World news

The Lockerbie bombing, the deadliest terrorist attack in UK history

Almost 15 years before 9/11, a plane was already targeted by international terrorists. The Boeing 747, which took off on a cold winter night in 1988 in London for New York, exploded on December 21 above the village of Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people.

To date, this attack remains the deadliest in the UK. Although one of the perpetrators was convicted in 2001, the United States obtained on Monday December 12 the extradition of another alleged culprit, the former Libyan intelligence officer Abu Agila Mohammad Masud. He is suspected of having built the bomb that caused the attack.

The bomb went off half an hour after the plane took off, piercing a hole about fifty centimeters in diameter on the left side of its fuselage. The 243 passengers are killed, as are the 16 crew members. The falling debris also killed 11 Lockerbie residents.

conspiracy theories

Of the 270 deaths, 189 are Americans, 43 British. Nineteen other nationalities are represented. A 244th passenger, Jaswant Basuta, missed the plane after spending too much time at the airport bar with his family. Suspected, he is finally cleared by the police.

The presence of several US intelligence agents – including senior members of the CIA – on the plane that crashed in Lockerbie fuels many conspiracy theories.

The investigation begins the day of the explosion. Four million pieces of the wreckage, scattered over 2,200 km2, an area more than twice that occupied by the city of Paris, were collected. The British body in charge of the investigation of air accidents concludes that the destruction of the plane was caused by an improvised explosive device.

Libya suspected

This is notably composed of Semtex, an explosive manufactured in Czechoslovakia. The leader of this former communist country, Václav Havel, revealed in 1990 that the former regime had supplied 1,000 tonnes of this material to the Libyan government.

Detectives also discover trousers made in Malta which they suspect belong to the culprit. They fly to the island and find there the one who sold them, Tony Gauci. According to him, they were bought by a man who spoke a mixture of Arabic, English and Maltese with a Libyan accent.

“Many Libyans target my shop, and when I hear them talking, I can tell the difference between them, Tunisians and Egyptians”he told investigators.

Iranian and Irish claims

Also, a circuit board fragment that would have been part of a timer is discovered. An FBI explosives expert analyzes it and judges it similar to that of an equivalent device, seized from three Libyan intelligence agents arrested in Dakar ten months before the Lockerbie attack.

This fragment is associated with a Swiss manufacturer, Mebo. It is then revealed that one of the company’s executives sold twenty of its timers to Libya in 1985.

The attack is however the subject of claims by many organizations. The CIA considers that the most credible is that of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, the ideological army of the Iranian regime.

A trial 11 years later

The Organization of Islamic Jihad, an armed group involved in the war in Lebanon, also asserts its responsibility, as does the Ulster Defense Association, a paramilitary organization involved in the conflict in Northern Ireland.

After three years of investigation, it is finally Abdelbaset al-Megrahi and Lamin Khalifah Frimah who are accused. The first is a Libyan intelligence officer and head of security for Libyan Arab Airlines, the second is the company’s former director at Malta airport.

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi initially refused their extradition. Numerous international sanctions were taken against the country, which led to the delivery of the accused to justice in 1999. The trial began in 2000, more than 11 years after the attack.

Muammar Gaddafi, personally responsible?

Abdelbaset al-Megrahi is found guilty of 270 counts of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment in Scotland. The second accused is acquitted, for lack of evidence. Al-Megrahi was also released in 2009, due to terminal prostate cancer. Until his death in 2012, he maintained his innocence.

Libya accepted responsibility for the attack in 2003. A regime minister even claimed in 2011 that Muammar Gaddafi had personally ordered the attack.


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