Soviets to Join Hunt for Bombers of Pan Am Jet
As a rash of anonymous bomb threats plagued authorities in Western Europe, the Soviet Union said Tuesday that it will join the international effort to track down the terrorists who planted an explosive aboard Pan Am Flight 103, killing 270 people.
In Lockerbie, Scotland, site of the Dec. 21 crash of the Boeing 747 jumbo jet, investigators continued searching for 20% of the widely-spread wreckage not yet located. The village, mourning its own 11 dead who were killed when the plane hit the ground, served as host to Pan Am employees and relatives of the crash victims who arrived to attend a memorial service today.
Explaining the Soviet decision to join the hunt for the plane’s bombers, Foreign Ministry spokesman Vadim Perfiliyev told a news briefing that “those who are guilty of this should be punished so (that) this tragedy will never repeat itself.”
He added: “The U.S.S.R., in accordance with its principal line, will continue giving multi-faceted assistance in practical international cooperation in this matter.”
Perfiliyev did not specify what assistance the Soviet Union was prepared to give, saying only that it “will do its best in coordinating the efforts of the states and the people to exterminate terrorism from the life of human civilization.”
“Through this tragedy, the world should come to the understanding of the necessity of forming a real common front in fighting international terrorism,” he said.
In Geneva, authorities said bomb threats forced unscheduled landings at airports in Switzerland and Italy and delayed two departures from the Swiss city.
The Scandinavian Airline System, prompted by a bomb threat reportedly from an Iranian Shia Muslim group, maintained the highest alert in its history, causing flight delays for a third day.
An Alitalia DC-9 on a flight from Paris to Venice made an unscheduled landing in Zurich, Switzerland, when the pilot was told by air controllers in Munich, West Germany, of an anonymous bomb threat. The flight continued early Tuesday after a search.
Tunis Flight Searched
A Tunis Air Boeing 737, on a flight from Geneva to Tunis, took off Tuesday morning after a 10-hour stopover at Milan’s Malpensa Airport during which Italian bomb disposal experts determined no explosives were aboard.
Another anonymous threat forced about 30 passengers of an Istanbul-bound Pan Am Boeing 727 to spend the night at Geneva hotels. Their flight continued Tuesday morning after the plane was searched.
The departure of a 727 of the British charter airline Dan Air with about 170 British children returning from a Swiss holiday was delayed by several hours Monday after Geneva police received a telephone call from a man who said security forces had 15 minutes to evacuate the plane. Police said the caller identified himself as a member of the outlawed Irish Republican Army, which is fighting to end British rule of Northern Ireland.
The plane was searched, but no bomb was found.
Passengers flying SAS planes from about 90 airports worldwide were asked to identify their luggage before it was loaded onto planes, and cargo was undergoing extra scrutiny, SAS officials said.
The security measures began Sunday after a telephone caller told police in Budapest on New Year’s Eve that SAS would be the target of a bomb attempt.
Sweden’s concern over air safety was heightened by the disclosure Tuesday that an arms cache was discovered near Stockholm airport last July that contained the kind of explosives probably used to destroy the Pan Am jet.
Plastic Explosives Found
An aviation security source said several pounds of Semtex plastic explosives were hidden in the cache, which also contained Soviet-made Kalashnikov assault rifles.
British investigators have concluded that the Pan Am jet was blown out of the sky by a plastic explosive. They have not pinpointed a type, but explosive experts say Semtex is the most likely.
Police in Lockerbie said investigators have little hope of ever finding the missing bodies of 20 passengers and eight residents among the 11 killed on the ground in the tragedy.
“The search is still going on for bodies and it will continue . . . (but) it would be quite unrealistic for anyone to have an expectation that we would be able to find all of the victims’ bodies,” said police Supt. Angus Kennedy.
Kennedy said about 80% of the plane’s structure had been located and charted on maps, including most of the huge tail section, but only 20% had been picked up.