PFLP-GC Radio Recycling and the Khreesats' Luggage

Coincidences, or Clues of a frame-Up?
May 28 2010

Onetime suspect in the Lockerbie bombing, Jordanian double-agent Marwan Khreesat, has quite a fascinating tale, laid out in an 1989 interview with FBI special agent Edward Marshman [PDF download] and other sources. Two minor but interesting threads of the story are a curious set of five recurring Toshiba radios, and a matching set of luggage that eerily resembles another I’ve been wondering about.

The Toshibas originated when Khreesat was summoned to Damascus in 1985 and tasked with building five hidden altimeter bombs to show to PFLP-GC leader Ahmed Jibril. Khreesat says he bought five of the same model radio-cassette player - the aptly-named BomBeat 453 – on “Smuggler’s row” in Syria. [p 10] (model at left, but Khreesat's were black) He also secured his own timers and altimeters - four of each - but the pivotal and pricey detonators were apparently provided. [p 32] Khreesat left one bomb radio absent its altimeter and timer, two ready but for loose wires needing soldered, and two fully ready to go. A pin pushed in would arm them, and a sustained climb past a certain altitude would cause the detonation. [p 10]

After Khreesat built these devices, they were shown to Ahmed Jibril, who approved them. Khreesat then disassembled the devices (aside from one shown in 1987 to Jibril’s nephew Abu Elias) “and the components were taken back to the PFLP-GC office,” the report states. [p 10] “The radios themselves were left in Khreesat's cousin's house.” Compared to America’s culture of disposable electronics, these five boom boxes were treated like golden heirlooms passing from hand to hand. Someone was later sent to retrieve them, but the cousins were allowed to keep one and “only four were picked up.” Of these, Khreesat insists he “saw one in an office in Syria being used as a regular radio.” [p 10] The one kept by Khreesat’s cousins “stayed upstairs at the house,” the report continues, until “Khreesat's wife later reclaimed this radio.” [p 10]

Now when he arrived in Neuss, West Germany in mid-October, Khreesat brought his wife with him; he explains that she wanted to visit her brother in prison there, a wish Dalkamouni granted. [p 5]. David Leppard in On the Trail of Terror (1991) reported that they brought a matching luggage set – two brown hardshell Samsonites - and inside Khreesat’s case was a black BomBeat 453. “He had brought it from Damascus,” Leppard writes. [p 6]

But by Khreesat’s story to agent Marshman, it was the wife who had brought this radio from Jordan, after reclaiming it from Syria, “to give to her brother, who was in prison” in Germany. She was reportedly “unable to give this radio to her brother, and this radio was left in Hashem Abassi's house,” where they stayed while in Neuss. “This radio was clean,” Khreesat advised, and he “assumes that it was seized by the Germans.” [p 10] There is a Yaesu FT-211RH that was seized but found to be unmodified [Zeist trial, day 72, pp 8829-31], but I’ve seen no mention of a clean 453 found.

The only sample of that familiar model the BKA are known to have seized was rigged for altitude-based killing and in the trunk (boot) of Dalkamouni’s car when he and Khreesat were arrested on October 26. This was the unit studied by BKA scientists, with Dr. Rainer Gobel measuring time delays between 35 and 45 minutes after the pressure switch.

Leppard seems to have decided that was the BomBeat that Khreesat brought in his case, but the bomb maker’s own story conflicts with that. He says it was yet another of his omnipresent 1985 radios. On October 18 or 19, on returning to his room at Abassi’s place, he found all his supplies laid out across the bed, including his original timers and altimeters, and that Toshiba. [p 17] He didn’t know how any of this got there, but it was presumably brought by Dalkamouni, who handled all his supplies. All the timers and altimeters were the same he used in 1985 [p 32] and the radio “was one of these five radios that he worked on in 1985,” [p 10] while he and his wife just happened to have another of the five there with them.

It’s not clear what this might mean, but for one thing we should wonder if it’s completely accurate. Was Khreesat more involved than he lets on, and brought his own 453 radio to modify? And if his wife really brought one, did he really just leave it in the Abassi home, or did it disappear, say, along with Abu Elias?

And then there are the suitcases – what if these were stolen and used for the bombing? Here we have the bombmaker with brown, hardshell Samsonite suitcases, forensics on the other end suggesting the 103 bomb was in such a case, and between them one credible report - John Bedford’s story - widely noted as seeing one such case quite near the blast area of fateful container 4041. However, few realize he describes two such cases, apparently a matching set. Like the Khressats' (per Leppard). This must be either a fairly steep coincidence, an error by Leppard, or a clue of something else. Khreesat doesn’t mention any missing luggage, and Leppard reports clues that the wife took her bag when she returned home on the 22nd, which of course makes sense.

But other clues point to the infiltrator being essentially framed by the PFLP-GC. Khreesat didn’t even build the bomb that may have done in 103; at least by his own telling, all four of his  own products were (eventually) taken in by the BKA. The fifth device that Abu Elias escaped with was apparently of his own making, and not a black BomBeat 453 (Khreesat thinks it was a bronze Toshiba RT-F423). [p 37] Its modifications were apparently mimicked based on earlier study (1987) of the master's work, and Dalkamouni only had Khreesat do a token finish on this unit (solder two wires) before taking it back to its maker, perhaps just passing it through the Jordanian’s workshop to get his “fingerprints” on it.

Such co-option is one way to respond to an infiltrator in their midst, if they had found that out. If so, Abu Elias might also have secured his own copy of the double-agent’s double Samsonites and put his “Khreesat bomb” in one. It would also do to snag the extra 453 unit (if there indeed was one) to put in the other case.

Even without awareness of this spooky suitcase match, I can imagine how investigators would be apoplectic seeing BomBeat 453 debris at Lockerbie after the famous Khreesat bust weeks earlier. There’s no evidence of such debris and I’m not arguing for this. However, it's an interesting thought, and  if it had been there it would be reflexively covered up with rigor. And otherwise the possibility stand that a clever PFLP-GC worked right around Khreesat, doing the bombing themselves but making it appear like the West's agent had done it.  Embarrassment upon embarrassment as cover, and no surprise, it wasn't looked into.

No comments: