WASHINGTON, D.C. – A Libyan man accused of making the bomb that killed 270 people after it blew up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988 is in custody in the United States, Scottish and U.S. law enforcement officials said on Sunday.
Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi was taken into custody about two years after former U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr first announced the United States filed charges against him.
A Justice Department spokesperson confirmed to Reuters on Sunday that the United States has custody of the suspect. Mas’ud is expected to make his initial court appearance in a federal court in Washington.
Details about the timing of the hearing will be forthcoming, the spokesperson added.
Court documents described Mas’ud as an expert bomb maker who joined Libya’s External Security Organization intelligence service in the 1970s and took part in a number of operations outside Libya, reaching the rank of colonel.
The families of those killed in the Lockerbie bombing have been told the suspect is in U.S. custody, a spokesperson for Scotland’s Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) said on Sunday.
The BBC first reported Mas’ud’s arrest.
The bomb on board the Boeing 747, which was flying from London to New York City, killed all 259 people on board and 11 on the ground, the deadliest ever militant attack in Britain.
The crime scene from the attack stretched for more than 840 square miles (2,175 square km).
In 1991, two other Libyan intelligence operatives were charged in the bombing: Abdel Baset Ali al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah.
At a Scottish trial before a court at Camp Zeist in The Netherlands, Megrahi was found guilty of the bombing and was jailed for life in 2001. He was later released because he was suffering from cancer and died at his home in Tripoli in 2012.
Fhimah was acquitted of all charges, but Scottish prosecutors have maintained that Megrahi did not act alone.
In 2020 the United States unsealed criminal charges against Mas’ud, a suspected third conspirator, adding he had worked as a technical expert in building explosive devices.
At the time of the bombing, U.S. investigators uncovered evidence that one of the possible suspects went by the name of “Abu Agela Masud”, but were unable to locate him, according to a sworn statement by an FBI agent in support of the government’s criminal complaint.
Decades later, the FBI obtained a copy of a Sept. 12, 2012, interview with Mas’ud conducted by a Libyan law enforcement officer while he was in custody there.
During the interview, Mas’ud “admitted to building the bomb that brought down Pan Am Flight 103 and to working with Megrahi and Fhimah to execute the plot,” the FBI agent’s statement says.
Mas’ud also told the interviewer he was involved in other similar plots and said the bombing was ordered by Libyan intelligence leadership.
He also said former Libyan leader Muammar Qadaffi, who was killed by rebels in October 2011, “thanked him and other members of the team for their successful attack on the United States.”
The agent who filed the statement said the FBI was able to corroborate Mas’ud’s confession through the course of its investigation.
The handover of Mas’ud for trial in the West prompted infighting among Libyan politicians, who are split between a parliament based in the east of the country and a Government of National Unity in Tripoli.
Some eastern lawmakers accused Prime Minister Abdulhamd al-Dbeibah of doing Washington’s bidding despite the lack of an extradition treaty.
Suspect makes initial court appearance in D.C. federal court
Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi made an initial court appearance on Monday in D.C. federal court, where he was formally charged in connection with the December 1988 terrorist attack.
Though U.S. Magistrate Judge Robin Meriweather informed Mas’ud of the three criminal counts he’s been charged with by the government and read him his rights, he did not enter a plea, citing the need to retain counsel before proceeding in the case.
The court scheduled a pre-trial detention hearing on Dec. 27 to give Mas’ud time to retain counsel.
Family member of Lockerbie bombing victim speaks after Mas’ud’s initial appearance in court
Stephanie Bernstein, whose husband was killed in the attack on the Pan Am flight, spoke to reporters outside the Washington, DC, District Court following Mas’ud’s initial appearance.
“It is fitting that we are coming up on the 34th anniversary of the bombing and that we, at last, have the man responsible for making the bomb,” Bernstein said.
Bernstein’s husband, Michael Stuart Bernstein, was the assistant deputy director of the Criminal Division’s Office of Special Investigations, charged with prosecuting Nazis.
When asked how she felt after hearing that the government could not pursue the death penalty because of when the attack was perpetrated, Bernstein said, “the important thing is that he is here to face the charges of murder of 270 people, of 190 American citizens. That is what’s really important.”
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