Lockerbie bombing: suspect in Pan Am flight 103 disaster appears in US court - charges and next hearing date

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Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi is alleged to be the ‘third conspirator’ behind the downing of Pan Am flight 103 in 1988

One of Libya’s rival prime ministers has called for the release of the man accused of making the bomb that downed Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988 killing 270 people after he surfaced in US custody earlier this week.

Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi is accused of building the bomb and on Monday, the suspect appeared in a Washington, DC, federal court, where he was charged with an act of international terrorism.

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US officials said on Sunday that Libyan Mas’ud, who allegedly worked as an intelligence agent for the country’s former dictator Muammar Gaddafi, had been detained, although is not clear how he was apprehended. In 2020, he was charged by the US Attorney General William Barr with being the third person involved in the terrorist attack.

At the time, he was said to be in Libyan custody and Barr said US authorities would work “arm in arm” with their Scottish counterparts. Barr said: “Let there be no mistake, no amount of time or distance will stop the US and our Scottish partners from pursuing justice in this case.”

Scottish authorities have said they will work with US counterparts to continue investigations to find those responsible for what happened to the New York-bound plane on 21 December, 1988. In 2001, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was convicted of bombing Pan Am 103 after he stood trial at a specially convened Scottish court in the Netherlands.

He was jailed for life but later released on compassionate grounds by the Scottish government in 2009 after he was diagnosed with cancer. He died in Libya in 2012. Megrahi was the only man to be convicted over the attack, and always maintained his innocence.

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What happened in the court hearing?

In court on Monday, Mas’ud was asked to state his full name before complaining that he could not clearly hear the voice of the interpreter. Once he could follow proceedings, the charges were read out but he said through the interpreter: “I cannot talk before I see my attorney.”

Prosecutors say Mas’ud is charged with making the bomb that was placed on Pan Am flight 103 that exploded over Lockerbie, killing all 259 passengers and crew onboard, as well as 11 people on the ground four days before Christmas in 1988.

The reconstructed remains of Pan Am flight 103 (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)The reconstructed remains of Pan Am flight 103 (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)
The reconstructed remains of Pan Am flight 103 (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images) | Getty Images

He faces three charges, including two counts of destruction of an aircraft resulting in death, and a further count of destruction of a vehicle resulting in death.

Each of the charges are punishable by a sentence of up to life imprisonment, the death penalty or a fine of up to 250,000 US dollars. But US prosecutors told the court they would not pursue the death penalty because it was not constitutionally available at the time of the bombing. Mas’ud was remanded in custody pending a full detention hearing on 27 December.

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What has been said about Mas’ud’s arrest?

American authorities said Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimihad been arrested and would face trial in the United States. However, Fathi Bashagha, one of Libya’s rival prime ministers, told a local Libyan television channel as he was leaving a meeting of the country’s East-based parliament: “My question directed to the American administration is how…he reached Washington,”

“What we think is that he was kidnapped. Of course, this is outside the legal, judicial and legitimacy framework, and this is something I reject and do not recognise. At all.”

Torn by civil war since 2011, Libya is divided between two rival governments, each backed by international patrons and numerous armed militias on the ground. One is based in Tripoli, and the other, headed by Mr Bashagha, is based in Sirte with a parliament in the eastern city of Tobruk.

American authorities in December 2020 announced charges against Mas’ud, who was in Libyan custody at the time. US officials did not say how Mas’ud came to be taken into US custody, but late last month local Libyan media reported that Mas’ud had been kidnapped by armed men on 16 November from his residence in Tripoli.

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Is Mas’ud facing proceedings in Scotland?

The Lord Advocate has said Mas’ud is not currently facing criminal proceedings in Scotland. Scotland’s top law officer Dorothy Bain KC told MSPs in Holyrood that the arrest of Mas’ud from Libya had been “lawful”. The Lord Advocate was asked by Tory MSP Jamie Greene to confirm where Scottish prosecutors would be looking to take action against the accused.

Ms Bain responded: “This is a joint investigation with American and Scottish prosecutors and law enforcement working together as they have done for the last 34 years. There are no current criminal proceedings in Scotland against Mr Mas’ud. I acknowledge that there are mixed views amongst the families about this development.

“The US and Scotland share criminal jurisdiction for the terrorist attack but it was clearly an attack against the United States. The bomb was targeted against a US plane en route to New York with 190 US citizens on board. Until the events of September 11, this was the deadliest terrorist attack on the United States.” But she said, “Scottish prosecutors and law enforcers stand ready to afford all co-operation” to their US counterparts.”