US to unseal charges against Lockerbie bombing suspect: media

By: AFP      Published: 05:46 PM, 17 Dec, 2020
US to unseal charges against Lockerbie bombing suspect: media

The United States plans to unseal charges soon against a Libyan man suspected of assembling the bomb that blew up a US airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, US newspapers have reported.

But in Britain, the father of one of the victims of the disaster called the development "unwelcome" and cast doubt on the involvement of the suspect, Abu Agila Mohammad Masud.

"I can't see the connection between these new allegations and the Lockerbie story," Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was killed in the bombing 32 years ago, told AFP on Thursday.

Masud is currently being held by the Libyan authorities, according to The Wall Street Journal, and US authorities are seeking his extradition to stand trial in the United States.

The New York Times said Masud's exact whereabouts are unknown but that he was imprisoned in Libya at one point for unrelated crimes.

The Journal said Masud, alleged to have been a top bomb-maker for the late Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, is suspected of assembling the device that blew up Pan Am Flight 103.

The newspapers said US prosecutors are expected to unseal charges soon against Masud.

Horrific attack

The case against Masud is reportedly based largely on a confession he gave to Libyan authorities in 2012 as well as travel and immigration records.

Monday is the 32nd anniversary of the bombing which killed a total of 270 people, including 190 Americans and 11 people on the ground.

In a statement, the FBI said that while it "cannot comment on any upcoming announcement, we can assure the public and most importantly, the families of the Pan Am 103 victims, that we have worked tenaciously for 32 years to investigate this horrific terrorist attack."

"Domestic and foreign partners alike have been focused on identifying who was responsible for the bombing," the FBI said. 

"Just as in any investigation, the FBI is persistent in our investigations with a dedicated focus on the victims of crime and terrorism."

Scottish appeal 

Five judges at Scotland's highest court of criminal appeal are currently considering a posthumous appeal by the family of the only man convicted of the bombing.  

In 1991, the American and Scottish courts announced the indictment of two Libyan intelligence agents, Abdelbaset Mohmet Al-Megrahi and Amine Khalifa Fhimah, for their role in the attack. 

The attorney general who announced the charges at the time was Bill Barr. Reappointed to the Justice Department by Donald Trump in 2019, Barr resigned Monday and is scheduled to step down next Wednesday. 

The two Libyan defendants were tried in 2000 by a special Scottish court established on neutral ground in the Netherlands. 

The following year, Fhimah was acquitted but Megrahi was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison before his sentence was commuted to a minimum of 27 years in prison.

In 2009, Megrahi was released on health grounds and he died in 2012 in Libya. A first appeal against his conviction was rejected, while a second was abandoned.

Swire, who is convinced of Megrahi's innocence and is backing his family's appeal, said he was concerned the US charges could interfere with the Scottish case.

"What really worries me about it is it's happening, whether by chance or not, 32 years after the disaster, at a time and that the lordships in Scotland are charged with examining the evidence and the third appeal against Meghrahi's conviction," he said.

"(It) makes it all the harder for their lordships to be objective about what they're doing."

Swire has said he does not believe Libya was involved in the bombing but that he and the other families of the victims wish to see justice done, whoever the perpetrators might be.

"If they really have some valid evidence against this man (Masud), no one would be happier than me to see the issue tried in a court where the evidence provided to that court was objective and on an level playing field," he said.

He added he was motivated ultimately by the memory of his daughter. "I think she would have wanted the truth to be known about whose hand it was that had murdered her," he said.