WASHINGTON — A Libyan intelligence agent accused of the bombing of a US airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988 was arrested by the FBI and extradited to the United States to do facing prosecution for one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in American history, officials said on Sunday. .
The arrest of the agent, Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud, was the culmination of a decades-long effort by the Justice Ministry to prosecute him. In 2020, Attorney General William P. Barr announced criminal charges against Mr. Mas’ud, accusing him of constructing the explosive device used in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which killed killed 270 passengers, including 190 Americans.
Mr. Mas’ud faces two counts, including the destruction of an aircraft resulting in death. He was being held in a Libyan prison for unrelated crimes when the Justice Ministry unveiled the charges against him two years ago. It is unclear how the US government negotiated Mr. Mas’ud’s extradition.
Mr. Mas’ud’s alleged role in the Lockerbie bombing came under renewed scrutiny in a three-part documentary about “Frontline” on PBS in 2015. The series was written and executive produced by Ken Dornstein, whose brother was killed in the attack. Mr. Dornstein learned that Mr. Mas’ud was being held in a Libyan prison and even obtained photos of him as part of his investigation.
“If there is one person still alive who could tell the story of the Flight 103 bombing and end decades of unanswered questions about exactly how it was carried out – and why – it is Mr. Mas’ud,” Mr. Dornstein wrote. in an email after learning that Mr. Mas’ud would eventually be prosecuted in the United States. “The question, I guess, is whether he’s finally ready to talk.”
After Colonel Muammar el-Gaddafi, Libya’s leader, was ousted from power, Mr Mas’ud confessed to the bombing in 2012, telling a Libyan law enforcement official that he was behind the attack. Once investigators learned of the confession in 2017, they questioned the Libyan official who obtained it, which led to charges.
Even if extradition would allow Mr. Mas’ud to stand trial, legal experts have expressed doubts whether his confession, obtained in prison in war-torn Libya, would be admissible as evidence.
Mr. Mas’ud, who was born in Tunisia but has Libyan nationality, was the third person charged in the attack. Two others, Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi and Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah, were indicted in 1991, but US efforts to prosecute them failed when Libya refused to send them to the United States or Britain to investigate. be judged.
Instead, the Libyan government agreed to a trial in the Netherlands under Scottish law. Mr. Fhimah was acquitted and Mr. al-Megrahi was convicted in 2001 and sentenced to life in prison.
In 2009, Scottish authorities released Mr al-Megrahi because he had prostate cancer, despite strong objections from the victims’ families and US authorities, including President Barack Obama. Mr. al-Megrahi died in 2012; his family posthumously appealed his conviction in Scotland, but last year a panel of judges refused to overturn it.
Prosecutors say Mr Mas’ud played a key role in the bombing, traveling to Malta and delivering the suitcase containing the bomb used in the attack. In Malta, Mr Megrahi and Mr Fhimah asked Mr Mas’ud to set the timer on the device to explode while the plane was in the air the following day, prosecutors said.
On the morning of December 21, 1988, Mr. Megrahi and Mr. Fhimah met Mr. Mas’ud at Malta airport, where he handed over the suitcase. Prosecutors said Mr Fhimah put the suitcase on a conveyor belt, eventually ending up on Pan Am Flight 103.
Mr. Mas’ud’s name came up twice in 1988, even before the bombing took place. In October, a Libyan defector told the CIA he had seen Mr Mas’ud at Malta airport with Mr Megrahi, saying the couple had gone through a terrorist operation. Malta served as Libya’s main starting point for launching such attacks, the informant told the agency. In December, the day before the Pan Am bombing, the informant told the CIA that the couple had passed through Malta again. Almost another year passed before the agency interviewed the informant about the bombing.
But investigators never seriously pursued Mr. Mas’ud until Mr. Megrahi’s trial years later, only for the Libyans to insist that Mr. Mas’ud did not exist. Mr. Megrahi also claimed that he did not know Mr. Mas’ud.
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