Monday, 30 November 2015

ISIS taking firm hold of central Libya

The New York Times is reporting that only four years after the NATO destruction of the state of Libya, ISIS has enforced its grip over the city of Sirte and a 150 mile strip of coastline.  Strict Sharia law is in force, and beheadings have commenced.
ISIS in Sirte

Today Sirte is an actively managed colony of ISIS, crowded with foreign fighters from around the region, according to residents, local militia leaders and hostages recently released from the city's main prison.

"The entire Islamic State government there is from abroad — they are the ones who are calling the shots," said Nuri al-Mangoush, the head of a trucking company based here in Misrata, about 65 miles west of the ISIS's territory around Sirte. Many of its employees live in Sirte, and five were jailed there recently.

As ISIS has come under growing military and economic pressure in Syria and Iraq, its leaders have looked outward.

One manifestation of the shift is a turn toward large-scale terrorist attacks against distant targets, including the massacre in Paris and the bombing of a Russian charter jet over Egypt, Western intelligence officials say. But the group's leaders are also devoting resources and attention to far-flung affiliate groups that pledged their loyalty from places like Egypt, Afghanistan, Nigeria and elsewhere. There are at least eight in all, according to Western officials, who spoke to the New York Times on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence.

Of those, by far the most important is based in Sirte, a Libyan port city on the Mediterranean about 400 miles southeast of Sicily. Western officials familiar with intelligence reports say it is the only affiliate now operating under the direct control of ISIS leaders. In Libya, residents of Sirte and local militia leaders say the transformation of ISIS here has been evident for months.

"Libya is the affiliate that we're most worried about," Patrick Prior, the Defense Intelligence Agency's top counterterrorism analyst, said at a recent security conference in Washington. "It's the hub from which they project across all of North Africa."

The leadership of ISIS is now clenching its grip on Sirte so tightly that Western intelligence agencies say they fear the core group may be preparing to fall back to Libya as an alternative base if necessary, a haven where its jihadis could continue to fight even if it was ousted from its original territories.

Western officials involved in Libya policy say that the United States and Britain have each sent commandos to conduct surveillance and gather intelligence on the ground. Washington has stepped up airstrikes against ISIS leaders. But military strategists are exasperated by the lack of near-term options to contain the group here.

In Libya, where a NATO bombing campaign helped overthrow Col. Moammar Gadhafi four years ago, there is no functional government. Warring factions are far more focused on fighting one another than on taking on ISIS, and Libya's neighbors are all too weak or unstable to lead or even host a military intervention.

ISIS has already established exclusive control of more than 150 miles of Mediterranean coastline near Sirte, from the town of Abugrein in the west to Nawfaliya in the east. The militias from the nearby city of Misrata that once vowed to expel the group completely have all retreated.

Militia leaders and Western officials estimate that the group's forces in Libya now include as many as 2,000 fighters, with a few hundred in Sirte and many clustered to the east, around Nawfaliya. A flurry of recent bombings, assassinations and other attacks has raised fears that the city of Ajdabiya, farther to the east, is the group's next target. Its conquest could give ISIS control of a strategic crossroads, vital oil terminals and oil fields south of the city.

The group in Sirte has begun imposing the parent organization's harsh version of Islamic law on the city, enforcing veils for all women, banning music and cigarettes, and closing shops during prayers, residents and recent visitors said. The group carried out at least four crucifixions in August.

Last month it held its first two public beheadings, killing two men accused of sorcery, according to prison inmates who knew the men and a Sirte resident who said he witnessed the killings.

ISIS once called on Muslims everywhere to come to Syria and Iraq to join its self-declared caliphate. Its propaganda portrayed migration as all but a religious duty.

But the messages began to change as the state-building project came under increased military pressure in Syria. Increasingly, ISIS leaders began to focus more of their attention on the battle abroad, including in Libya.


Thursday, 26 November 2015

Private Eye and Scottish confusion over Lockerbie

[What follows is the text of an article in the current issue of Private Eye, as reproduced today on John Ashton’s Megrahi: You are my Jury website:]
The recent decision of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) by the Scottish body that it would not be reviewing the case of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, has been met with dismay and incredulity by those who want to get to the truth behind the Lockerbie bombing.

