Pan Am Flight 103 747 Lockerbie Bombing: Looking For The Truth

First Published: January 11, 2016 Last updated: August 31st, 2020 Written by: Marcus Lowth Estimated Reading Time: 11 minutes Posted in: Conspiracy, Unsolved & Unexplained

For many years, the mystery of the Lockerbie Bombing – one of the most dramatic events to take place in the last thirty years – has been one in which the public have demanded answers. Many of the theories around what took place that day, though, tend to be significantly different from the theories that were officially provided at the time.

Much like many other parts of modern history, the Lockerbie bombing is something which takes a great deal of precedence within discussions about government cover-ups and various other conspiracy theories.

Lockerbie 747 at crash site

Lockerbie 747 at crash site

The problem is that without any real evidence to go on, many conspiracy theories die off or become the story of one or two individuals.

However, the Pan Am Flight 103 747 incident has a bit more credibility to it, as every potential conspiracy theory out there about it has been looked at, reviewed and considered to try and come up with a more legitimate explanation than the one provided officially. This is a topic which certainly drives the conversation, but more importantly, acts as a solid piece of ammunition for those who believe that the public is told a lot less than it should be.

So, is the Lockerbie bombing incident one which should carry on as it was told? Or did something more sinister occur here that has never been ventured by the officials? We want to look at each of the following Lockerbie bombing conspiracy theories to try and decide what we believe is the most logical of the choices out there.

One thing that has always stood out, though, has been the variety of theories; let’s take a look at each of the prevailing theories both good and bad to try and decide what sounds most plausible.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine?

The first and most common theory, to begin with, was that the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine was behind these attacks. Sponsored by the Iranians and led by former Syrian army captain Ahmed Jibril, PFLP-GC (General Command) warned that there would be consequences for both Israeli and US airliner jets.

This theory stems from the fact that a phone call was intercepted by an author, David Yallop, of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Lebanon speaking with the PFLP-GC. In this audio conversation, and another two days later between Iranian Interior Minister Mohtashemi-Pur, there are audible sounds instructing funds to be passed to Jibril and congratulating others on the success of Operation Intekam. Intekam stands for equal and just revenge.

This was further backed up by the Bundesamt fur Verfassungsschutz (BfV), a German intelligence outfit, who picked up strict surveillance on phone calls to both Cyprus and Damascus, talking in code. The code was used to try and hide the use of concepts such as bomb-making but was deciphered by the intelligence groups.

However, their bomb maker – Jordanian expert Marwan Kreesat – was actually a Jordanian Intelligence Service expert who was reporting these details back home, then being relayed to the BfV. The original plan was to attack Iberia Flight 888 from Madrid to Tel Aviv, heading there via Barcelona, on 30th October 1988.

The most striking part of this, though, is the fact that out of all of the bombs being used, they were practicing using Toshiba Bombeat cassette radios. These were used to create test bombs 12km from the training camp that Jibril and his men were eventually recovered from.

This was the same form of cover used for the bombs on the Lockerbie bombing, and many individuals have never been able to forget this fact. Indeed, Scottish police looked to capture Kreesat via arrest warrant but were never able to, instead asked by the FBI to leave Kreesat due to his valuable intelligence sources. Vincent Cannistraro, an intelligence officer for the CIA who had worked on the Lockerbie bombing, agreed on-film that he believed the attack was carried out at the request of the Iranian government.

Our Take: Not 100% certain on this, as evidence has never really come out any further regarding this theory. At the time of writing, this is mostly just speculation than anything concrete.

Drug Smuggling

Another popular reason for the Lockerbie bombing to have taken place was to try and cover up a CIA drug smuggling operation. This theory is built upon the idea that drug smuggling across Europe to the US was a big part of CIA operations, which allowed high-profile drug smugglers from Syria to operate with freedom by shipping heroin into the US in exchange for Palestinian intelligence on Syrian hostages.

