Scottish Daily Mail
Has this grieving brother found the REAL Lockerbie bombers?
IT was a scene that Ken Dornstein found almost surreal. There on TV, stepping off a plane in Tripoli with a broad smile on his face, hugging supporters, shaking hands, was the man convicted of killing his brother and 269 others in the Lockerbie bombing. On the tarmac Saltires waved – an embarrassing tribute to the Scottish Government, which had let Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi go because he was suffering from cancer.
But the disgust with which Mr Dornstein viewed the spectacle of a convicted mass murderer’s compassionate release pales into insignificance compared with how he sees it now. What he did not know then were the identities of those people hugging, kissing and clapping Megrahi on the back.
Mr Dornstein now knows several of them were men who Scottish police and the FBI had long suspected of involvement in the 1988 atrocity but could not reach – the then Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi saw to that. It was as if, in an act of brazen defiance, the Lockerbie plotters were holding a reunion there on the tarmac.
Father-of-two Mr Dornstein had always been compulsive about the bombing, which took his brother David, a writer, at the age of 25. He collected newspaper clippings, pored over archive footage and even wrote a book about his sibling, The Boy Who Fell Out Of The Sky.
But Kenny MacAskill’s decision as Scottish justice secretary to release Megrahi in 2009, barely eight years i nto his sentence, changed his approach to the crime drastically. It triggered an intense desire, however hopeless, to find all the men responsible for the mass murder.
‘ I remember thinking “It’s l i ke watching the guy get away with murder in real time,”’ he said.
Two upstairs rooms in the Dornstein family home in Somerville, Massachusetts, became Lockerbie investigation annexes. Mugshots filled the walls, folders of evidence piled ever higher and, in the corridor connecting the rooms, a huge map of Lockerbie hung, riddled with pins marking spots where bodies landed.
APOLITICIAN’S supposed act of mercy had turned Mr Dornstein into a Lockerbie obsessive, the kind whose loved ones worried about him and wished he would find healthier ways to spend his time.
Yet six years on, incredibly, his lone investigation has brought the first realistic prospect of more men being tried for Britain’s worst terrorist atrocity. Mr Dornstein, 46, has turned up two living suspects and several more dead ones. He has also uncovered compelling evidence that leaves him in no doubt that Megrahi was involved in the plot to blow up Pan Am 103.
Along the way, the TV journalist has made a three-part documentary, My Brother’s Bomber, about to air in the US. It depicts an international odyssey filled with danger, with intrigue and with a delicate balance of love – love for the lost brother who deserves justice, and love for his wife and children who need their husband and father to be safe and at home.
Most striking of all the new evidence, perhaps, are details of the ‘welcoming committee’ which awaited Megrahi as he stepped off the plane from Glasgow in Tripoli.
Among the first to hug him as he emerged from the aircraft was Said Rashid. He is a former head of Gaddafi’s intelligence service who Scottish and American investigators were convinced was part of the plot. All attempts to i nterview him were blocked and now it is too late. He is dead.
After Megrahi climbed into an SUV on the tarmac, he found himself sitting next to Gaddafi’s former spy chief Abdullah al-Senussi, known as the ‘black box’ of the regime and believed by some to have masterminded the bombing.
Then, leaning forward from the back seat to shake Megrahi’s hand and kiss him, was another target for questioning by Scottish police and the FBI – Abu Agila Mas’ud. Lockerbie investigators had heard the name for years but the Tunisian- born technical expert was so elusive they wondered if they were chasing a ghost.
Now, through frame-by-frame analysis of Libyan TV footage, Mr Dornstein had found the shadowy figure in a car with Megrahi, moments after touchdown in Tripoli. To the American, the inference was utterly chilling: the Lockerbie plotters were holding a welcome home party for their gang member in the full glare of the world’s media.
There are, of course, competing theories on the guilt or innocence of Megrahi – theories so entrenched among some that, in the absence of cast-iron proof, they will probably never be abandoned.
Jim Swire, the English GP whose daughter Flora was on board Pan Am 103 when it came down over Lockerbie in 1988, has devoted himself to finding answers and is convinced Megrahi is innocent.
Both he and Mr Dornstein have grieved for many years for their lost family member. Both have gone to extraordinary lengths to uncover the truth – and both have arrived at very different conclusions.
YET there is a kinship, a mutual respect for the other man’s emotional journey, even if it took them to different places. There was also an extraordinary encounter between the pair as they took a taxi together to Megrahi’s Tripoli villa in 2012.
Dr Swire had come to say farewell to the convicted bomber, now close to death. Extraordinarily, perhaps, he was so convinced of Megrahi’s innocence that the pair had become friends.
Mr Dornstein, who had never met Megrahi, had come in the hope of hearing a deathbed confession. And, just in case the bomber was minded to give one, he was secretly wired for sound and vision. A tiny camera concealed in a button in his shirt connected via a thin wire to a receiver in his boot.
Speaking this week, Dr Swire said: ‘I think he should have told me he was intending to do that. I was with a television organisation as well at that
point and they’d asked me if I was prepared to be wired up and I said no.
‘This was going to be my last meeting with this guy and I thought it should be private. I didn’t want the world to be a witness over my shoulder when I met him.’
The pair were met by Megrahi’s son Khaled, who led them through a large compound with a swimming pool. But when they reached the main house, Khaled told Mr Dornstein: ‘Only one.’
