The 1988 downing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie in Scotland remains the worst terrorist attack in British history
Washington (AFP) - A Libyan man accused of making the bomb that destroyed a Pan Am flight over Scotland in 1988, killing 270 people, has been taken into US custody, authorities said on Sunday.
Abu Agila Mohammad Masud was charged by the United States two years ago for the Lockerbie bombing – in which Americans made up a majority of the victims. He had previously been held in Libya for alleged involvement in a 1986 attack on a Berlin nightclub.
The US Justice Department confirmed in a statement that Masud was in American custody, following an announcement by Scottish prosecutors, without saying how the suspect ended up in US hands.
A department spokesperson said Masud was expected to make an initial appearance, at a time yet to be specified, in a federal court in the US capital.
According to The New York Times, Masud was arrested by the FBI and is in the process of being extradited to the United States to face prosecution.
Only one individual has so far been prosecuted for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 on December 21, 1988 – which remains the deadliest terror attack on British soil.
The New York-bound aircraft was blown up 38 minutes after it took off from London, sending the main fuselage plunging to the ground in the town of Lockerbie and spreading debris over a vast area.
The bombing killed 259 people including 190 Americans on board, and 11 people on the ground.
Former Libyan intelligence officer Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi spent seven years in a Scottish prison after his conviction in 2001.
He died in Libya in 2012, always maintaining his innocence.
“The families of those killed in the Lockerbie bombing have been told that the suspect Abu Agila Mohammad Masud Kheir Al-Marimi … is in US custody,” a spokesperson for Scotland’s Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service said.
“Scottish prosecutors and police, working with UK government and US colleagues, will continue to pursue this investigation, with the sole aim of bringing those who acted along with al-Megrahi to justice.”
The families thanked US and British law enforcement officials.
“Our loved ones will never be forgotten, and those who are responsible for their murder on December 21, 1988 must face justice,” they said in a statement.
- Libyan connection -
Scottish officials gave no information on when Masud was handed over, and his fate has been tied up in the warring factionalism of Libyan politics.
He was kidnapped by a Libyan militia group, according to reports last month cited by the BBC, following his detention for the Berlin attack which killed two US soldiers and a Turkish citizen.
Masud was reputedly a leading bombmaker for Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi. According to the US indictment, he assembled and programmed the bomb that brought down the Pan Am jumbo jet.
The investigation was relaunched in 2016 when Washington learned of Masud’s arrest, following Kadhafi’s ouster and death in 2011, and his reported confession of involvement to the new Libyan regime in 2012.
However, the Libyan connection to Lockerbie has long been disputed by some.
In January 2021, Megrahi’s family lost a posthumous appeal in Scotland against his conviction, following an independent review that said a possible miscarriage of justice may have occurred.
The family wants UK authorities to declassify documents that are said to allege that Iran used a Syria-based Palestinian proxy to build the bomb that downed flight 103.
In that narrative, the Lockerbie bombing was retaliation for the downing of an Iranian passenger jet by a US Navy missile in July 1988 that killed 290 people.
After the news of Masud being in US custody, lawyers for Megrahi’s son issued a statement again trying to cast doubt on the Libyan connection.
The US indictment says, for instance, that Masud bought clothes used to fill the suitcase containing the bomb that brought down the airliner, lawyer Aamer Anwar said in a statement.
But the owner of the store in Malta who sold those clothes said they were purchased by Megrahi – and this was central to the case against him.
“How can both Megrahi and Masud now be held responsible?,” the lawyer wrote.