An Iranian in London: The Strange Case of Parviz Taheri

Helsinki Warning Re-Considered, pt 5
April 14 2011

The last installment in this series, many months ago, questioned whether Finnish Palestinian sad sack Samra Mahayoun actually placed the “Helsinki warning” phone call in December 1988. His record of prank calls from Finland about fake terror attacks might well have become known around, and so I speculated an Iranian caller, linked somehow to the plot against american air traffic, using Mahayoun’s phone line to launder their message about an upcoming airliner bombing.

Exactly why they would do this isn’t entirely obvious, but it’s worth thinking about. With the evidence now available and despite legal conventions, it’s fairly clear the plot that destroyed Pan Am Flight 103 was Iranian in grievance, and executed with a certain known style of bomb. We can bet that this device was first loaded in London, rather than via the feeder flight 103A in Frankfurt as first decided, or Malta as set by 1990. If the call was a real warning of the real Flight 103 plot, it might specify London, but instead pointed to Frankfurt, from which the bomb they had readied would not have worked.

Aside from a non-informed hoax, simple misdirection from insiders is one possible explanation. It's the one I'll proceed on for now.

Named by the Defense
Another potential point of Frankfurt implication is an Iranian exile named Parviz Taheri, who already stands out for his own reasons, and may also have a link to that prophetic call (explained below). The resident of Sweden had an odd enough story to be named in 2000 by Megrahi’s defense team in their “special defense of incrimination.” He was one of a few alternate suspects in the narrative where Iranians – not Libyans - were behind planting the bomb. And it was inserted in London, not Malta.

Taheri was however called as a prosecution witness (number 996), which gave him immunity from any related charges. By the time of closing statements in January 2001, even the defense seemed to have abandoned trying to witness 996 to anything directly. Which isn’t to say there’s not a possible link, just that there wasn’t one the defense chose to put any weight on.

(fuller testimony excerpts, fascinating reading - source throughout for Taheri quotes)

Mitigating against Taheri’s involvement with the Iranian plot is his history, leaving little obvious room for sympathy with the Mullahs. He testified at the Lockerbie trial in Kurdish, having been born in Mashabad, Iranian Kurdistan. He “served in the Iranian army for two years,” he said (translated of course), “with six months training in arms and ammunition.” After this he became a teacher in the villages, and in 1983 came under suspicion of disloyalty and fled to Turkey. He arrived in Germany at the end of 1983, and moved to Frankfurt a year later.

On the other hand, this same fact would make Parviz an excellent “clean-skin” operative for a Tehran plot, hypothetically. He might be tacitly co-opted in any number or combination of ways, carrot or stick, or even maneuvered into helping unconsciously. The destruction of Iran Air 655 (IR655), the known motive for Iranin's known plot, was an unusual circumstance. Here, we cannot rule out even a long-estranged Kurd like Taheri being just as infuriated as anyone at the Yankee war crime. Nor can we rule out pressure against this diaspora Iranian in Frankfurt, Europe’s busiest air hub and the place their contractors would work on the weaponry for that revenge job (see below).

There’s certainly no obvious link so far, just a possible one I ask the reader to hold lightly in mind as we proceed.

In 1980s Frankfurt, Taheri worked at a “publishing house,” he testified, and “in the council of Frankfurt” (city council?). But he also sought out, in 1987 and ’88, store locations for more blue-collar work, with vague ambitions of selling newspapers, or running a catering or take-away business. One of the few dozen addresses he wrote down in a notebook was Sandweg 28. When asked about this at trial, he only said “I can't remember precisely where that is, but we looked for several places in Frankfurt, but I can't remember all the places.”

This exact piece of real estate was the same one chosen by the PFLP-GC, in September 1988, to house a terrorist cell, fronted with a catering business. This wasn’t any old group, but the very one, led by Hafez Dalkamouni, tasked with building the altimeter bombs to get revenge for IR655. The Sandweg address was for Dalkamouni's HQ, where a massive cache of weapons was held and many stayed.  Marwan Khreesat built the actual airplane bombs at a separate flat in nearby Neuss. With Khreesat’s handiwork, the cell produced five altitude-senstive bombs before four of them were seized and the cell busted in late October. Many informed observers still believe the missing fifth device was used on Flight 103 two months later.

