Libyan accused in Lockerbie bombing now in American custody

WASHINGTON (AP) — Libyan intelligence officer accused of making bomb in 1988 man who shot down Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in an international terrorist attack has been arrested in the United States and will face federal charges in Washington, the Justice Department said Sunday.

Arrest of Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi is a step in the decades-long investigation into the attack, which killed 259 people in the air and 11 on the ground. American government in 2020 in December announced the charges against Mas’ud, who was being held in Libya at the time. Although he is the third Libyan intelligence official to be indicted in the United States over the attack, he will be the first to appear in an American courtroom to face criminal charges.

A Pan Am flight bound for New York exploded over Lockerbie less than an hour after taking off from London in 1988. December 21 Citizens from 21 different countries were killed. Among the 190 Americans on board were 35 Syracuse University students flying home for Christmas after a semester abroad.

The bombing highlighted the threat of international terrorism more than a decade before the 9/11 attacks. It launched global investigations and sentencing, while promoting accountability for victims. The university’s current chancellor, Kent Syverud, said in a statement that the arrest was a significant milestone in a long process “to bring those responsible for this despicable act to justice.”

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Stephanie Bernstein, a Maryland woman whose husband, Michael, was among the 270 victims (he was a Justice Department official returning from government business), said the news was “surreal” because of the number of victims over the past two years. ” families were told it “looked promising” only to find it didn’t.

“At first I thought I was dreaming when I was told what happened, but it happened, and I’m incredibly grateful that this man will be tried in the United States,” Bernstein said in an interview.

in 2020 December 21 Mas’ud’s indictment comes on the 32nd anniversary of the bombing and in the final days of the term of then-Attorney General William Barr, who initially served as attorney general. Two more Libyan intelligence officials were criminally indicted in the 1990s.

The Libyan government initially refused to hand over the two men, Abdel Baset Ali al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, but eventually transferred them for prosecution to a Scottish panel of judges sitting in the Netherlands under a special arrangement.

The Justice Department said Mas’ud will soon appear in federal court in Washington, D.C., where he faces two criminal charges related to the blast.

U.S. officials have not said how Mas’ud was detained in the U.S., but late last month, local Libyan media reported that on Nov. 16. Mas’ud was abducted by armed men from his residence in the capital, Tripoli. That report quoted a family statement accusing Tripoli authorities of keeping quiet about the abduction.

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in 2021 in November, Najla Mangoush, the foreign minister of the country’s Tripoli-based government, told the BBC in an interview that “as a government, we are very open to cooperation on this issue,” when asked if there had been an extradition. can.

Since 2011 civil war-torn Libya is divided between rival governments in the east and west, each backed by international patrons and numerous armed militaries. Militia groups have amassed considerable wealth and power through kidnappings and involvement in Libya’s lucrative human trafficking

A breakthrough in the investigation occurred when US officials in 2017 obtained an interview that Mas’ud, a long-time explosives expert for the Libyan intelligence service, in 2012. gave a copy to Libyan law enforcement after he was detained following the fall of the government. of the country’s leader, Colonel Moammar Gadhafi.

In that interview, U.S. officials said Mas’ud admitted to planting the bomb in the Pan Am attack and working with two other co-conspirators to carry it out. He also said the operation was ordered by Libyan intelligence and that Gadhafi thanked him and other members of the team after the attack, according to the FBI statement. sued.

That affidavit states that Mas’ud told Libyan law enforcement that he had flown to Malta to meet with al-Megrahi and Fhimah. He handed Fhimah a medium-sized Samsonite suitcase containing the bomb, having already been instructed to set a timer for the device to explode in exactly 11 hours, the document said. He then flew to Tripoli, the FBI said.

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Al-Megrahi was convicted in the Netherlands, while Fhimah was acquitted of all charges. Al-Megrahi was sentenced to life in prison but was released on humanitarian grounds by Scottish authorities in 2009 after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He later died in Tripoli, still protesting his innocence.

in 2020 in announcing the charges against Mas’ud, Barr said the US and Scotland would use “all possible and appropriate means” to bring him to justice.

“Finally, this man responsible for killing Americans and many others will be brought to justice for his crimes,” Barr said at the time.

The Crown Office for Scotland and the Procurator Fiscal Service also announced the arrest on Sunday, saying “the families of those killed in the Lockerbie bombing have been informed that the suspect is in custody in the US”.

The statement added that “Prosecutors and police in Scotland, in partnership with the UK government and their US counterparts, will continue to pursue this investigation with the sole aim of bringing to justice those who acted alongside al-Megrahi.”


Hui reported from London. Associated Press writers Jack Jeffery in Cairo, Carolyn Thompson in Buffalo, New York and Julie Walker in New York contributed to this report.


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