Pan Am 103 cockpit, bodies of crew still strapped to their seats.

The SCCRC said its decision that it a further investigation was “not in the interests of justice” was made with “some regret”. It blamed an inability to gain access to defence appeal papers and other materials – which has outraged those who say they could have been supplied.

Eye readers will remember that back in 2007, the SCCRC identified no less than six grounds for a possible miscarriage of justice, paving the way for Megrahi’s appeal in 2009. After endless delay by the Crown, the appeal was abandoned when the ailing Libyan returned to his country to die with his family. Since then other material has come to light, including new scientific evidence which shows – contrary to assertions made at Megahi’s trial – that a bomb timer fragment found at the crash site was no match for those known to have been supplied to Libya. 

Innocent : Megrahi

It was this evidence which raised more serious questions not only about Megrahi’s guilt but also over any part played by Libya, which last year prompted a number of the relatives of the 270 who perished in the 1988 blast – supported by members of Megrahi’s family – to launch a new SCCRC application. It was, they claimed, the “worst miscarriage of justice in British legal history”.

But this month commissioners said “a great deal of public money and time” was expended on its original review of Megrahi’s case only for the apeal to be abandoned and it was not convinced of the family’s willingness to co-operate with the new review or take the matter to appeal.

John Ashton
John Ashton, Megrahi’s biographer, who worked with the defence team, regreted the confusion: “For access to the appeal papers, the SCCRC only needed to ask. Mr Megrahi had allowed me to keep a set of papers, which I was happy to share with the commission.”

Tony Kelly, Megrahi’s former solicitor, had also made it clear he was anxious to assist, and had requested the SCCRC set out the legal basis for the request, so he could meet his duties of confidentiality to a former client. That was not forthcoming.

The SCCRC decision was the second blow to the victims’ relatives. In summer the appeal court ruled that they did not have a “legitimate interest” in pursuing an appeal on Megrahi’s behalf.

Nevertheless Jim Swire, father of Flora who died in the terrorist atrocity, told the Eye they were still hopeful the demands for documentation would be met. They are also awaiting the findings of a police investigation into nine allegations of criminal conduct against the Scottish Crown Office and named individuals over the conduct of the Lockerbie investigation and the 2001 trial. Now aged 79, he remains as determined as ever expose the cover-ups and deceit (Eyes passim ad nauseam) which have denied everyone justice.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

REUTERS: Libyan ISIS aims to replicate Syria campaign

Photo: Reuters.
 In the wake of the 2011 NATO destruction of the Libyan regime and political and economic structures, myriad Islamist groups now control towns and parts of what is left of Libya. 

One fledgling group based in Sirte (Surt) is recognised by ISIS as their official affiliate.

Meanwhile two rival organisations vye for control of the rest of Libya. One - composed of former members of the Gaddafi regime - is recognised as the "official" government of Libya. It operates from the city of Tobruk, has little power or authority, and has no effective control. The second, a non-recognised group, operates from Libya's capital city Tripoli.

ISIS of Libya has grown, however, and dominates the important central coastal city of Sirte (Surt) and the surrounding area. 

Sirte is smaller than most cities controlled by ISIS in Syria or Iraq, but its central location and proximity to lucrative parts of Libya’s oil industry has the potential to make it a source of income for ISIS, the funding of arms supplies and training camps, and operations similar to the recent multi-point attacks on Paris. 

With advisers in the country from Syria, Libya’s ISIS has sought to govern the city directly, taxing the residents and imposing their harsh version of Sharia law.

  [ Click here for the Reuters article ]

Friday, 13 November 2015

Film LOCKERBIE: Writer/Director Jim Sheridan at Syracuse University

On Monday, Nov. 16, 2015, Le Moyne College will host the Oscar-nominated Irish writer, director and producer Jim Sheridan who will talk about his career.

Sheridan directed several acclaimed films, including "My Left Foot" (for which Daniel Day Lewis won his first Academy Award as best actor), "In the Name of the Father" (which received seven Academy Award nominations) and "The Boxer" (nominated for two Golden Globes, including one for best director).

