The Libyan man accused of the Lockerbie attack is now in US custody

WASHINGTON (AP) – Libyan intelligence official accused of making the bomb who shot down Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 in an act of international terrorism has been taken into custody in the United States and will face federal charges in Washington, the Justice Department said Sunday.

The arrest of Abu Agila Mohammad Masoud Successor Al-Marimi is a milestone in the decade-long investigation into the attack, which killed 259 people in the air and 11 on the ground. In December 2020, US authorities announced charges against Massoud, who was being held in Libya at the time. Although he is the third Libyan intelligence official charged in the US in connection with the attack, he will be the first to appear in a US courtroom for indictment.

A Pan Am flight bound for New York exploded over Lockerbie less than an hour after taking off from London on December 21, 1988. Citizens of 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 exposed the threat of international terrorism more than a decade before the 9/11 attacks. It led to global investigations and criminal sanctions, while spurring demands for accountability from victims of those killed. The university’s current chancellor, Kent Syverud, said in a statement that the arrest was a significant development in the long process “to bring those responsible for this heinous act to justice.”

Stephanie Bernstein, a Maryland woman whose husband, Michael, was among the 270 victims — he was a Justice Department employee flying back from government work — said the news was “surreal” because for the past two years there have been times when victims’ families have been told it “looks promising” only to find out it doesn’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.

The announcement of charges against Massoud on December 21, 2020, came on the 32nd anniversary of the bombing and in the final days of the tenure of then-Attorney General William Barr, who in his first term as attorney general in the early 1990s announced criminal charges against two other Libyan intelligence officials.

The Libyan government initially refused to hand over the two men, Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhima, before eventually handing them over for prosecution before a panel of Scottish judges sitting in the Netherlands as part of a special agreement.

The Justice Department said Massoud will soon appear in federal court in Washington to face two criminal charges related to the blast.

U.S. officials have not said how Massoud was taken into U.S. custody, but late last month local Libyan media reported that Massoud was abducted by gunmen on Nov. 16 from his residence in Tripoli, the capital. This report quoted a statement from the family, which accused Tripoli authorities of keeping quiet about the abduction.

In November 2021, Naila Mangoosh, the foreign minister of the country’s Tripoli-based government, said in an interview with the BBC that “we, as a government, are very open about cooperation on this issue” when asked if there extradition possible.

Torn by civil war since 2011, Libya is divided between rival governments in the east and west, each backed by international patrons and numerous armed militias on the ground. Militia groups have amassed great wealth and power from kidnappings and their involvement in Libya’s lucrative human trafficking trade

The breakthrough in the investigation came when U.S. officials in 2017 obtained a copy of an interview Massoud, a longtime Libyan intelligence expert on explosives, gave to Libyan law enforcement in 2012 after he was detained after the fall of the leader of the the country of Col. Muammar Gaddafi.

In that interview, U.S. officials said Massoud admitted to making the bomb in the Pan Am attack and working with two other conspirators to carry it out. He also said the operation was ordered by Libyan intelligence and that Gaddafi thanked him and other members of the team after the attack, according to FBI affidavit filed in the case.

The affidavit said Massoud told Libyan law enforcement that he had flown to Malta to meet al-Megrahi and Fhima. He handed Fhimah a medium-sized Samsonite suitcase containing a bomb, having already been instructed to set the timer so the device would explode exactly 11 hours later, according to the document. He then flew to Tripoli, the FBI said.

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

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

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

The Crown Prosecution Service and the Procurator Fiscal on Sunday also announced the arrest, saying in a statement that “the families of those killed in the Lockerbie bombing have been told that the suspect is in custody in the US.”

The statement added that “Scottish prosecutors and police, working with the UK government and US counterparts, will continue to pursue this investigation with the sole aim of bringing to justice those who acted in concert with Al Megrahi”.


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

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