Pan Am Flight 103 bombing – December 21, 1988

On December 21, 1998 Pan Am flight 103 came down on Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 259 passengers and 11 residents on the ground.

The Qadhafi regime was a thorn in the side of the West for decades and may have been behind the second largest airline bombing in history.

There are many out-of-the-way places that become famous because of a tragedy. Port Arthur in Tasmania is known for a 1996 massacre by a lone gunman that resulted in 35 deaths and led to stricter Australian gun laws. Shanksville, Pennsylvania is where the fourth hijacked airliner crashed on 9/11 after passengers rushed the cockpit.

And then there is Lockerbie, Scotland, population 4,009 (2001 census data).

1988 Pan Am Flight 103 bombing

On December 21, 1998 Pan Am flight 103 came down on this picturesque Scottish hamlet, killing all 259 passengers and 11 residents of Lockerbie on the ground. It was the largest terrorist attack on an aircraft since the 1985 Air India bombing by Canadian Sikh terrorists.

US and UK investigators later found fragments of a circuit board and a timer in the wreckage and concluded that a bomb, not mechanical failure, had caused the explosion. Two Libyan citizens, Abdelbeset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi and Al Amin Khalifah Fhimah, were tried for the bombing: only the former was found guilty.

The terrorists were believed to have manufactured the bomb out of Semtex plastic explosives, concealed it in a Toshiba cassette recorder which they stashed in a suitcase placed aboard an Air Malta flight headed for Frankfurt where the unaccompanied bag was transferred to a Pan Am flight to London and then to Flight 103.

So what was the connection to Libya and Colonel Qadhafi?

The bombmakers were suspected Libyan intelligence officers. In 2011 a former Libyan justice minister told a Swedish newspaper that the Libyan leader had personally ordered the Lockerbie bombing. Qadhafi paid $2.7 billion in compensation to the families of the victims in 2003 but never admitted guilt.

Why would the quixotic colonel target a Pan Am fight? There are several reasons. Qadhafi’s Libya was a known haven for international terrorists in the 1980s. The Libyan strongman hated the US and anything he saw as ‘imperialism’. The attack could have been retribution for US President Ronald Reagan’s airstrikes in Tripoli in which one of Qadhafi’s daughters was killed (itself US payback for alleged Libyan involvement in the 1986 West Berlin disco bombing in which an American serviceman was killed and 60 wounded).

He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword

Whatever the truth it is most likely buried with Qadhafi who was killed by a mob in 2011. His death was somewhat poetic, brutally beaten by the population he terrorised for four decades. As the old saying goes “he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword”.

And what of Lockerbie today? Last year there was a commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the terrorist attack. The town will forever be associated with this heinous act of violence. That is too bad.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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