Sheridan's most recent project, "The Secret Scripture" (starring Vanessa Redgrave, Rooney Mara, Theo James and Eric Bana) is in post-production and set for a 2016 release. 

"It's a fantastic story and it was the first time I worked with a lot of those actors; they're wonderful people," said Sheridan in a phone call from Ireland. "I'm right in the middle of finishing that, then I'll fly to Syracuse on Sunday."

After "The Secret Scripture" release, Sheridan will focus on a major project with ties to Syracuse: a screenplay about the Lockerbie bombing of Dec. 21, 1988

Jim Sheridan.jpgJim Sheridan.
Pan Am Flight 103 from London to New York exploded in mid-air over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people, including 35 Syracuse University students returning from a semester abroad, and five others with ties to Central New York.

"I remember when it happened; it was a terrible disaster. It would be good to put Lockerbie to rest." Right now, Sheridan is doing research for the screenplay. It's in its early stages, with the working title "Lockerbie." 

"I want to respect the families," Sheridan said. "It's still raw. My brother died in 1967 and it still controls our family in a way. I can only imagine the level of grief there is."

Sheridan said his approach to this subject is "very open-minded" and "based on the evidence. "I find it a fascinating subject but I don't want to take sides. I think the story is really about the friendship which developed between Jim Swire and Baset al-Megrahi."

Thursday, 12 November 2015

US Counter-terrorism Counsel: "Lockerbie Case full of Holes"

[On the 11th of November 2006 the Scottish Sunday Herald published an article headlined Lockerbie trial was a CIA fix, US intelligence insider claims.  It reads as follows:]

The CIA manipulated the Lockerbie trial and lied about the strength of the prosecution case to get a result that was politically convenient for America, according to a former US State Department lawyer.
Michael Scharf, who was the counsel to the US counter-terrorism bureau when the two Libyans were indicted for the bombing, described the case as "so full of holes it was like Swiss cheese" and said it should never have gone to trial.
He claimed the CIA and FBI had assured State Department officials there was an "iron-clad" case against Abdelbaset al-Megrahi and al-Amin Khalifa Fimah, but that in reality the intelligence agencies had no confidence in their star witness and knew well in advance of the trial that he was "a liar".
Scharf branded the case a "whitewash" and added: "It was a trial where everybody agreed ahead of time that they were just going to focus on these two guys, and they were the fall guys." The comments by Scharf are controversial, given his position in US intelligence during the Lockerbie investigation and trial. It also comes at a crucial time as the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) is to report in the coming months on whether it believes there was a miscarriage of justice in the case.
In January 2001, following a trial at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands, Fimah was acquitted and al-Megrahi was sentenced to life in a Scottish jail for his part in the December 1988 bombing.
Scharf joined the State Department's Office of the Legal Adviser for Law Enforcement and Intelligence in April 1989, just four months after Pan Am Flight 103 was downed and at the height of the CIA's Lockerbie bombing investigation. He was also responsible for drawing up the UN Security Council resolutions that imposed sanctions on Libya in 1992 in order to force Tripoli to hand over al-Megrahi and Fimah for trial.
He added: "The CIA and the FBI kept the State Department in the dark. It worked for them for us to be fully committed to the theory that Libya was responsible. I helped the counterterrorism bureau draft documents that described why we thought Libya was responsible, but these were not based on seeing a lot of evidence, but rather on representations from the CIA and FBI and the Department of Justice about what the case would prove and did prove.
"It was largely based on this inside guy [Libyan defector Abdul Majid Giaka]. It wasn't until the trial that I learned this guy was a nut-job and that the CIA had absolutely no confidence in him and that they knew he was a liar.
"It was a case that was so full of holes it was like Swiss cheese." Scharf, now an international law expert at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, said he was convinced that Libya, Iran and the Palestinian terrorist group the PFLP-GC were involved in the bombing, which killed 270 people. But, he said, the case had a "diplomatic rather than a purely legal goal".
"Now Libya has given up its weapons of mass destruction, it's allowed inspectors in, the sanctions have been lifted, tourists from the US are flocking to see the Roman ruins outside of Tripoli and Gaddafi has become a leader in Africa rather than a pariah. And all of that is the result of this trial, " Scharf said.
"Diplomatically, it has been a huge success story. But legally, it just seemed like a whitewash to me." Robert Black, professor of Scots law at Edinburgh University and the principal architect of the Lockerbie trial at Camp Zeist, described the Lockerbie case as "a fraud".
"That the trial at Camp Zeist resulted in a conviction is a disgrace for Scottish justice, " he said. "I think this [Scharf 's comments] indicates that a growing number of people on both sides of the Atlantic now believe they were used in this case." Dr Jim Swire, who lost his daughter Flora in the bombing, said: "Myself and Michael Scharf are coming from exactly the same position. I went to the trial and became convinced after watching it unfold that the case was full of holes." Tony Kelly, al-Megrahi's solicitor, said he would not comment while the SCCRC was still examining the case.
No-one at the CIA in Washington was available to comment.
[The above article is reproduced with the permission of Professor Robert Black]

