Libyan accused in Lockerbie bombing now in American custody

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WASHINGTON (AP) — A Libyan intelligence official has been charged with making the bomb who downed Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in an international act of terrorism in 1988 has been taken into US custody and will face charges in Washington, the Justice Department said Sunday.

The Arrest of Abu Agela Masud Kheir Al-Marimi is a milestone in the decades-long investigation into the attack that killed 259 people in the air and 11 on the ground. US authorities announced charges in December 2020 against Masud, who was in Libyan custody at the time. While he is the third Libyan intelligence official to be charged in the US in connection with the attack, he would be the first to face charges in a US court.

The Pan Am flight to New York exploded over Lockerbie on December 21, 1988, less than an hour after taking off from London. Civilians from 21 different countries lost their lives. Among the 190 Americans on board were 35 students from Syracuse University who flew home for Christmas after a semester abroad.

More than a decade before the September 11 attacks, the bombings exposed the threat of international terrorism. It sparked global investigations and punitive sanctions, while pushing victims of the deaths to account. The university’s current chancellor, Kent Syverud, said in a statement that the arrest was an important development in the long process “to bring to justice those responsible for this despicable act”.

Stephanie Bernstein, a Maryland woman whose husband, Michael, was one of the 270 victims — he was a Justice Department official returning on the run from government affairs — said the news was “surreal” because there had been a lot of violence over the past two years. there had been times when victims’ families had been told that “it looked promising”, only to discover that was not the case.

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

The announcement of charges against Masud 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 was in his first stint as Attorney General in the early 1990s. had announced charges against two other Libyan intelligence officials.

The Libyan government was initially hesitant to extradite the two men, Abdel Baset Ali al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, before finally handing them over for prosecution before a panel of Scottish judges based in the Netherlands as part of a special arrangement.

The Justice Department said Masud will soon appear in a Washington federal court where he faces two charges related to the explosion.

US officials have not said how Masud was taken into US custody, but late last month local Libyan media reported that Masud was abducted by gunmen from his residence in Tripoli, the capital, on November 16. That report cited a family statement accusing Tripoli authorities of remaining silent about the kidnapping.

In November 2021, Najla Mangoush, the foreign minister of the country’s Tripoli-based government, told the BBC in an interview that “we as a government are very open about cooperating on this issue”, when asked whether an extradition was possible.

Libya has been torn apart by civil war since 2011 and 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 through kidnappings and their involvement in Libya’s lucrative human trafficking business

A breakthrough in the investigation came when U.S. officials received a copy in 2017 of an interview Masud, a longtime explosives expert for Libyan intelligence, gave to Libyan law enforcement in 2012 after he was taken into custody following the government’s collapse. Libyan government. the country’s leader, Colonel Moammar Gadhafi.

In that interview, US officials said, Masud admitted that he built the bomb during the Pan Am attack and collaborated with two other conspirators to carry it off. 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 an FBI statement. filed in the case.

According to that affidavit, Masud told Libyan police that he had flown to Malta to meet al-Megrahi and Fhimah. He handed Fhimah a medium-sized Samsonite briefcase containing a bomb, having already been instructed to set the timer for the device to detonate 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 sentenced to life in prison, 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 Masud 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 killing Americans and many others will be brought to justice for his crimes,” Barr said at the time.

The Scottish Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service also announced the arrest on Sunday, saying in a statement that “the families of the victims of the Lockerbie bombing have been informed that the suspect is in US custody”.

The statement added that “Scottish prosecutors and police, in co-operation with the UK government and US colleagues, will continue 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.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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