Charges filed against final Libyan suspect in 1988 Pan Am bombing

Special Charges filed against final Libyan suspect in 1988 Pan Am bombing
The bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie killed 270 people. (AFP/File)
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Updated 22 December 2020

Charges filed against final Libyan suspect in 1988 Pan Am bombing

Charges filed against final Libyan suspect in 1988 Pan Am bombing
  • The bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killed 270 people

CHICAGO: The third and final suspect behind the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 has been charged 32 years later, US Attorney General William P. Barr announced on Monday.

The Boeing 747 was flying over Lockerbie, Scotland on Dec. 21, 1988 when it exploded, killing all 259 passengers and crew, including 190 Americans. It is ranked as the second worst act of terrorism against Americans after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Two suspects were charged in 1991 but Barr said that the third suspect, Abu Agila Muhammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi, was only identified after the collapse of the regime of former Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi. Mas’ud is currently in the custody of the Libyan Government.

“Let there be no mistake: No amount of time or distance will stop the United States, and its partners in Scotland, from pursuing justice in this case,” Barr said.

“Well over a third of Americans alive today were not yet born on the day of the Lockerbie bombing or would not have been old enough to remember it. But for those of us who do remember, that tragic event and the iconic images of its aftermath, some of which are displayed here today, are forever seared in our memories.”

Passengers and crew aboard the flight came from 21 countries, but by far the largest contingent were Americans, including a group of 35 study-abroad students from Syracuse University who were on their way home to spend the holidays with their families.  

“There is no question that the Pan Am 103 attack was aimed at the United States, and this heinous assault lives in infamy in the collective memory of the American people,” Barr said.

“At Arlington National Cemetery, a cairn of 270 Scottish stones honors “those who lost their lives in this attack against America.” And at Syracuse University, 35 Remembrance Scholarships are awarded each year, with each recipient representing a Syracuse student killed aboard the plane.

Following the bombing, many of the victims’ families made an agonizing journey to Scotland to the place where their loved ones died. The debris from the plane was scattered over a 2,200 square km area.

In an unforgettable gesture, a group of Scottish women meticulously collected clothing from the wreckage then washed, ironed and folded the garments and sent them to family members as a final connection to their loved ones. The remains of 17 victims were never identified or found.

“From the beginning, the United States and Scotland have been determined to find and hold accountable those who perpetrated the Pan Am 103 attack,” Barr said.

“As I mentioned, our joint investigation led to the filing of charges in November 1991 in both the United States and Scotland against two Libyan intelligence officers — Abdel Basset Ali Al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah. Nearly ten years later, in May 2000, a specially established Scottish court convened in the Netherlands to try the two men.”

Al-Megrahi was convicted on all charges in January 2001, but Fhimah was acquitted. Mas’ud, a suspect at the time, remained at large.

“The breakthrough that has led to the charges announced today arose when law enforcement learned in 2016 that the third conspirator had been arrested after the collapse of the Qaddafi regime and interviewed by a Libyan law enforcement officer in September 2012,” Barr said.

“According to the criminal complaint affidavit, Mas’ud built the bomb that destroyed Pan Am Flight 103 and worked with Al-Megrahi and Fhimah to carry out the plot.”

Barr said that the operation had been ordered by the leadership of Libyan intelligence and that, after the downing of the aircraft, Qaddafi had thanked Mas’ud for the successful attack on the United States.

In addition to his involvement in the Lockerbie bombing, Mas’ud was also involved in the 1986 bombing of the LaBelle nightclub in Berlin, West Germany, which killed two American service members and a Turkish woman. Although Mas’ud remains in Libyan custody, Libyan authorities provided a copy of the interview to law enforcement.