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Campaign for the posthumous acquittal of Baset Al-Megrahi and an official inquiry into Lockerbie

A petition requesting that the Scottish authorities undertake a comprehensive inquiry into Lockerbie is supported and signed by many people, including the the following world renowned personalities. All support the campaign for acquittal of Baset Al-Megrahi, who was in 2000 convicted for the murder of 270 people on Pan Am 103.

You can offer your support by going to the Facebook site Justice for Megrahi 

Kate Adie was chief news correspondent for the BBC, covering several war zones on risky assignments. Currently hosts the BBC Radio 4 programme From Our Own Correspondent.

Professor Noam Chomsky has spent most of his career at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he is currently Professor Emeritus, and has authored over 100 books. In a 2005 poll was voted the "world's top public intellectual".

Brian Cox CBE. An Emmy Award-winning actor, whose outstanding career includes films such as Troy, The Bourne Supremacy, Braveheart, The Bourne Identity.

Tam Dalyell, former Member of British Parliament and Father of the House. An eminent speaker who throughout his career refused to be prevented from speaking the truth to powerful administrations. 

Ms Christine Grahame, member of the Scottish Parliament. Determined advocate of the Lockerbie campaign and courageous supporter of Dr Jim Swire.

Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye Magazine. A man never afraid to speak truth to power, repeatedly mocking the hypocrisy prevalent in certain sections of British society.

Father Pat Keegans, Lockerbie catholic parish priest. Was one of the first on the scene following the Lockerbie bombing and crash of Pan Am 103 in December 1988. A strong supporter of the need for an inquiry into the many disturbing aspects of the Lockerbie event and subsequent investigation and trial of two Libyan suspects.

 Mr Andrew Killgore, former US Ambassador to Qatar. Widely experienced in Middle Eastern politics. Knows first hand the political and intelligence background to the campaign to vilify and eventually destroy the Libyan regime. Runs the influential Washington Report on Middle Eastern Affairs and founded The American Educational Trust.

John Pilger, former war correspondent, now a campaigning journalist and film maker. Wide experience in the brutality caused by war and uninformed foreign policies of the West and other nations.

Dr Jim Swire.

Sir Teddy Taylor MP, a British Conservative Party politician, was a Member of Parliament from 1964 to 1979. He was a leading member and Vice-President of the Conservative Monday Club.

Desmond Tutu, former Anglican Archbishop of South Africa. A dedicated human rights activist. Received many awards including the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize.

Mr Terry Waite. In the 1980s, as an envoy for the church of England, travelled to Lebanon to try to secure the release of four hostages, including the journalist John McCarthy. He was himself kidnapped and held captive from 1987 to 1991. President of Y Care International, patron of AbleChildAfrica and Habitat for Humanity Great Britain, president of Emmaus UK, a charity for formerly homeless people.

