Briton at UCI Urges Raid if Libya Is Tied to Jet Bombing
A member of British Parliament said Friday that he favors a U.S.-British raid against Libya if hard evidence links that country to the Dec. 21 bombing of a Pan American World Airways jet over Scotland.
Sir Eldon Griffiths, an anti-terrorism expert, speculated that Libya may have provided the explosives that brought down Flight 103, but he added that those who placed the bomb may prove to have been pro-Iranian groups acting in retaliation for the U.S. Navy’s downing of an Iranian airliner over the Persian Gulf on July 3.
Griffiths, who is joining UC Irvine as a visiting professor, said that one of his special fields as a member of Parliament has been in working with anti-terrorist police in the United Kingdom.
“I have been getting many telephone calls from London, mainly from the press there, asking me about a possible strike against Libya by American planes based in my constituency,” Griffiths said, adding:
“If it can be proved beyond all reasonable doubt that the bomb which destroyed the Pan Am airliner was made of Semtex supplied by, or obtained via, Libya and was planted by someone under the orders or in the pay of the Libyan government, then I would support Anglo-American retaliation against the plant in the Libyan mountains where, on the best available evidence, there is reason to believe that (Libyan leader Moammar) Kadafi may have authorized manufacture of chemical weapons and possibly the assembly of nuclear devices too.”
Griffiths, a member of the House of Commons from East Anglia since 1964, represents an area that includes Lakenheath and Mildenhall, two large U.S. Air Force bases in England. He was a staunch supporter of the U.S. retaliatory raid against Libya on April 14, 1986, after a series of terrorist actions against Americans in Europe that year. Some U.S. planes in that raid against Tripoli took off from Lakenheath.
Griffiths acknowledged Friday that President Reagan’s decision to raid Tripoli remains controversial. But he said he believes that, “on balance, it was a wise decision.”
So far, Griffiths said, there is no evidence to definitely link Kadafi or Libya to the Pan Am bombing, which caused the deaths of 259 in the air and at least 11 people on the ground. But Griffiths noted that some anti-terrorist experts believe the bomb that destroyed the Pan Am plane was made of a plastic explosive called Semtex.
There is, however, “evidence to link Libya with the supply of Semtex to the IRA,” the Irish Republican Army, he said.
Griffiths said it may turn out that Libya supplied the plastic explosives that were planted on the Pan Am 747. But he said the actual group responsible for placing it on the airliner may not be determined for a long time.
“My suspicions about the Pan Am bomb at present are more directed at pro-Iranian groups,” he said. “I am chairman of the British-Iranian parliamentary group, and I have long expected fanatics to attack U.S. civilian aircraft in retribution for the U.S. Navy shooting down an Iranian civil airliner over the gulf.”
Griffiths said he did not believe that “the Iranian government would have authorized the Pan Am bombing, but it is more than possible that pro-Iranian fanatics working in collaboration with certain Palestinian factions, as well as Libyan hirelings, could be involved.”
Any retaliation against Iran would be “a bad mistake,” Griffiths warned. “Iran’s government very quickly distanced itself from the destruction of the Pan Am airliner. . . . If any pro-Iranian groups are involved, they are most likely small, fanatical sects not recognized by their government.”
Griffiths will be lecturing on worldwide terrorism during his classes and public talks at UCI. His appointment as regents professor in social ecology, effective Sunday, was announced by the university last week.
The UC Board of Regents annually appoints the special visiting professors as part of a program “designed to bring distinguished persons from non-academic fields to campuses to interact with students and faculty,” university officials said.
The 63-year-old Griffiths, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1987, spent most of his professional life as a journalist in the United States. He was an American-based correspondent for Time and Life magazines and a former managing editor of Newsweek International in New York. He also formerly wrote a weekly column for the Washington Post.
He was elected president of the Orange County World Affairs Council in September.
In January and February, Griffiths will present a five-part lecture series at UCI that is free and open to the public. The series is entitled “A Global Statesman’s View of Tomorrow’s World: Five Key Issues for the 1990s.”
The first of the lectures, “America and Europe: Rivals or Partners?” will be from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. on Jan. 9. The four following lectures will be held at the same time on successive Monday nights through Feb. 6. Griffiths will speak in Room 104 of the Physical Sciences Building on campus.
“I expect to be doing quite a bit of talking about terrorists and terrorism during my stay at UCI,” said Griffiths, who is living in Mission Viejo. “I have dealt with the subject firsthand in Northern Ireland. And as political adviser to the police in the United Kingdom, I come into contact with anti-terrorist work. So much of police work these days has to be against terrorists.
“As for the Pan Am flight, I must say I feel a particular kinship to those who lost people in the air and on the ground,” he said. “I say that because I regularly have flown on that same plane back and forth to London; it has been my workhorse.
“The act by these terrorists was an obscenity.”