A hand examining a stash of smuggles heroin

Were drugs being smuggled on the flight?

It’s alleged that on the day of the bombing, suitcases with drugs and bombs respectively were exchanged. The main version of this story brought to the public by Juval Aviv in October 1989, is that the CIA knew this would occur but let it occur anyway as it was a rogue operation. This information comes from Aviv, who holds respect because of his supposed ex-Mossad past.

Aviv was later made head investigator of the bombings, claiming that the CIA had protected the bombs or the drugs from being detected prior to the incident. These allegations were eventually thrown out of court, even with the allegation that Hezbollah-linked passenger Khalif Jafaar brought the bomb onboard unknowingly, believing it to be drugs.

Our Take: Given that one of the lead links in the story, Lester Coleman, was eventually tried for perjury and another key player, Paul Foot, eventually distanced himself for this story leads us to believe that it may not have the same grounds for reality as many may have considered when it was first released as a potential theory.

Iranian Involvement

A big theory of the early years after the event was that of Iranian government involvement. This was stipulated by many journalists at the time as a revenge attack for the shooting down of an Iranian Airbus by the USS Vincennes. However, this gained far more credibility when news broke that former Iranian intelligence head for Europe Abolghasem Mesbahi defected and informed German investigators that Iran had asked both Libya and Palestinian guerrilla leader, Abu Nidal, to carry out the attack.

It’s estimated that $10m was handed over in this theory by the US Defense Intelligence Agency. The theory here suggests, though, that the bomber got the wrong plane – in fact, he was not even on the plane come the time the bomb went off. This is due to the fact that it’s believed that baggage handlers in Frankfurt mistakenly placed the bomb on the wrong aircraft entirely.

A picture of the Iranian Embassy in London

Iranian Embassy in London

The name which appeared above, Abu Nidal, was a popular figure within the Lockerbie case as a name which re-surfaced more than once. Known as a ruthless terrorist, one of the most well-known of the time, Nidal was believed to have died in a 2002 shootout. It was believed that prior to his death in this shootout, he confided in a close general Atef Bakr that it was he who has orchestrated the bombing.

Many news outlets used the fact that Nidal held a close relationship with Muammar Gaddafi since the mid-80s to attack the Libyan government, believing that Nidal had been asked to work with intelligence by Gaddafi himself. The theory states that it was in revenge for the bombing of Tripoli and Benghazi. However, no evidence has ever been provided for these claims – there is no official link of Nidal with any of the main forces of intelligence and power within Libya.

Our Take: Likely given the range of authorities who spoke up for the theory, but it really is just a theory. There is nothing concrete to go on and most of the claims that have been made about this theory have been made numerous times without any official movement included.

The Iranian Problem with London

Another popular theory from back in the day was that of the Iranian angle with regards to the city of London. As the trials ranged on for several years, it was argued by the lawyers for Megrahi that the PA 103 bomb could easily have come from Heathrow, rather than Luqa Airport, Malta, as suggested.

This theory, though, is built upon the fact that the aircraft which eventually was bombed sat more or less unwatched for a period of time and shared tarmac space with the Iranian Air terminal within Heathrow. Therefore, it would be plausible for someone to be able to make their way onto the aircraft when there was a period of forty minutes in which the baggage contained AVE 4041, the one in which the bomb was carried onto the aircraft with, was left unattended for up to 40 minutes.

Our Take: A bit outlandish, but improved by the fact that the lawyers used the 1990 Scottish Fatal Accident inquiry as part of their evidence. It’s plausible but it’s certainly one which seems to point the finger at the most common and obvious solution, without any real substance to use.

BBC News Report covering the incident

Namibian Involvement

With so many theories to pick from, the nationality which can be blamed changes almost entirely depending on the theory! A popular theory at one stage, though, was that involvement came from a third-party source that would never have been considered deeply.