Ms Kate Adie (Former Chief News Correspondent for BBC News).
Mr John Ashton (Author of ‘Megrahi: You are my Jury’ and co-author of ‘Cover Up of Convenience’).
Mr David Benson (Actor/author of the play ‘Lockerbie: Unfinished Business’).
Mrs Jean Berkley (Mother of Alistair Berkley: victim of Pan Am 103).
Mr Peter Biddulph (Lockerbie tragedy researcher).
Mr Benedict Birnberg (Retired senior partner of Birnberg Peirce & Partners).
Professor Robert Black QC (‘Architect’ of the Kamp van Zeist Trial).
Mr Paul Bull (Close friend of Bill Cadman: killed on Pan Am 103).
Professor Noam Chomsky (Human rights, social and political commentator).
Brian Cox CBE (Distinguished Actor).
Mr Tam Dalyell (UK MP: 1962-2005. Father of the House: 2001-2005).
Mr Ian Ferguson (Co-author of ‘Cover Up of Convenience’).
Dr David Fieldhouse (Police surgeon present at the Pan Am 103 crash site).
Mr Robert Forrester (Secretary of Justice for Megrahi).
Ms Christine Grahame MSP (Member of the Scottish Parliament).
Mr Ian Hamilton QC (Advocate, author and former university rector).
Mr Ian Hislop (Editor of ‘Private Eye’).
Fr Pat Keegans (Lockerbie parish priest on 21st December 1988).
Ms A L Kennedy (Author).
Dr Morag Kerr (Secretary Depute of Justice for Megrahi).
Mr Andrew Killgore (Former US Ambassador to Qatar).
Mr Moses Kungu (Lockerbie councillor on the 21st of December 1988).
Mr Adam Larson (Editor and proprietor of ‘The Lockerbie Divide’).
Mr Aonghas MacNeacail (Poet and journalist).
Mr Eddie McDaid (Lockerbie commentator).
Mr Rik McHarg (Communications hub coordinator: Lockerbie crash sites).
Mr Iain McKie (Retired Superintendent of Police).
Mr Marcello Mega (Journalist covering the Lockerbie incident).
Ms Heather Mills (Reporter for ‘Private Eye’).
Rev’d John F Mosey (Father of Helga Mosey: victim of Pan Am 103).
Mr Len Murray (Retired solicitor).
Cardinal Keith O’Brien (Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh and Cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church).
Mr Denis Phipps (Aviation security expert).
Mr John Pilger (Campaigning human rights journalist).
Mr Steven Raeburn (Editor of ‘The Firm’).
Dr Tessa Ransford OBE  (Poetry Practitioner and Adviser).
Mr James Robertson (Author).
Mr Kenneth Roy (Editor of ‘The Scottish Review’).
Dr David Stevenson (Retired medical specialist and Lockerbie commentator).
Dr Jim Swire (Father of Flora Swire: victim of Pan Am 103).
Sir Teddy Taylor (UK MP: 1964-2005. Former Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland).
Archbishop Desmond Tutu (Nobel Peace Prize Winner).
Mr Terry Waite CBE (Former envoy to the Archbishop of Canterbury and hostage negotiator).

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Scottish Justice - opaque and unchallenged

[This is the headline over a letter from Dr Jim Swire published in today’s edition of The Herald. It reads as follows:]

If it can be shown that there is any objective evidence linking the two new suspects to the Lockerbie atrocity we would wish Godspeed to the Crown Office and the FBI in establishing that.
The problem of course is that the evidence used in the Zeist court against Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi (and that concealed from it) seems to many to be full of holes.
It would be well to review all the evidence against him publicly in a fair court, before alleging that these two may have colluded with him in some way in an atrocity in which he may not have been involved himself.
Legal system opaque and unchallenged
I think it is a tragedy and a setback for perceived transparency by the Scottish legal authorities that the application by myself and a couple of dozen other UK relatives was refused by Lord Carloway and two other judges recently.
While we relatives may be quite wrong in our belief that the evidence against Megrahi used at Zeist was fatally flawed and that further evidence accruing since the trial would make overturning of the verdict mandatory if calmly examined, why should anyone listen to a small but determined group of relatives without recourse to a further appeal, retrial or meaningful inquiry?
I believe that Lord Carloway, no doubt for reasons already enshrined in Scots law, believed that he was acting in the interests of Scots justice.
However, the longer this tale of Megrahi's guilt unsupported by further review continues, the greater will be the damage to our reputation in Scotland for a magnificent judicial prosecutorial system, and the greater will seem the risks of continuing so opaque and unchallenged a system.