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Magnus Linklater, the editor of the Scotsman newspaper at the time of the Lockerbie investigation, has revealed that UK Government and intelligence services influenced coverage of the Lockerbie inquiry to implicate Iran and Syria.
Linklater admitted that both the police and UK Government ministers directed the newspaper to concentrate their coverage on Iranian and Syrian links with the downing of Pan Am 103, the suspects initially favoured by the US and UK administrations.
"This is not just conspiracy theory," Linklater said.
"It is sometimes forgotten just how powerful the evidence was, in the first few months after Lockerbie, that pointed towards the involvement of the Palestinian-Syrian terror group the PFLP-GC, backed by Iran and linked closely to terror groups in Europe. At The Scotsman newspaper, which I edited then, we were strongly briefed by police and ministers to concentrate on this link, with revenge for an American rocket attack on an Iranian airliner as the motive."
This line of inquiry was heavily promoted by the US and UK Governments for two years until the invasion of Kuwait, when the coincidental requirement to use Iranian airpsace to bomb Iraq became a priority. Libya was then identified as the prime suspect.
The involvement of Iran and Syria has been promoted consistently as an alternate explanation for the Lockerbie event, and PFLP-GC group member Mohamed Abu Talb was named by the two accused, Megrahi and Fhimah, in their special defence of incrimination. However, only three of the hundreds of listed defence witnesses were actually called at the trial, and this avenue of inquiry was never explored in a judicial forum.
Talb's alleged involvement was held to be at the root of the event in the case compiled by Juval Aviv on behalf of Pan Am's insurers. Aviv was a former agent of Israeli secret service Mossad, creating a further link to US intelligence of the heavily promoted Iran/Syria connection to the event.
A Firm investigation published in 2007 concluded that there was sufficient evidence to warrant an investigation into whether the airliner had been brought down by the accidental firing of an illegal cargo of explosives or munitions carried on the plane. On 22nd December 1988 Scottish Secretary Malcolm Rifkind described the mid air explosion to TV camera crews as an "accident".
The lack of evidence in the circumstancial case against Megrahi and Fhimah has been the focus of much of the criticism of the judgement against Megrahi. Material submitted to the trial as semtex explosives evidence had in fact been found to have been manufactured from test explosions.
Linklater does not disclose why the newspaper did not undertake its own investigations. However he did state how former Lord Advocate Lord Fraser expressed concerns to him about whether the CIA could have been involved in planting some of the "evidence".
"I don’t know. No one ever came to me and said, ‘Let’s go for the Libyans’, it was never as straightforward as that. The CIA was extremely subtle," Fraser is reported to have said.
The Firm's report if its investigation can be read here.