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US charges Libyan over alleged role in 1988 Lockerbie bombing

Justice Department announced two charges against Abu Agila Mohammad Masud, after an FBI affidavit claimed he admitted to making the bomb used in the attack
The 1988 Lockerbie bombing had killed 180 Americans, 43 UK citizens, and 11 residents of Lockerbie.
The 1988 Lockerbie bombing killed 190 Americans and 43 UK citizens, including 11 residents of Lockerbie (AFP/File photo)
By MEE staff in Washington

The US has unveiled charges against a Libyan suspected of making the bomb that blew up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988.

The Justice Department announced two charges against Abu Agila Mohammad Masud on Monday, exactly 32 years on from the atrocity.

The attack killed 259 people on board the Boeing 747, including 190 Americans, and 11 people on the ground.

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"These charges are the product of decades of hard work by investigators and prosecutors who have remained resolute in their dogged pursuit of justice for our citizens," US Attorney General William Barr said in a statement.

"At long last, this man responsible for killing Americans and many others will be subject to justice for his crimes."

The charges included destroying an aircraft and a vehicle resulting in death, and in an affidavit filed against Masud, FBI agent Rachel Otto said that the accused had admitted to building the bomb that was used to blow up the Pan Am flight over the town of Lockerbie in Scotland.

US prosecutors are currently seeking to extradite Masud from Tripoli, where he is currently serving a 10-year sentence for his role in building bombs under former longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi.

While the government in Tripoli has yet to issue a statement saying it will extradite him, Barr said he was "optimistic" that the Libyan government would hand Masud over.

Libya took blame for bombing in 2003

The new charges open a fresh chapter in a terrorism case that has spanned more than three decades.

In 1991, three years after the bombing took place, Washington charged Libyan intelligence operatives Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah with roles in the attack.

Libya did not hand over the suspects to either Scottish or American custody, leading to the UN Security Council imposing arms sales and air travel sanctions against the country in 1992.

After a decade of struggling with Libyan authorities to extradite the individuals, in 2001 Tripoli handed the two men over to the Netherlands, where they would be tried under Scottish law.

Megrahi was given a life sentence, but was released in 2009 under humanitarian grounds, and died a few years later in Tripoli. Fhimah was acquitted by the court.

The sanctions were later lifted after Libya arranged a $2.7bn compensation deal with the victims' families and formally accepted responsibility for the bombing.

FBI affidavit

The new criminal complaint against Masud says he worked with both Megrahi and Fhimah to plan the attack. 

In the affidavit, Otto says Masud was directed to fly to Malta with the bomb on board, where it was then handed to Megrahi and Fhimah, who placed it on Pan Am Flight 103.

In 2012, Masud allegedly confessed to the bombing, according to the FBI's affidavit, in an interview with a Libyan law enforcement officer.

The Lockerbie bombing was one of the deadliest attacks against US citizens, until the September 11, 2001 attacks.

"We will never forget the loved ones who were lost, and we remain committed to continuing our work to achieve justice for the victims and their families," FBI Director Chris Wray said on Monday.

In addition to the bombing, the affidavit says that Masud also admitted to having a role in other attacks, including the 1986 bombing of the La Belle Discotheque in West Berlin, Germany, which left two US service members dead.

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