Taheri had popped out of country briefly at the time of the bombing (see below), but was intercepted on his return, Christmas day, by inspector Jurgen Fuhl of the federal Bundes Kriminal Amt (BKA). They met at the airport, and Fuhl found the notebook with the PFLP-GC address he recognized on the spot. At the 2000 trial he explained “I was aware that the same address was a place where weapons and explosives had previously been found.”

So, Mr. Taheri had the address of the PFLP-GC’s base HQ in West Germany, among others, written down in his personal papers. In itself, that doesn't prove anything, but ...

A Flight 103 Link to London
Where it gets strange is Mr. Taheri then carrying that notebook, with that address, on feeder flight Pan Am 103A on December 21, Frankfurt to London. This is the same plane that, officially, the bomb arrived in London inside of. He was sitting up top along with about 25% of the passengers who would carry on to the United States but die first. There are two somewhat different accounts of Taheri's boarding in Germany, the first emerging in this defense questioning of him:

Q ... When you checked in on the 21st of December of 1988 through Pan Am employee Irene Reijheus, did you tell her that you had visited London often and did not require a visa? It's a simple question, Mr. Taheri. Did you tell her?
A I can't remember if I had told anything to her, because I travel in a normal way. You just check in, and you show your documents if required.
Q Well, if Ms. Reijheus felt so alarmed by what she saw that she called up her colleague, Jasmine Sadiq, to help her with you ... If Ms. Sadiq, Jasmine Sadiq, who was also an employee of Pan Am, remembered seeing you at the check-in, and indicated that you looked very nervous, can you explain why she would have that view, if this was a perfectly normal check-in by you, Mr. Taheri?
A Yes. People usually get upset if they have a fight, but I was very happy and pleased. I was not upset at all, and I was looking forward to arrive to London to meet my friends and my future wife. There was no disturbance at all.
He apparently had his papers anyway, was allowed to fly, and at Heathrow parted ways with many co-passengers who would transfer to the trans-Atlantic 103. We can be sure that his luggage did not contain the explosive device, as he had no checked bags at all to carry on after him and rupture the luggage hold. That must be remembered as the red flags pile up. Nonetheless, at about the same time Taheri and his notebook were hailing a cab into London, a 30-minute Khreesat bomb made by that cell based on Sandweg was loaded beneath 259 people out on the tarmac.

Taheri returned to Frankfurt only on Christmas day, after a few days with his fiancee, there with her parents. He’d become engaged to her that year, and they all usually lived in Sweden. But for unclear reasons they were visiting the UK and Parviz was going to visit them there. And for this half-week family gathering he took no checked luggage, and only one small carry-on bag. That’s unusual, but it does help clarify, again, no matter how strange this gets, he did not check in the bomb suitcase.

And that becomes important when we see the different story emerging from Ms. Siddique’s own testimony.

An American Link?
Yasmin (Arabic and/or Persian for Jasmine) Siddique testified in November 2000, a month after Taheri. In December 1988 she was not, in fact,  a Pan Am employee at all. She managed a McDonald’s restaurant, but was a Frankfurt-to-London passenger on 103A (she was going to visit her Mother). And she was standing just behind Taheri in the passport cue. Siddique still recalled noticing his behavior first – unsettled, apprehensive, turning his head frequently, eyes darting about as if watching for someone.

When he got up to “the passport man,” the suspicious young man was slow to produce the passport and the inspector was slower yet to examine it carefully. Taheri “did not look at the policeman or passport control officer;” she recalled, but rather, mostly, “at his feet.”

She was close enough to see his passport and “It was a small blue American passport.” She clarified this means issued by the United States, like the ones held by some of her family who already lived there at the time. Mr. Taylor then described the man this way:
Q Now, we know that the man that you have described was, in fact, a through passenger carrying on to the United States?
A Yes.

Q On a journey of seven hours and 40 minutes after [the 1.5-hour first leg]?
A Uh-huh.