It was suggested by UK Diplomat Patrick Haseldine that the apartheid-era South Africans were at fault for the Lockerbie bombing. This theory comes from the fact that an allegation made in the popular film The Maltese Double Cross as well as by Die Zeit was that the US Government were only too aware of the existence of the bomb.

Staff was warned in both Helsinki and Moscow embassies to avoid flights, along with the South African grouping. Allegedly, contact was made sixteen days to the Finnish embassy to warn of the bombing which was about to occur. No staff members then took part on the flight warned about – a flight leaving from Frankfurt to the US – despite being a popular route back home for the Christmas period.

This claim was met with a strong rebuke by the South African government, stating that “Had he known of the bomb, no force on Earth would have stopped him from seeing to it that Flight 103, with its deadly cardo, would not have left the airport”.

So, where does Namibia fit into this theory? The idea was made by Haseldine that the bombing occurred to try and take out Swedish UN Assistance Secretary-General and UN Commissioner for Namibia, Bernt Carlsson.

Our Take: Like many of the accusations made by Haseldine over the years, this one does not really stand up. All of that work to kill just one man? It seems highly unlikely to us. Maybe it is the case, but the disregarding of Haseldine by just about every legitimate source of detail makes it easy to disregard almost entirely.

The Libyan Framing

Without a doubt, though, the most popular theory of all-time has been that of the framing of Libya for the Lockerbie bombing. This theory is built upon the fact that several snippets of key evidence used at the trial – time fragments, cassette models, Maltese clothing and a suitcase from Luqa Airport – were all far too conveniently found for some.

Much like the pristine passports found at the September 11th attacks, this ease of which evidence was found at such a devastating scene means many people find it hard to buy the Libyan theory. In fact, many people believe that the Libyan government were framed for their political differences to the US and the UK, and could have played a deciding factor in the event ever actually taking place; to try to incriminate Libya as the enemy.

The reason for this? The most common selection has been because of the political mindset of the then leader of Libya, Muammar Gaddafi. The Gaddafi regime looked after rebels and paramilitary groups during the 70s and 80s, as they provided various equipment to these groups – including the Provisional IRA.

Naturally, this caused serious problems amongst both countries. Add in the 1984 death of PC Yvonne Fletcher outside of the London Libyan Embassy, and things became extremely abrupt between the nations. Libya allowed Scotland Yard to interview suspects as well as paying compensation to the family of PC Fletcher. However, relations were soured and many theorists believe that this event – as well as their support for the IRA – could have been a deciding factor in using Libya as the enemy.

Map of Libya

Map of Libya

The theory is bolstered by the hampered relations of both groups thanks to the 1986 Berlin Discotheque bombing. This caused Libya to pay more than $35m in compensation packages to all non-American victims of the bombing as well as the conviction of two Palestinian and one Libyan individual, in the Berlin Supreme Court. The retaliation for this was the bombing of Tripoli, further souring relations between the selected nations.

In 1989, a bombing of French UTA Flight 772 was carried out and it had very significant relations with regards to how the bombings took place in the Lockerbie bombing. The French authorities were told very similar stories to that of the UK government after the bombing and given that Libya’ neighbor, Chad, was being backed by France in a border dispute it only added further fuel to the flames.

By 2008, Libya had produced a $1.5bn fund which would be used to help fund the victims and relatives of those affected in these events. However, they have never claimed responsibility and so to this day a wide range of uncertainty exists about who was behind which part of the events which took place.

This entire event was made by worse by the 2001 introduction of the Scottish Lord Advocate, Lord Boyd. Boyd stated that the idea of a politically motivated blaming of Libya was not true and used various scathing statements with regards to the evidence found. For example, he stated that more than 76% of models of the Toshiba device used to carry the bomb were sold to a subsidiary in Libya that the timers were made to fit the order of two Libyans (Ezzadin Hinshin and Said Rashid). Both men held positions of power at ESO and Central Security Organization, respectively.

