US Attorney General William Barr on Monday announced criminal charges against an alleged bombmaker in the 1988 terrorist bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
The former Libyan intelligence officer Abu Agela Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi was charged in a criminal complaint with for allegedly providing the medium-sized Samsonite suitcase with the prepared explosive that was later placed onboard the flight. He is currently in custody in Libya.
Monday is the 32nd anniversary of the attack, which killed 270 people, the majority of whom were Americans. The Pan Am Boeing 747 was en route from London to New York.
The announcement also brings Barr’s service as attorney general – a position he’s held twice – full circle.
Last week, when he told President Donald Trump of his resignation, Barr asked to delay his departure by a week so he could announce the Lockerbie charges, one of the sources said.
Early in his tenure at the department under President George H.W. Bush, Barr had announced charges against two other Libyan intelligence-linked men, Abdelbeset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi and Al Amin Khalifah Fhimah, whom the US accused of placing explosives in a portable cassette and radio player that was inside a suitcase on the plane.
Libyan leader Moammar Ghadafi later accepted Libya’s responsibility for the bombing.
But because of difficulty bringing them to the US, the men were tried instead by a Scottish court sitting in neutral Netherlands.
“The investigation also pointed to a third conspirator, a man known by the name of Abu Agila Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi, who at the time, investigators were unable to identify or locate this third person,” Barr said at a news conference on Monday.
Prosecutors referred the alleged bombmaker as “Masud” in court documents. He is currently in custody in Libya, prosecutors said. But, unlike the extraditions of Megrahi and Fhimah over 20 years ago, US authorities have plotted out a less complicated court procedure this time around.
Officials say the US is having conversations with Libya to take custody of Masud, and with Scottish authorities who may be able to provide evidence.
The trial in the Scottish court resulted in an acquittal of Fhimah and a conviction of Megrahi. Megrahi, sentenced to 27 years in prison, was released from prison after being diagnosed with cancer. He died in 2012.
US officials learned in 2016 about Masud’s role as the bombmaker when he was arrested in Libya for a separate incident and he made the alleged confession, according to the criminal complaint.
Masud was allegedly summonsed by an unidentified Libyan intelligence official for a meeting in Tripoli where he was told to fly to Malta with a suitcase prepared with the explosives, according to the criminal complaint. Masud spent a few days at a hotel that was located 20 minutes from the airport before he met Megrahi and Fhimah who instructed Masud to set the timer on the explosive to 11 hours later.
“Three or four days after returning to Libya, Masud and Megrahi met with a senior Libyan intelligence official, who thanked them for a successful operation,” prosecutors said in a statement.
Barr said Monday that without prosecuting all involved with the “second deadliest terrorist attack in American history,” it felt like “unfinished business” and delayed justice for the victims.
At a memorial for the victims in 2019, Barr said “nothing was more important to me” when he first served as attorney general in the 1990s than investigating the bombing.
“I must say that, to this day, I am not satisfied with our country’s overall response to the attack. I never thought that putting two Libyan intelligence officers on trial should be the sum and substance of our response,” Barr said at the Arlington Cemetery ceremony last year.