Lessons from Pan Am 103 and the Tokyo Subway
ABSTRACT: Terrorists were very active long before September 11. This essay reviews the 1988 downing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland and the March 1995 gas attack in the Tokyo subway. The results of these terrorist acts, who carried them out, how they were carried out, and what can be done in the future to prevent such incidents from happening again are all investigated.
On December 21, 1988 the world was shocked as a Boeing 747 Pan American Airlines flight from London's Heathrow Airport to New York City crashed in a fiery ball due to a terrorist-placed bomb in the forward luggage compartment. After the explosion ...view middle of the document...
The investigators were able to figure out fairly quickly that what brought down Flight 103 was a bomb, as it had all of the tell-tale signs, including no emergency or distress calls prior to the crash. The bomb had been concealed inside a Toshiba radio, which was placed inside a hard-sided Samsonite suitcase that had been designated as an unaccompanied bag. The suitcase had been transferred from an Air Malta feeder flight out of Valletta.
By June of 1990, six months after the explosion, the experts in the field had determined, through the piecing together of all the little bits of evidence they were able to recover, that the bomb had been activated by a sophisticated electronic timing device that had been manufactured by a Swiss firm. It was also discovered that the timer had been delivered to Libyan terrorist officials in 1985. Earlier in 1988, in fact, two Libyan terrorists had been arrested in Senegal with a timer identical to the one with the bomb on Flight 103. The Swiss firm that manufactured the timer, designated the MST-13, sold its entire production lot to the Libyan External Security Organization. The bomb itself consisted of less than 500 grams of PETN and RDX, the two explosive elements in the plastic explosive Semtex-H. Semtex is the classic plastic explosive. It is putty-like in nature in that it can be molded and formed however one pleases. It is also very stable and requires a charge to set it off. This makes is perfect for an operation like the downing of an airliner because it will not explode by accident before the terrorist wants it to.
Another important point that should be noted is that the timer was set to go off approximately one hour after departure. The plane, though, took off 25-30 minutes late. If the plane had in fact taken off on time it would have, in all likelihood, crashed into the sea. This made a significant difference. First, it caused the death of eleven people in the town of Lockerbie who were killed by debris from the falling aircraft. Second, it made retrieval and investigation much easier. If the plane crashed into the water finding the pieces and bringing them up to land would have been a great ordeal in and of itself. This problem of investigating a crash into the sea has been well illustrated by the problems in the investigation of the TWA 800 crash this past summer.
All of the facts that were collected pointed clearly and directly to the Libyan government to have been the ones who carried out the terrorist bombing. This was made official by the United States Department of Justice in November of 1991 when the first indictments for the Pan Am bombing were handed down. In the indictments three points about the episode were specifically stressed, "The bombers were Libyan operatives. This was a Libyan Government operation from start to finish. We hold the Libyan Government responsible for the murder of 270 people over Lockerbie, Scotland, on December 21, 1988."...