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    CIA Confident Iran Behind Jet Bombing

    By David B. Ottaway and Laura Parker
    Washington Post Staff Writers
    Thursday, May 11, 1989; Page A01

    A Central Intelligence Agency assessment of the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing has concluded that Iran hired a Damascus-based radical Palestinian faction to carry out the operation. But the Federal Bureau of Investigation does not have sufficient evidence to seek an indictment, according to sources.

    The sources also said the FBI is investigating the possiblity that one of two female American college students who had Arab boyfriends may have unwittingly carried the bomb aboard the flight. The Dec. 21 explosion over Lockerbie, Scotland killed 270 people.

    A State Department official said the CIA is "confident" of its assessment that Iran in effect "hired" elements belonging to Ahmed Jibril's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command to carry out the bombing. But, officials said, they do not have sufficient evidence to even brief other governments on their findings. A CIA spokesman declined to comment.

    Jibril and senior aides had at least one meeting with Iranian officials in Tehran last fall and possibly an earlier one immediately after the USS Vincennes shot down an Iranian Airbus over the Persian Gulf last July 3, according to these sources.

    "They're fairly confident of their information," said one U.S. official familar with the interagency deliberations over the bombing.

    "But they apparently don't have enough information to satisfy everybody inside the administration," he added. "The FBI has to deal with evidence they can present in court."

    "Intelligence work and criminal work are two different things. You have to be able to present evidence to a grand jury for an indictment," explained one FBI official. "We're not at that stage now."

    The West German magazine Quick reported Monday that Iran's Ayatolloh Ruhollah Khomeini had met with his advisers last July after the downing of the Airbus, which resulted in the death of 290 people, to plot revenge. Quick gave no indication which of the many rival Iranian factions attended the alleged meeting, or whether Iran's powerful Parliament speaker Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was present.

    The magazine, which said it had obtained secret minutes of that meeting, said Iran had paid $1.3 million to Jibril to carry out the bombing of an American airliner.

    A State Department official said "we don't have anything hard on that." But he added that Iran was always "in the background" of various assumptions and assessments of which country might have been responsible for the Pan Am bombing.

    "Everybody is pretty much convinced it was the PFLP, but they don't have the definitive proof about it," the official added.

    Quick magazine also quoted Oliver B. Revell, deputy FBI director, as saying that "our investigating officials believe the explosive came into the plane in Frankfurt." Revell added, "That does not mean that the bomb could not have been on a connecting flight to Frankfurt."

    FBI spokesman William Carter confirmed that this was "the gist" of what Revell had said during an interview about Western efforts to combat terrorism.

    In the interview, Revell also said: "I am quite sure that in the end we will know for sure how the bomb got onto the plane and who put it there and we can start criminal proceedings against them."

    The two American college students being studied as possible unwitting couriers had been attending a university "in a neutral country," one source said, and were headed home for the Christmas holidays.

    On Dec. 21, the students traveled to Frankfurt where they boarded Flight 103 for its first leg to London. In previous bombings and bombing attempts, terrorists have sought out Western women to serve as unsuspecting carriers. Often, the woman becomes romantically involved and then is used by her boyfriend to carry a bomb without being aware of it. Investigators now think the Pan Am bomb weighed 1 1/2 pounds.

    The 1986 apprehension of an Irish woman traveling alone to Tel Aviv on El Al, the Israeli airline, has become a classic case. She had become pregnant by a Jordanian-born Palestinian and was flying to Tel Aviv purportedly to meet his family. Her suitcase had been lined with plastic explosives.


    © Copyright 1989 The Washington Post Company

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