Lastly, he claimed that clothing material found at the site were purchased from Tony Gauci. He identified the range of clothing as items sold to a man prior to Christmas in 1988 and identified the man who purchased these as Megrahi. He was also in “no doubt” that the man he served was from Libya.

At the time, there was significant information swirling around that many of the calls made against Libya were done so through political motivation and also through the whims and directions of the use of forensic science. Since the Lockerbie bombing, various events have occurred which have shown that this form of evidence is not one which can be taken as any kind of set-in-stone proof, thanks to forensic errors in cases.

Our Take: It’s a hard one to rule out due to the evidence but, really, we feel it’s the most likely. Given the political machinations that go on so regularly elsewhere in the world, is it really so out there to believe that this could have been driven on politically?

Detonation via Radio

One of the main theories to gain credence, later on, was that of a radio detonation for the bomb. This was brought forward by conspiracy theorist Joe Vialls, who passed on in June 2005. Vialls claimed that the bomb was triggered using a radio detonation system which was far more complex than the timer that was claimed to have been used at the time.

However, this theory relies heavily upon the fact that the aircraft would be heading into a different Air Traffic Control center at the time of the Dean Cross navigational beacon being underneath it.

This means that it would need to have communicated with one of the 22 frequencies provided by Shanwick Ocean Control. Because of this, it means that the flight would need to have been moving at 500mph between Dean Cross and Lockerbie, where it eventually went down. However, this would be just 30 miles which is a point-to-point flight time of around four minutes.

It would take, roughly, three to five minutes to switch from one frequency to the next – which would have been needed when they moved to the next ATC range. So, is this possible? Does it fit with the timeline?

According to Vialls, yes!

A picture of a missile control unit

Missile control unit

It means that detonation was carried out by either a remotely controlled bomb via the aircraft which took on an outside aircraft’ frequency via radio signal, or that it went down using sophisticated devices onboard the aircraft which used various signals and frequencies at once.

This was proven by the fact that the Israeli forces were able to, in 1996, assassinate Yahya Ayyash by making him believe that there was a problem with his phone. When he brought his phone in for repairs, they were able to detonate it by using a radio signal. Flying overhead in an aircraft, Israeli intelligence picked up the phone call between Ayyash and his father. When it was confirmed that his phone was in his possession, they detonated it via radio signals.

Vialls believed that, according to his own research, there were enough secondary emissions being kept within the Faraday cage of the aircraft that this would have been a possibility either internally or externally.

However, the extent of the damage – according to Vialls – was so immense that it would have had to have come from the fuselage instead of under clothing, as was claimed by the experts.

Our Take: A legitimate theory but let down by the fact that Vialls had a bit of a history of blaming Mossad for everything from the 2004 Asian Tsunami to the death of Princess Diana. Hard to tell if he was right or just found Mossad an easy source of blame.

Compilation of News Reports Covering the Incident


So, what do you think? Having read through all of the main theories and the reasons why this may have occurred, what do you believe is the most logical selection?

It’s hard to pick what may have been the most common choice at the time or what people may want to believe in themselves, but the various theories out there all have a credence of reality about them. Deciding what you feel is the most likely solution is a challenge, though, and many people can struggle to find the right answer when dealing with just the theories themselves.

Whatever you believe in, you’ll find that the theories above all seem to cover everything from international conspiracies to people being caught up in political madness!


The stories, accounts, and discussion in this article are not always based on proven facts and may go against currently accepted science and common beliefs. The details included in the article are based on the reports and accounts available to us as provided by witnesses and documentation.

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About Marcus Lowth

Marcus Lowth is a writer with a love for UFOs, aliens, and the Ancient Astronaut Theory, to the paranormal, general conspiracies and unsolved mysteries. He has been writing and researching with over 20 years experience. Marcus has been Editor-in-Chief for several years due to his excellent knowledge in these fields. Marcus also regularly appears as an expert on radio talk shows including Troubled Minds and Unexplained Radio discussing these topics.

You can contact Marcus via email.

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