Suspect detained by US in 1988 Pan Am 103 explosion that killed 270 people

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Nearly 34 years after 270 people, including 190 Americans, were killed in an aerial bombing. Pan Am 103 In Lockerbie, Scotland, a Libyan intelligence officer accused of making the explosive device has been detained by the United States to face justice, federal officials told ABC News.

According to a Justice Department spokesman, Abu Agila Mas’ud will face criminal charges in the United States for his suspected role in the deadliest terrorist attack on British soil and the largest terrorist attack involving Americans.

The United States accused Mas’ud of making the device used to blow up the Boeing 747 about 38 minutes after takeoff on its way from London’s Heathrow Airport to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. The flight first began in Frankfurt, Germany, and was scheduled to end in Detroit after stopping in New York.

Among those killed were 35 Syracuse University students who had returned home for vacation after a semester abroad.

PHOTO: FILE - Early morning scene in Lockerbie after Pan Am Flight 103 crashed into the city on December 22, 1988.

Early morning scene in Lockerbie after Pan Am Flight 103 crashed into the city on December 22, 1988.

Tom Stoddart Archive/Getty Images, FILE

“The United States has detained Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi, who allegedly bombed Pan Am Flight 103,” the Justice Department said in a statement.

It is not yet clear when Mas’ud will appear in court. He is expected to appear for the first time in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, according to the DOJ.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Crown Office and Prosecutor’s Financial Service said: “The families of those killed in the Lockerbie bombing have been told that the suspect Abu Agila Mohammed Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi is in US custody.” said. A statement to ABC News.

“Scottish prosecutors and police, working with the UK Government and their US counterparts, will continue to pursue this investigation only to bring those who acted with Al Megrahi to justice,” the statement said. For his role in the 2001 Pan Am bombings.

‘That’s incredible’

Stephanie Bernstein, whose wife, Michael, was among those killed in the bombing, said she learned of Mas’ud’s detention in the United States in a pre-dawn phone call on Sunday from federal officials.

“This is unbelievable. I thought I was dreaming when I first learned about it. This couldn’t have happened without top government officials and their commitment to bring this person to justice,” Bernstein told ABC News.

Before his death, Michael Bernstein worked for the Ministry of Justice, following former members of the Nazi regime.

“He believed it was very important to hold people accountable,” Bernstein said.

He and other loved ones of some of those killed said they doubted Mass’ud would be brought to justice given the complexity of Libya and the lack of an extradition treaty with the United States.

“It was never clear that we could catch him. He only confessed to the bombing to a Libyan official.”

The announcement comes two years after Mas’ud, who has been detained in Libya for several years, was indicted on two federal charges related to the bombing.

suitcase bombs

Mas’ud is charged in federal court with resulting in death by destroying an airplane and death by destroying a vehicle with an explosive.

AND criminal complaint The lawsuit alleges that Mas’ud worked for the Foreign Security Service, Libya’s intelligence service, from 1973 to 2011, mostly as a technical expert in the construction of explosive devices.

PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: Flowery tributes left at the Memorial Garden in Dryfesdale Cemetery, seen on the morning of the 30th anniversary of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which exploded over the Scottish town on December 21, 1988.

Flowers laid at the Memorial Garden in Dryfesdale Cemetery are seen on the morning of the 30th anniversary of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which exploded over the Scottish town on December 21, 1988, killing 259 passengers and crew and 11 residents. ground, Lockerbie, Scotland, UK, December 21, 2018.

Repository/Reuters, FILE

In addition to the Pan Am 103 bombing, Mas’ud allegedly participated in other conspiracies against the United States and the West, including the April 5, 1986 bombing of the LaBelle Discotheque in West Berlin, Germany, in which two US soldiers were killed. 229 people were killed and injured, including 79 Americans

On the orders of two so-called Libyan intelligence officers, including Abdel Baset Ali al-Megrahi, Mas’ud allegedly made the Pan Am 103 bomb in a hotel room on the island of Malta in the winter of 1988 and hid the device in a medium-sized safe. Samsonite sets the suitcase and the timer to ring 11 hours later on December 11. 21, according to the criminal statement.

According to the sworn statement, Mas’ud allegedly gave the suitcase to Megrahi and another Libyan agent, both of whom work at Malta’s airport. According to the affidavit, one of the officers placed the suitcase on an airport conveyor belt and was smuggled onto a flight to Frankfurt, where it was transferred to Pan Am Flight 103 as an unattended piece of luggage.

PHOTO: FILE - Part of the main memorial stone commemorating the victims of the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing in the memorial garden at Dryfesdale Cemetery near Lockerbie, Scotland, 24 December.  20, 2008.

Part of the main memorial stone for the victims of the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing in the memorial garden at Dryfesdale Cemetery near Lockerbie, Scotland, 24 December 20, 2008.

Scott Heppell/AP, FILE

The bomb exploded when Flight 103 was 31,000 feet above Lockerbie, Scotland. The explosion shattered the plane into countless fragments scattered over 840 square miles, almost the entire width of Scotland. According to the sworn statement, 11 residents of Lockerbie died due to falling debris.

In 2001, Megrahi was convicted for her role in the bombing by three Scottish judges sitting in a special court in the Netherlands. He was released in 2009 due to cancer and died in Libya in 2012.

Megrahi’s other defendant, Lamin Khalifah Fhimah, was acquitted of the charges stemming from the bombing.

‘As it’s supposed to be’

Former US Attorney General William Barr announced the charges against Mas’ud in his final week at the Justice Department. At a press conference in 2020, Barr noted that the breakthrough that led to new charges against Mas’ud came when law enforcement learned that he had been arrested and questioned by a Libyan law enforcement agency after the collapse of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in 2016. officer in September 2012.

Mas’ud told the officer that the bombing plan was ordered by the then Libyan intelligence leadership and Gaddafi He personally thanked the United States for the successful attack.

Kathryn Turman, retired deputy director of the FBI’s Victim Services Division, worked closely with the families of those killed in the Lockerbie bombing.

Although the victims didn’t get a chance to speak to their relatives, “I predict many of them are pleased and relieved to see a new step towards accountability even after all these years,” he told ABC News on Sunday.

“This is proof that as the world moves on, the US and Scottish justice systems have not forgotten the massacre of their loved ones and have not stopped their efforts over the years,” Turman said. said. “It should be like this.”

ABC News’ Adam Carlson contributed to this report.

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