LONDON — Scotland Yard has said for the first time that it believes a British police officer was gunned down in London as part of a murderous conspiracy orchestrated by Colonel Gaddafi’s Libya.
A Libyan man in his fifties was arrested in southeast England on Thursday on charges of conspiracy to murder Yvonne Fletcher, a 25-year-old police officer. Two other people connected to the case, a man and a woman, were arrested on money-laundering charges.
The breakthrough comes as Scotland Yard said it believes it is finally cracking open Gaddafi’s notorious foreign operations division, which could identify those who ordered and planned the Lockerbie bombing as well as the plot that brought gunfire to the streets of London in 1984.
Fletcher was shot dead in St. James’ Square in central London during a protest outside the Libyan embassy. Ten anti-Gaddafi protesters also suffered gunshot wounds.
After a 31-year investigation, counterterrorism officers say they finally have evidence the attack was being directed from Tripoli.
Police now say a handgun and an automatic rifle were fired from the Libyan embassy into a crowd of protesters on the morning of April 17, 1984. They believe many of the Libyans on the street that day were involved in the conspiracy—making the murder plot far more complex than previously thought.
It was reported in the 1980s that the man who fired the fatal shots was executed when he returned to Libya, but police say the murder plot was state-sanctioned.
Richard Walton, Scotland Yard’s head of counterterrorism, said the fall of Gaddafi’s regime in Libya had allowed them to establish that the conspiracy, which is believed to have included placing pro-Gaddafi protesters outside the embassy, was part of Operation Stray Dogs, directed in Tripoli.
Prior to Thursday morning’s arrests, Metropolitan police officers traveled to Libya on seven occasions since 2012.
Detectives refused to say whether they had interviewed Libya’s infamous spy chief, nicknamed The Butcher—and known as Gaddafi’s “black box” because of all the information he holds. Abdullah al-Senussi fled to Mauritania after the fall of Gaddafi as his reputation at home was just as dark as it was in the headquarters of the CIA and MI6.
“The day Yvonne was shot remains one of the saddest and darkest days in the history of British policing. We have never lost our resolve to solve this case and to bring to justice those who conspired to commit this act of murder,” said Walton.
“The investigation is now focusing on new lines of inquiry relating to a conspiracy to murder prior to the shooting of Yvonne and we are acting upon fresh new evidence.”
Scotland Yard offered a $75,000 reward for information leading to the identification, arrest, and prosecution of other men involved in the plot.
Officers released images of 10 pro-Gaddafi protesters who were stationed outside the Libyan embassy during the demonstration.
Fletcher, who joined the force when she was 19, was policing the protests against Gaddafi’s regime when she was shot in the back. A fellow police officer, to whom she was engaged to be married, attempted to revive her at the scene, but she died at a nearby hospital an hour later.
The shooting was followed by a 10-day siege at the Libyan embassy where 30 diplomats were holed up. They were eventually deported back to Libya, but not questioned because of diplomatic immunity. Persistent reports claimed that the gunman, who fired from the Libyan embassy, had already escaped.
Walton conceded today that there was a crucial time gap between the shooting and local police officers locking down the building.