Investigation Focusing On Frankfurt, Lebanese Student, Reports Say
LONDON (AP) _ Investigators believe the bomb that destroyed a Pan Am jumbo jet was smuggled onto the flight in Frankfurt, possibly by a Lebanese passenger duped into carrying it, British newspapers reported Saturday.
The West German government said there was no evidence to back up the reports.
The father of 21-year-old student Khalid Jaafar said FBI agents in Michigan questioned him Friday about reports his son, who died in the explosion, unwittingly carried the bomb that destroyed the jet.
Nazir Jaafar of Dearborn, Mich., said the FBI told him ″they have no evidence against my son. They didn’t have any indication he was involved.″
The Times of London reported that sophisticated explosive equipment similar to that believed used in the bombing was found during a raid in West Germany.
Crews searched the Solway Firth estuary between Scotland and England on Saturday looking for more wreckage and 29 bodies still missing from the crash in Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 259 people on the plane and left 11 people on the ground missing and presumed dead.
A police spokesman said helicopters and coast guard teams turned up nothing.
The Times reported that investigators told Scottish police the bomb that destroyed the Boeing 747 was placed on board the flight in Frankfurt. The Times did not name its sources.
The flight originated in Frankfurt with a Boeing 727 and switched to the Boeing 747 at London’s Heathrow Airport for the trip to New York.
The Times said a Palestinian terrorist cell, known to be part of the hard- line Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, has been operating in Frankfurt more than 18 months and carried out two bombing attacks on U.S. military trains.
British investigators will be shown evidence of the terrorist cell and given access to an unidentified Palestinian man arrested by West German security forces two months ago and suspected of being a senior figure in the PFLP-GC, the paper said.
The Syrian-backed PFLP-GC has denied involvement in the bombing.
A series of raids Oct. 23 in the city of Neuss, about 100 miles northwest of Frankfurt, turned up a barometric detonator and other sophisticated equipment for making explosives, The Times quoted unidentified West German officials as saying.
The barometric device, set off by altitude, is similar to the one being blamed for the Lockerbie disaster, the paper said.
In response to the reports, West German Interior Ministry spokesman Michael A. Butz said, ″There is no indication that the explosives could have been put on board at Frankfurt airport.″
He said investigators described the Times’ report as contradictory to evidence gathered.
The Telegraph said some members of Khalid Jaafar’s family suspected he may have been used to plant the bomb and had provided details of his background and movements in Europe to the FBI.
In Washington, the FBI refused comment on the report.
In his weekly radio message broadcast Saturday from a friend’s estate in Palm Springs, Calif., President Reagan talked of the ″shock and horror″ of the jetliner bombing.
He made reference to a report overseen by President-elect Bush that advocates military action as an option against terrorists. He said the report ″ought to be giving some people sleepless nights″ but did not elaborate.
An unidentified associate of the Jaafar family was quoted as saying Jaafar’s mother, who lives in Damascus, is a first cousin of Syrian President Hafez Assad. The Telegraph also said Jaafar lived in Frankfurt with some Lebanese-Arab expatriates whom he did not know well.
″His are exactly the type of relationships that we will be analyzing,″ Neil Gallagher, head of the FBI’s counterterrorism section, was quoted as saying.
″They asked me if I knew the guy who made that rumor,″ the elder Jaafar said of the FBI agents who interviewed him. He said he told the FBI agents he had no idea where the report came from and that the agents told him they had no leads either.
Jaafar filed a $50 million lawsuit against Pan Am on Thursday alleging negligence.
Czechoslovakia offered to send experts to help identify the explosive that blew up the jet following suggestions it might have been Semtex. Semtex is an orange-colored plastic explosive manufactured in Czechoslovakia.
The Czechoslovak Foreign Ministry also denied Czechoslovakia ever provided explosives to terrorists.
Airports across Asia tightened security after a warning that Palestinian terrorists plan to attack a commercial airliner in the region by Jan. 10.
About two weeks before the Pan Am crash, a caller claiming to speak for a terrorist group led by Abu Nidal warned the U.S. Embassy in Helsinki, Finland, that a Pan American World Airways jetliner flying from Frankfurt to New York would be attacked. However, U.S. officials have said the call was a hoax and its timing was a coincidence.
In Seattle, a Boeing Co. spokesman said the plane that crashed carried 950 pounds of slightly radioactive ″depleted″ uranium in its tail section.
Spokesman Craig Martin, responding to reports in London that the plane contained uranium, said the heavy metal used as a counterweight in 550 747s could have given off some airborne radiation for a short time if it oxidized in a four-hour fuel fire. He said such a fire would be ″exceptionally unusual″ and did not occur in the crash of Flight 103.