But he got off in London, to meet his fiancée, he later said. This “fact” of full booking on the doomed half of the flight as well could be an inference from his US passport and the general impression that people return home at that time of year, as she was. There was nothing else read out (that I can find) showing this booking, but Taylor and Siddique somehow agreed it was the case. She thought he carried no luggage at all as he stood in line, and found it odd considering the long flight ahead.

Either way, the American passport is unexpected and not explained by anything else I know of. He lived in Germany and, sometime in 1989, move to Sweden, where inspector Fuhl had to hunt him down for further questioning. (Oddly, alternate suspects Mohammed Abu Talb and Abu Elias both have links in Sweden as well). Taheri was still a resident of Sweden when he testified.

A Helsinki Link, Phone Work?
The Guardians of the Islamic Revolution placed a call from London later the evening of the 21st claiming responsibility for the bombing. "We, the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution, are undertaking this heroic execution in revenge of blowing the Iran Air plane by America a few months ago." It was considered the most credible claim to the CIA in those first days [see here], and absent any Libyan admission ever, remains the most credible to this day.

There’s no particular reason to suspect Taheri of links to the Guardians, or of placing that call, other than the previous clues, the musing below, and that he was a Iranian in London at the right time.

But what if Taheri had a history of phone calls related to the 103 bombing? Like the Helsinki warning? It can be inferred from the following defense questioning that he said a very peculiar thing to Inspector Fuhl somewhat to that effect and worse. He knew nothing of the bombing, he had said, but one might find answers by calling Iranians, at an embassy, in Helsinki.
Q Now, I think the West German police said to you that if you were not involved in the tragedy that happened to Pan Am 103, did you, with your connections, have any idea who might be involved; is that right? They asked you that question?
A Yes, it is correct.
Q And you told them to look somewhere in particular, didn't you?
A I don't know what you are referring to.
Q Well, let's see if I can jog your memory. Did you direct their attention to the Iranian embassy in Helsinki?
A No, I haven't contacted Iranian embassy at all. I had been to Helsinki just as a tourist. [...] I was not asked about the Iranian embassy in Helsinki by the German police, but they only asked my point of view regarding that incident. And I said I don't know.
Q My Lord, that's all I ask.
He later denied saying that, but it seems at one point he made this ominous reference and still admits being there (in case there was supporting evidence?). But this was only as a tourist, not as the guy who broke into Samra Mahayoun’s flat and seeded that strangely prophetic warning about the bombing of an American flight from Frankfurt two weeks later. Because two weeks later, by chance, Taheri himself flew on an American flight from Frankfurt which then blew up.

Inspector Fuhl, questioned by Davidson, on what Taheri said about the bombing:
Q Do you recall him telling you where you might look for further information on that matter?
A I can't remember him giving me information about where I could look further. [...] If I can jog your memory, could he have mentioned to you an embassy in Helsinki in Finland?
A It's possible.
Q In particular, the Iranian embassy in Helsinki?
A I can't remember the details any more. The whole thing is, after all, 12 years ago. [...] It must all be in the paperwork.
So we have here no physical connection to the bomb, but an amazing shadowing of it that can only possibly be sheer coincidence. In fact, it reeks of coordination, lack of pay stubs notwithstanding.

To be sure, carrying such a clue as the Sandweg address, if it were operational information and he was knowingly on a related flight, would be a major blunder. But it’s also possible that was the point: Taheri's Iranian origins and the flight he was on, his needless odd behavior, the address, and this Helsinki hinting, collectively suggest an attempt to appear involved rather than actually being (physically) involved. The strange case of Parviz Taheri looks a hell of a lot like a sort of a lightning rod or decoy operation.

My next notion that he might have been involved with the "hoax" call follows on the above points, and on their shared effect. Both aimed to keep attention on weird things out of Frankfurt, as opposed to the concise operation set for Heathrow airside. And both carry clues so parallel to the reality as to be chilling, yet are in actuality inaccurate, misleading, and potentially (officially, of course) pure coincidence. Again. 

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