'I did it' claim on Pan Am bombing

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The Independent Online
A MEMBER of Abu Nidal's Palestinian group yesterday claimed responsibility for the Lockerbie bomb, which killed 270 people in December 1988. Yussef Shaaban, 29, on trial for the murder of a Jordanian diplomat in Beirut, told the court: 'I personally blew up the Lockerbie plane.'

If true, Mr Shaaban's remark would be one of the most sensational disclosures in the long hunt for the bombers of Pan Am Flight 103. The key word is 'if'. Yussef Shaaban is certainly a member of Abu Nidal's assassination group, which has carried out some of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's bloodier work. But the British Foreign Office dismissed the confession as 'utter gibberish'. A spokesman said: 'We ran it past our people and the man has no connection with Lockerbie.'

There are several possible reasons for the confession. If Mr Shaaban and two Palestinian colleagues are convicted of the 29 January killing of Naeb Maaytah, the Jordanian embassy first secretary, they are likely to mount the scaffold. So why not claim responsibility for Lockerbie, in the hope of being extradited to Britain, which has no death penalty?

Another possibility is that Colonel Gaddafi, trying to lift the international sanctions imposed against Libya for its failure to hand over two more likely suspects in the bombing, persuaded Mr Shaaban's mentors to shift the blame from Libya by arranging this disclosure in Lebanon.

Yet it will be difficult for the US and Britain to ignore Mr Shaaban's statement since his membership of the Abu Nidal faction is in little doubt. The Beirut rumour- mills have long hinted that the makers of the Lockerbie bomb lived just down the road from Abu Nidal's office - near the village of Damour.

Ironically, the claim obscured the murder charge laid yesterday against Samir Geagea, the ex-Phalangist Christian militia leader, for organising the bombing of a Maronite church at Zouk on 27 February in which 10 worshippers were killed. Over his head, too, the shadow of the noose is growing closer.