived. Khreesat was asked to finish it by soldering two wires, and then it disappeared again, presumably back to whoever had brought it.
Nevertheless, the BKA surveillance report on Dalkamouni’s prison meeting with his sister-in-law in July 1989 contains a dascinating reference to Elias. After denouncing Kkhreesat as an informer for the West, Dalkamouni was overheard telling Somaia about Abu Elias. ‘He [Dalkamouni] only gave Khreesat the name Abu Elias once. When referring to this name it concerns a “Phantom” name, and only Khreesat could therefore reveal this name.’ Dalkamouni’s comments suggest that Elias played an important, although unspecified role, which Dalkamouni regretted revealing to Khreesaat., the suspected double agent. ‘It is not a bad guess to say that Abu Elias has played a role,’ said one senior Western intelligence official. But that role is remains a mystery.
That part is interesting, and may refer to a real conversation that Dalkamouni probably knew was being recorded. I’m not sure what to make of it. But investigators still felt Abu Elias was involved, or told Leppard they did, right up to the eve of the indictments, after which he vanished again. They were puzzling over his role, it’s said, but if he had one at all, it didn’t involve Libyans or Malta. That’s all 1990’s cartoon nonsense.

Whatever happened between October 26 and December 21, the bomb clearly left the ground at London. We have real evidence for that, not “intelligence sources now believe” crap. All along, they "now believed" whatever helped shift us gradually from one evidence-led track to another, led by new and more politically convenient evidence, generally oozing from Vincent Cannistraro's end of things and into media reports. And all along the real evidence, partly known to us and partly covered-up, has remained just the same. That is because the murder of those 270 people still happened the same way it actually happened. That can only be re-written on paper.

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