Libyan accused in Lockerbie bombing now in American custody

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WASHINGTON — A Libyan intelligence official accused of creating the bomb that introduced down Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 in a world act of terrorism has been taken into U.S. custody and can face federal prices in Washington, the Justice Division mentioned Sunday.

The arrest of Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi is a milestone within the decades-old investigation into the assault that killed 259 folks within the air and 11 on the bottom. American authorities in December 2020 introduced prices in opposition to Mas’ud, who was in Libyan custody on the time. Although he’s the third Libyan intelligence official charged within the U.S. in reference to the assault, he could be the primary to seem in an American courtroom for prosecution.

The New York-bound Pan Am flight exploded over Lockerbie lower than an hour after takeoff from London on Dec. 21, 1988. Residents from 21 totally different international locations have been killed. Among the many 190 Americans on board have been 35 Syracuse College college students flying house for Christmas after a semester overseas.

The bombing laid naked the specter of worldwide terrorism greater than a decade earlier than the Sept. 11 assaults. It produced international investigations and punishing sanctions whereas spurring calls for for accountability from victims of these killed. The college’s present chancellor, Kent Syverud, mentioned in an announcement that the arrest was a big growth within the lengthy course of “to bring those responsible for this despicable act to justice.”

Stephanie Bernstein, a Maryland girl whose husband, Michael, was among the many 270 victims — he was a Justice Division official returning on the flight from authorities enterprise — mentioned the information was “surreal” as a result of there had been occasions previously two years when victims’ households had been advised that “it looks promising” solely to seek out that was not the case.

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

The announcement of prices in opposition to Mas’ud on Dec. 21, 2020, got here on the thirty second anniversary of the bombing and within the ultimate days of the tenure of then-Legal professional Common William Barr, who in his first stint as lawyer common within the early Nineteen Nineties had introduced felony prices in opposition to two different Libyans intelligence officers.

The Libyan authorities initially balked at turning over the 2 males, Abdel Baset Ali al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, earlier than finally surrendering them for prosecution earlier than a panel of Scottish judges sitting within the Netherlands as a part of a particular association.

The Justice Division mentioned Mas’ud would seem quickly in a federal courtroom in Washington, the place he faces two felony counts associated to the explosion.

U.S. officers didn’t say how Mas’ud got here to be taken into U.S. custody, however late final month, native Libyan media reported that Mas’ud had been kidnapped by armed males on Nov. 16 from his residence in Tripoli, the capital. That reporting cited a household assertion that accused Tripoli authorities of being silent on the kidnapping.

In November 2021, Najla Mangoush, the international minister for the nation’s Tripoli-based authorities, advised the BBC in an interview that “we, as a government, are very open in terms of collaboration in this matter,” when requested whether or not an extradition was potential.

Torn by civil struggle since 2011, Libya is split between rival governments within the east and west, every backed by worldwide patrons and quite a few armed militias on the bottom. Militia teams have amassed nice wealth and energy from kidnappings and their involvement in Libya’s profitable human trafficking commerce

A breakthrough within the investigation got here when U.S. officers in 2017 acquired a replica of an interview that Mas’ud, a longtime explosives skilled for Libya’s intelligence service, had given to Libyan regulation enforcement in 2012 after being taken into custody following the collapse of the federal government of the nation’s chief, Col. Moammar Gadhafi.

In that interview, U.S. officers mentioned, Mas’ud admitted constructing the bomb within the Pan Am assault and dealing with two different conspirators to hold it out. He additionally mentioned the operation was ordered by Libyan intelligence and that Gadhafi thanked him and different members of the crew after the assault, in response to an FBI affidavit filed within the case.

That affidavit mentioned Mas’ud advised Libyan regulation enforcement that he flew to Malta to fulfill al-Megrahi and Fhimah. He handed Fhimah a medium-sized Samsonite suitcase containing a bomb, having already been instructed to set the timer in order that the gadget would explode precisely 11 hours later, in response to the doc. He then flew to Tripoli, the FBI mentioned.

Al-Megrahi was convicted within the Netherlands whereas Fhimah was acquitted of all prices. Al-Megrahi was given a life sentence, however Scottish authorities launched him on humanitarian grounds in 2009 after he was recognized with prostate most cancers. He later died in Tripoli, nonetheless protesting his innocence.

In asserting prices in opposition to Mas’ud in 2020, Barr mentioned the U.S. and Scotland would use “every feasible and appropriate means” to carry him to trial.

“At long last, this man responsible for killing Americans and many others will be subject to justice for his crimes,” Barr mentioned on the time.

Scotland’s Crown Workplace and Procurator Fiscal Service on Sunday introduced the arrest as effectively, saying in an announcement that “the families of those killed in the Lockerbie bombing have been told that the suspect is in U.S. custody.”

The assertion added that “Scottish prosecutors and police, working with U.K. government and U.S. colleagues, will continue to pursue this investigation, with the sole aim of bringing those who acted along with al-Megrahi to justice.”

Hui reported from London. Related 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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