LONDON – The Scottish prosecutors' office dismissed a published report Friday that Abu Nidal, the Palestinian terrorist whose death was announced in Iraq this week, was behind the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, for which a Libyan has been convicted.
"We deal, and have dealt with, evidence -- not rumor or speculation, especially about allegedly dead terrorists," a Scottish Crown Office official said on condition of anonymity.
The Arabic newspaper al-Hayat on Friday published an interview with Atef Abu Bakr, a former spokesman for Fatah-Revolutionary Council, the radical group headed by Abu Nidal, saying Abu Nidal told a meeting of the group's council that his organization was behind the bombing of the Pan Am flight in which 270 people were killed.
A special Scottish court convicted former Libyan intelligence agent Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi in the Netherlands in 2000. In March this year, a Scottish appeals court upheld the murder conviction of al-Megrahi, who was sentenced to life in prison, with no possibility of parole for 20 years.
After the bombing, the U.S. State Department said that an unidentified person had telephoned the U.S. Embassy in Helsinki, Finland, on Dec. 5 and said there would be a bombing attempt within two weeks against a Pan Am aircraft flying from Frankfurt to the United States. The caller claimed to belong to the Abu Nidal group, the State Department said at the time.
Initially, British and American investigators of the Pan Am bombing suspected another Palestinian radical group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command.
The United Nations imposed sanctions on air travel and arms sales to Libya in 1992. The sanctions were suspended, but not lifted, in 1999, when Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi handed over al-Megrahi and another suspect, who was acquitted.
Abu Nidal was based in Libya in the late 1980s when Abu Bakr was one of his closest aides. Abu Bakr told the al-Hayat newspaper that Abu Nidal had violated the hospitality of Libya, where he stayed for about 10 years, spying on Libyan officials and killing some of his own supporters -- thus causing law enforcement complications for the Libyan government.
In the interview, Abu Bakr said Abu Nidal told a meeting of the Revolutionary Council leadership: "The reports that attribute Lockerbie (bombing) to others are lies. We are behind it."
On Wednesday, Iraq's intelligence chief said that Abu Nidal shot himself in the head in his Baghdad apartment rather than face an Iraqi court for allegedly communicating with a foreign country. He did not say what day this happened.
In Beirut, Abu Nidal's organization, the Fatah-Revolutionary Council, said its leader was assassinated by one of Iraq's intelligence agencies.
Jim Swire, whose daughter died in the Lockerbie explosion, said Friday that the trial in the Netherlands only considered the guilt or innocence of the defendants, and the court's conclusion that al-Megrahi was involved did not mean Abu Nidal might not also have participated.
"In my view, in those days most of the groups knew what the other groups were doing," said Swire, a spokesman for the U.K. Families Flight 103 Group. "Abu Nidal in those days was in Tripoli. ... I think it's likely he would have known what was going on but I have no way of knowing" whether he was behind the bombing.
Swire said the reports bolstered the families' calls for an independent inquiry into the bombing, lapses in airport security and why Britain had not acted on warnings that an attack might occur.
The Scottish Crown Office spokeswoman said Friday that the Lord Advocate was "not sure what a public inquiry can properly explore, especially after this passage of time."
She said there had already been a fatal accident inquiry and some specialist inquiries, and that airport security had recently been the subject of "much scrutiny."