Libya and terrorism

The following is part of a series of articles from Chris Tolworthy reposted here with kind permission. The articles together ask many questions about the September 11 atrocity and its aftermath, as well as looking into it from numerous angles. The articles are split into a number of pages on this site (which you can follow using the links at the bottom).

Libya and terrorism
Chris Tolworthy
March 2002

Libya is often blamed for supporting terrorism. This may be true, as many countries support terrorism1, but much of the evidence against Libya is open to doubt.

Some highly respected statesmen- such as Nelson Mandela - have supported Libya. When we look at the country's history, we can see why.


1911 - Italy invades Libya.

1911 - Qaddhafi's grandfather is killed by an Italian colonist.

1914 - Europeans start World War I.

1918 - Europeans carve up the (Arab) Ottoman empire.

1939 - Europeans start World War II.

1942 - Britain conquers Libya.

1948 - Europeans create the state of Israel in prime Arab land.

1956 - Britain, France and Israel conspire to attack Egypt (the Suez crisis)

1956 - Libya splits with Britain, but the new king conceded millions of acres of land to western oil companies. When oil is discovered, a pipeline is built to pump the oil for the west.

Is it any surprise if Qaddhafi hates the west? Imagine if the situation was reversed. What if your country had been repeatedly invaded by Arabs, if members of your family had been killed by Arab colonists, if you watched Arabs start two world wars, if you saw Arabs carve up other western nations for their friends? How would YOU feel? Would you blame our own leaders, or would you blame the ones who hurt you?

1969 - Qaddhafi hears that some senior soldiers are planning a coup. He sees his chance to free his country (as he sees it) and gets in first. He then kicks out most of the old colonists and nationalises the oil industry. Can you blame him? But this made him very unpopular in the west. He also has sympathy with other groups he sees as downtrodden (e.g. the PLO and the IRA) which makes him even less popular.

1972 - Gadafi is falsely accused of funding the Munich Olympic kidnappers (a group wanting the freedom of Palestine. A bungled Bulgarian rescue attempt led to the deaths of Israeli hostages). Later investigations found no evidence for any link.(1)

1973 - A Libyan Boeing 727 is shot down by Israeli jets. 102 passengers and 8 crewmen are killed.

1981 - Two Libyan aircraft are shot down by US warplanes flying over the Gulf of Sirte, claimed by Libya as its territorial water.

1984 - Libya is blamed for shooting a policewoman in London. There are numerous problems with this version of events(2), and a British TV documentary linked the death to the CIA(3), but to most people Libya is guilty simply because it is Libya.

1986 - Lybia is blamed for bombing a German discotheque. (When the accused are finally brought to trial in 1997, there is nothing to link them to Libya, but there is evidence pointing in other directions.(4))

1986 - The US bombs Libya, killing 101 people, including (apparently) Qaddhafi's adopted daughter.

1988 - Lybia is blamed for the Lockerbie bombing, even though several pieces of evidence pointed to Iran as the culprit.

1988 - According to the French intelligence source, France's spy agency, SDECE, was ordered to assassinate Qaddhafi (this was called off at the last minute).(5)

1996 - Britain's secret service backs local Libyan extremists in trying to kill Qaddhafi. The bomb killed innocent civilians instead. Britain denies it, other sources confirm it.(6)

And what about the IRA links? It is true that Libya has supported others it sees as oppressed. The modern IRA was born at "Bloody Sunday," when British soldiers killed a number of innocent civilians. This was in 1970, just one year after Qaddhafi came to power, and naturally they gained his sympathy. No individuals have ever been convicted of those killings, even though all sides agree they took place. This is not to defend the IRA, but just to show that the evidence is not one sided. Libya was just doing what the west does2 - supporting groups it sees as "freedom fighters."

The above material presents evidence that Libya was innocent of its alleged crimes. But what if it was guilty of everything the west says it does? What does that tell us about the effectiveness of our methods - such as bombing Tripoli in 1986?

According to the Defense Science Board (and contrary to neocon belief), these air strikes did not cause Khadafy to abandon terrorism. In fact, he expanded his terrorist campaign against Western Europe to the United States. (See the next eight entries.) Beginning in April 1986, State Department analysts began to link Libyan terrorist agents to an average of one attack per month against U.S. targets. Some examples of these are:

  • April 1986: An American hostage in Lebanon is sold to Libya and executed.
  • 1986: Libyans attempt to blow up the U.S. embassy in Lomé, Togo.
  • September 1987: Abu Nidal, working for Libya, hijacks Pan Am Flight 73 in Karachi, Pakistan. Several Americans are killed during the hijacking.
  • April 12, 1988: A Japanese Red Army operative with three bombs is arrested in New Jersey with a plan to attack a military base in the United States. The attack has been timed to coincide with the second anniversary of the U.S. air strikes on Libya.
  • April 14, 1988: The Japanese Red Army, under contract from Abu Nidal, plants a bomb at the USO military club in Naples, Italy, to coincide with the anniversary. Five people are killed.
  • December 1988: Two Libyan intelligence agents allegedly bomb Pan Am Flight 103. The bomb kills 270 people, 200 of whom were Americans.
  • 1988: Libyan agents bomb U.S. library facilities in Peru, Colombia, and Costa Rica.
  • September 1989: Libyan agents recruit a Chicago gang to shoot down U.S. airliners with shoulder-fired missiles, the same type so generously given to the Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan in the late '70s and the '80s. The plot, fortunately, is foiled ."(7)

If we believe the anti-Libya lobby, then we must conclude that our policy of bombing does not work. If we believe the pro-Libya lobby, then we must conclude that opur policy of bombing is imoral and genocidal. Ineffective or immoral? You decide. Yet we still rely on our beloved bombs to "make the world a safer place."

