Pan Am Flight 103 was Pan American World Airways' third daily scheduled flight from London's Heathrow Airport to the JFK airport in New York. On Wednesday December 21, 1988, the plane flying this route was destroyed by a bomb killing all 243 passengers and 16 crew members. In Lockerbie, a town in southern Scotland, 11 people were killed as large sections of the plane fell in and around the town bringing the death toll to 270. It was therefore named the Lockerbie bombing.
On January 31, 2001, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, a Libyan, was convicted of involvement in the bombing and sentenced to life imprisonment in Scotland. The Scottish Government released him on August 21, 2009 on compassionate grounds to return to Libya because he had terminal prostate cancer and had a life expectancy of less than 3 months. His release and return to Libya has stirred controversy because six months after his release, he was alive and living as a freeman.
Initially, the prime suspects for the bombing were the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command (PFLP-GC), a Damascus-based rejectionist group led by former leader of the Syrian army, Captain Ahmed Jibril. It was speculated that he was sponsored by the Iranian government to commit the bombings. During a press conference in February 1986, Jibril warned that "There will be no safety for any traveler on an Israeli or U.S. airliner." Author David Yallop claimed to have recorded secret intercepts between the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Baalbeck, Lebanon and the PFLP-GC immediately after the downing of the plane. Israeli intelligence allegedly intercepted a phone call made two days after the downing of the plane by Mohtashemi-Pur, Interior Minister in Tehran, to the chargé d'affaires at the Iranian embassy in Beirut. The embassy allegedly paid Jibril $11 million for the successful mission and congratulated the PFLP-GC. This payment has never been confirmed.
While the PFLP-GC constructed their bombs and planned the bombing, Germany's internal security service, the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (BfV) kept the group's members under strict surveillance. Unknown to them, the PFLP-GC's bomb maker, Marwan Khreesat, was a Jordanian intelligence service (GID) agent who reported the cell's activities to the GID, who shared the information with the BfV and Western intelligence. The Jordanian government encouraged Khreesat to proceed with the construction of the bombs but instructed him to ensure they were ineffective and would not explode. Despite this, a German police technician was killed, in April 1989, when attempting to disarm one of his bombs. Through Khreesat and the GID, the Germans learned that that the PFLP-GC was surveying a number of targets. They then set the attack date for October 30, 1988.
Knowing this, the German secret police attempted to arrest the PFLP-GC by raiding 14 apartments and arresting 17 men on October 26, 1998. They feared that they would lose control of the situation if they kept the group on surveillance any longer. Two members of the group managed to escape despite the German police's efforts. The author of the 1994 documentary film, David Yallop, speculated that Libyan or Iranian-paid agents worked together on the bombing, or one group handed the job to the other upon the arrest of most of the PFLP-GC participants. Vincent Cannistraro, a former CIA head of terrorism who worked on the PA 103 investigation, believes the PFLP-GC planned the attack after being requested to by the Iranian government, then sub-contracted it to Libyan intelligence after the arrests in Germany meant they were unable to complete the mission. Other supporters of this conspiracy believe that who ever sponsored the bombing arranged two separate operations to ensure one with succeed, or used the operation in Germany as a red herring to divert the attention of intelligence services, while the bombers proceeded quietly elsewhere.
Many journalists believe that the Iranian motive for committing the bombing was retaliation for the shooting down of an Iran Air Airbus by the USS Vincennes. This had been denied by investigators from the start. Abolghasem Mesbahi, the former head of Iranian intelligence in Europe, eventually admitted to German investigators that Iran had asked Libya and Abu Nidal, a Palestinian guerrilla leader, to conduct the attack on Pan Am 103.
Another conspiracy involves CIA drug smuggling. In this theory, CIA agents set up a protected drug route from Europe to the United States, allegedly called Operation Corea, allowing Syrian drug dealers led by Monzer al-Kassar, to ship heroin to the US using Pan Am Flights. In exchange for this, they were to supply intelligence on Palestinian groups in Syria holding hostages. As part of this plan, the CIA would protect the suitcases containing the drugs and make sure they were not searched. According to this theory, on the day of the bombing, the terrorists exchanged suitcases: one for drugs and one for the bomb.
According to a theory by Juval Aviv, the CIA knew the bag with the drugs would be exchanged with the bag with the bomb but let it happen anyway because two American Intelligence Officers - Matthew Gannon and Major Charles McKee had found out about the drug route and were heading to Washington on Pan Am 103 to tell their superiors. Pan Am hired Aviv as their lead investigator for the bombing. His scenario provided a credible defense against claims for compensation by relatives of the victims because Pan Am could hardly be held liable if the US Government helped the bomb bypass Pan Am's security. Pan Am's report alleged that Khalid Jafaar, a Lebanese-American passenger, brought the bomb on board thinking he was carrying drugs for the drug dealers he supposedly worked for. A civil case by US relatives presented in a New York court rejected the report's allegations due to lack of evidence.
It is certainly possible that the Iranian government funded the mission in retaliation for the Iran Air Airbus that was shot down. Despite the 290 lives that were innocently taken in the Iran Air incident, which appears to be an accident by the USS Vincennes, a retaliation of violence is unacceptable if that is what caused Pan Am Flight 103 to be downed. If the Iranian government caused the downing of the flight, keep in mind that a country's government is not necessarily a representation of the beliefs of the individuals that reside in that country. It seems highly possible that the PFLP-GC was initially assigned the mission but it was transferred to Libyan intelligence when it became clear the group could not complete the mission. It is a lot harder to believe that two separate operations were arranged by whoever sponsored the bombing or that it was used as a red herring to divert attention from the real bombers. Knowing how corrupt Iran's government has been since the revolution, it is quite possible they funded the mission. There is a chance that the CIA allowed Syrian drug dealers to transport heroin through Pan Am flights in exchange for intelligence on Palestinian groups holding hostages in Syria, but it seems highly unlikely that they would knowingly let a bomb on board Pan Am Flight 103. I could not grasp them doing such a thing. Regardless of who is to blame, the Lockerbie bombing was truly a tragedy that took the lives of 270 people.