Given the early consensus
that the Jibril group and the Iranian government had conspired to blow up Pan
Am 103, many experts and relatives of Pan Am 103 victims were stunned when British
and American officials finally announced an indictment in the fall of 1991. The
joint indictment by Scottish and American authorities named only the two Libyans,
Megrahi and Fhimah. Officials of the two governments said that while the evidence
against Iran and the Jibril group had seemed powerful at first, it simply did
not stand up. According to a US State Department fact sheet explaining the turn
in the investigation:
It was discovered in June 1990 that the Pan Am 103 bomb had been activated by a sophisticated electronic timer, in contrast to the PFLP-GC bombs, which had altimeter switches and relatively crude timers.
The State Department also said that, on closer inspection, the Toshiba Bombeat cassette player that housed the Lockerbie bomb differed from the Toshiba Bombeat used by the PFLP-GC; one had stereo speakers, the other mono.
Some relatives of victims said those seemed like flimsy reasons to absolve Iran and Syria. Notably, the skeptics also included the man once in charge of the CIA's Lockerbie investigation, Vincent Cannistraro, who retired in late 1990, a year before the indictments.
"The US Justice Department ... contends that these were two separate independent operations both targeted against an American airliner but independent of each other and not known to each other - two separate tracks if you will," Cannistraro says. "That's always seemed a bit difficult to accept, that two major terrorist groups were targeting the same airliner out of the same location, Frankfurt, Germany, at the same time."
And that both hid their bombs in Toshiba Bombeat cassette players and placed them in brown Samsonite suitcases.
Nonetheless, Cannistraro says he is persuaded that the Libyans are guilty. He says Qadhafi's government was in touch with the PFLP-GC and had, in fact, subsidized the group. But Cannistraro says he's convinced Qadhafi's men were hired to finish the Pan Am bombing only after the West German police broke up the PFLP-GC's operation. "I do think the Libyans carried it out. But I believe more it was a hand-off from the PFLP-GC after their own operational cell was compromised."
So, who conspired to bomb Pan Am 103? Iran, Syria, the PFLP-GC, or the Libyans? Cannistraro's answer is: maybe all of the above. But the Lockerbie indictment of 1991 pointed the finger only at the Libyans. In a comment shortly after the indictment, President Bush explicitly exonerated Damascus. "The Syrians took a bum rap on this," Bush said.
US and British officials said that new evidence turned investigators away from Iran and Syria and toward Libya. In the years since the indictment, several news organizations and legal experts have suggested the evidence against the Libyans appears strikingly weak. Others advise caution about drawing such conclusions prior to trial. "We haven't yet heard one word of testimony, and it's always very easy to debunk evidence in advance of a trial," says John Grant, until recently a dean at Glasgow University Law School.
That said, a close look at the evidence that investigators have touted over the years suggests the prosecution case may be flawed.