So in answer to the question, why is Mr. Qaddhafi now so quiet? Maybe because we have left him alone for a few years. If we ever need to bomb him again I am sure he can be relied upon to shout as loudly as ever.

On this page:

  1. Lockerbie
  2. Footnotes


In 1988, an explosion caused a plane to crash over the small Scottish town of Lockerbie. Fingers were soon pointed at Lybia. It was claimed that a certain suitcase containing a bomb was placed in the airplane by two Libyan men in Malta. Libya said these men were innocent, but the country was subjected to massive financial and other sanctions. Over a period of years, this cost Libya billions of dollars and hurt an already backward economy. The result - the damaged infrastructure and resulting deaths, mostly among the poor of course - has been described as "genocidal."(8)

After years of agony, eventually Libya gave up and sent the two men for trial. The United Nations removed the sanctions, but America kept applying them. What happened when the "bomb in Malta" story came to court?

The American government promised a key witness five million dollars if he would say that he saw the Libyan suspects with a certain suitcase.(9) However, the story was so weak that one ofthe two men was found innocent. Unfortunately, the defense team were very weak. They neglected to call a witness who saw the suitcase being loaded in London, not Malta.(10) Without this evidence, one of the two men was assumed to be guilty. Most Scottish experts are astonished that the weak evidence against him was enough to establish a link. Ian Bell wrote in the Scottish Sunday Herald on February 4, 2001

"Last week you would have been hard-pressed to find an Edinburgh lawyer willing to bet on any guilty verdict being reached at Camp Zeist [the scene of the trial]. The same belief was evident, it is reported, in Whitehall."(11)

Robert Black QC, the highly respected professor of Scottish law at Edinburgh University who in 1994 first suggested the plan for a trial away from Britain or America, told the BBC on February 4:

"This was a very, very weak circumstantial case. I am absolutely astounded, astonished. I was extremely reluctant to believe that any Scottish judge would convict anyone, even a Libyan, on the basis of such evidence."(11)

Michael Scharf, a law professor at the New England School of Law, agreed, telling the February 2 New York Times:

"It sure does look like they bent over backwards to find a way to convict, and you have to assume the political context of the case influenced them."(11)

Even some of the British relatives of the Lockerbie victims were skeptical. Martin Cadman, whose son was killed in the disaster, told the February 2 London Independent:

"All we know from this trial is that one of the two was innocent. I think we should be grateful... But we have our doubts about the guilt of Megrahi [the second man]"(11)

As noted, the defence team was very weak.

"Edwin Bollier, the controversial Crown witness from Zurich who testified at the trial in 2000, says: 'The reason can definitely be found in the very week defense-strategy by the defense-team Duff/Taylor -While Mr. A.Megrahi had been strongly advised to reject continued representation through Duff & Taylor, he decided under heavy emotional pressure to continue with this team that already lost his original trial.' "(12)

Their appeal was heard n 2002, and this time they called the London witness. But under Scottish law it is very difficult to win an appeal, and theirs was rejected. Most observers expected that result, but some were still disturbed. There were five UN observers. One of them, Professor Hans Köchler, called it "a spectacular miscarriage of justice" and said "I have the impression that this concern is shared by the large majority of the observers." However, others said he "displayed a 'profound misunderstanding' of Scotland's adversarial legal system."(13)

This time too it seems the defense team bungled. At both trials they failed to call a key CIA witness who could show that the bomb was planted by Iran and not Libya.

"[Headline:] Megrahi's appeal team ignored 'evidence' from key CIA investigator that claims Iran was behind PanAm 103 bombing. Investigation by Neil Mackay, Home Affairs Editor, John Ashton in Washington and Ian Ferguson in Camp Zeist.

"Robert Baer, a retired senior CIA agent, offered to meet the defence team leading the appeal of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, who was convicted last year of the bombing. However, his offer was not accepted and the new evidence never raised in court. The new evidence, according to Baer, shows Iran masterminded and funded the bombing; implicates the Palestinian terrorist unit, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), as the group behind the plot; and reveals that just two days after the December 21 1988 bombing the PFLP-GC received $11 million (£7.6m), paid into a Swiss bank account by Iran."

"On legal advice Baer is not disclosing his Lockerbie records, but the Sunday Herald has seen CIA paperwork that supports his claims."

"Edinburgh University law professor Robert Black, the architect of the Lockerbie trial, said of Megrahi's defence not seeking to interview Baer: 'I don't know why they would act like this. Real hard evidence of a money transfer from Iran to the PFLP-GC is so supportive of the alternative theory behind the bombing that I'm at a loss to explain their actions." (14)

Having said all that, I have argued in this web site that we should respect the rule of law. The court found against Megrahi, and we must accept that fact. However, is the evidence so strong that it reflects on the entire nation of Libya? Can so many years of sanctions really have rested on this house of cards? Apparently they did.

In this light, we can see why Nelson Mandela telephoned Megrahi at the appeal to offer his personal support.(15) Mandela is no stranger to m