Dr Swire, known and trusted by the family, proceeded while Mr Dornstein remained outside. He asked to use the bathroom and, once inside, realised Megrahi and Dr Swire were just next door. But he could not bring himself to barge in. It was certainly not respect for the dying man which held him back. Rather, it was respect for his visitor – no less a victim than he, however much they disagreed on Megrahi.
Dr Swire said: ‘I think it was a tragedy that Ken couldn’t get in to see him that day but I was busy having my own tragedy because I was meeting somebody who I’d become quite fond of and certainly believed was not responsible for the death of my daughter.’
Perhaps, said Dr Swire, meeting Megrahi in person would have helped convince Mr Dornstein of his innocence, as it had done for others involved in the campaign to clear his name posthumously. But Mr Dornstein’s years of detective work convinces him all the more of the opposite. Among those he tracked down was Musbah Eter, a former Libyan operative who confessed to and was jailed for being involved in the 1986 bombing of Berlin’s La Belle disco, a hangout of American servicemen.
Three were killed and 229 were injured in the bomb attack – and, according to Eter, Mas’ud had brought the device in to the Libyan Embassy in East Berlin and shown him how to arm it.
How disturbing – and possibly damning – that, within moments of touching down in Tripoli, Megrahi should be in a car with a bombmaker. And how significant, perhaps, that Mas’ud should now be serving a ten-year sentence in a Libyan jail for making explosives to booby trap the cars of rebels of the Gaddafi regime in 2011.
The other man in the car, Senussi, has now been sentenced to death in Libya for crimes against humanity. Actor George Clooney’s wife Amal is one of several lawyers fighting to save him from the firing squad. Any investigator hoping to question him about Lockerbie would certainly wish her well in that effort.
Whatever Senussi’s ultimate fate, Megrahi could hardly have found himself in more unsavoury company in those first minutes of repatriation to Libya.
It was in 2011, as revolution broke out and Gaddafi went into hiding, that Mr Dornstein travelled to Libya in the hope of salvaging Lockerbie evidence from the embers of the evil regime.
His wife Geismar had opposed the mission but their marriage had a clause called ‘the Lockerbie dispensation’. She explained: ‘As a wife, I didn’t want him to go – but as a friend I knew he needed to.’
BEFORE he left, he spoke to former detective superintendent Stuart Henderson, who led the Lockerbie investigation in Scotland. Mr Henderson handed over a list of names. These were the suspects Scottish police and the FBI had never been allowed near. Perhaps the fall of Gaddafi’s regime would change things.
In Tripoli, the deposed leader’s compound was a looted shambles. Intelligence bunkers lay abandoned and open to the elements. Papers flapped everywhere.
In one room, Mr Dornstein found thousands of cassettes, each one, apparently, filled with secret recordings of phone calls. But no smoking gun was found. Ironically, he discov- Grim spectacle: Police carrying bodies from the scene of the bombing in which the brother of Ken Dornstein, far left, died ered some of the men on the list had died as a direct result of the revolution. Said Rashid, it seemed, had been shot dead after an increasingly paranoid Gaddafi began to suspect him of disloyalty.
Ezzadin Hinshiri, another senior member of the Libyan intelligence service, was murdered along with 52 other regime supporters, days after Gaddafi himself was hunted down by rebels and executed.
Then there was Badri Hassan, an airline executive apparently coopted into the Lockerbie bombing plot. He had recently died of a heart attack. But a series of meetings between Mr Dornstein and Hassan’s widow Suad proved highly enlightening.
Almost from the moment Pan Am 103 exploded over Lockerbie, she had suspected her husband’s involvement in it, she said. He denied all knowledge of it but changes in his behaviour suggested otherwise. He had the air of a man carrying a terrible secret.
‘I’m absolutely sure of it,’ she said. ‘I almost can’t remember my life before this Lockerbie happened.’ In faltering English, she added: ‘I am very suffering about that trip, about the people killed in that trip.’
WHEN told that her interviewer’s brother was killed on Pan Am 103, she said: ‘ Badri l eft behind much suffering.’ But she added: ‘ May God destroy your house, Muammar Gaddafi. You led Libya astray.’
Her late-husband’s connection to Megrahi was a direct one. For more than a year prior to the bombing, the two of them rented an office together in Zurich, Switzerland. That office was right down the hall from a company called MEBO, which supplied Libya with timing devices used i n the 1980s f or bombs.
Investigators believe a tiny fragment of circuit board found in the Lockerbie debris was part of just such a MEBO device – and that it was part of the bomb that killed 270, i ncluding Mr Dornstein’s brother David and Dr Swire’s daughter Flora.
Weeks ago, a middleman representing a Libyan militia group offered Mr Dornstein a meeting with Mas’ud in jail and the chance to ask him about Lockerbie. Mr Dornstein thought about it and turned it down.
It was just too dangerous. This time the scales came down in favour of his family. Besides, he said: ‘Let’s say I did talk my way into the prison and got in front of this guy. I can’t imagine that, on a first meeting, he’s going to say, “I’m so impressed with your detective work, I’m going to tell you everything.”
‘In the Hollywood version, that’s what happens, but not in this version.’
In the real world, the Crown Office states simply that it is aware of Mr Dornstein’s findings. Yet, for the first time in years, an air of expectation hangs over the case. Almost 27 years on, could one of the world’s biggest and most complex murder inquiries finally be about to yield answers – and justice?
Traumatised by loss, horrified by injustice, he set out to find the truth. Now this US journalist reveals his key suspects