Lockerbie bombing: US to seek extradition of new Libyan suspect as anniversary of Pan Am Flight 103 crash nears

Only one person was convicted of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 while in flight on December 21, 1988, killing nearly 200 Americans

                            Lockerbie bombing: US to seek extradition of new Libyan suspect as anniversary of Pan Am Flight 103 crash nears
Reconstructed remains of Pan Am flight 103 (Getty Images)

Prosecutors in the US are expected to charge a suspect they accuse of being involved in the devastating Lockerbie flight bombing in 1988 that killed 259 people on board, including 190 Americans. The suspect is alleged to be a top bomb-maker of late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi and assembled the device that blew up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie in Scotland. The latest development in the infamous incident marks opening of a new chapter in one of the world’s longest terrorism probes. 

The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, December 16, cited senior justice department officials to say the department is likely “to unseal a criminal complaint” against Abu Agila Mohammad Masud, who is currently held in Libya and “to seek his extradition for trial” in a US federal court.  Monday, December 21, will mark the 32nd anniversary of the air disaster. Among the Americans who perished in the incident were 35 students from Syracuse University, New York. Many of the Americans on the ill-fated flight were returning home from Europe for the Christmas holiday. The flight was blown up less than an hour after it took off from Frankfurt, Germany, on its way to Michigan via London and New York City. 

The bombing of the plane kicked off global investigations and saw imposing of sanctions on Libya which eventually surrendered intelligence personnel wanted in the attacks for prosecution in the Netherlands. A special trial under Scotland’s law started at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands in May 2000.

Only one was convicted

While one man -- former Libyan intelligence official Abdel Baset al-Megrahi -- was convicted of the bombing, a second Libyan suspect -- Lamin Khalifa Fhimah -- was acquitted of all charges. al-Megrahi was handed a life sentence but Scottish authorities released him under humanitarian considerations in 2009 after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He died in Tripoli in 2012. 

Mohmed Ali Meghrabi, brother of the convicted Libyan bombing suspect Abdel baset Ali Mohmed Al Meghrabi appears defiant as he leaves the Scottish Court in Zeist, The Netherlands, on January 30, 2001. (Getty Images)

Masud, on the other hand, is said to have confessed to his role in the bombing of the flight when questioned in 2012. In July 2015, Scottish judges ruled that relatives of the victims of the bombing should not be allowed to pursue an appeal on behalf of Megrahi. Earlier, the courts had ruled that only next of kin could make a posthumous application. In July 2017, Megrahi’s family made a fresh bid to appeal against his conviction while in March this year, the Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission said Megrahi’s conviction can be taken to a fresh appeal

The announcement of a new prosecution would make outgoing Attorney General William Barr personally satisfied. He was serving in the same position when the justice department first came up with criminal charges against the intelligence officials almost 30 years ago. In 1991, Barr had said: “We will not rest until all those responsible are brought to justice.”

The justice department’s criminal division at that time was led by Robert Mueller, who later became the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and special counsel in charge of the probe into more ties between Russia and the campaign of then Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in 2016.