A Libyan accused of preparing the bomb used in the Lockerbie attack in Scotland was extradited to the United States and presented Monday before a federal judge, nearly 34 years after the tragedy that left 270 dead.
During a brief hearing in a Washington court, Abu Agila Mohammad Massoud Kheir al-Marimi, 71, was informed of the charges against him, particularly for “destroying an aircraft causing death”.
Despite the gravity of the facts, this Tunisian-born man does not face the death penalty because it did not apply in 1988 at the federal level for those charges, a prosecutor said.
Sir. Massoud, who spoke through a translator, will remain in custody until a next hearing, on December 27, when his lawyers may ask for his possible release. The prosecution has indicated that it will oppose it.
US Attorney General Merrick Garland welcomed the transfer of the accused to US soil. “This is an important step in bringing justice to the victims and their loved ones,” he said in a statement.
A former member of dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s intelligence services, he was indicted by US courts on December 21, 2020, the 32nd anniversary of the tragedy. He was then detained in Libya, and US authorities said they were “optimistic” about the prospects of his extradition.
However, the terms of his arrest by the US, announced on Sunday by Scottish courts, and his transfer to US soil are still unknown. In a press release, the White House limited itself to saying that the US had arrested him “lawfully”.
“These events show that our quest for justice knows no bounds,” said Scotland’s chief justice, Dorothy Bain, who said she would travel to the United States next week to meet with American prosecutors and attend the commemoration of the tragedy .
On December 21, 1988, a Pan Am Boeing 747 flying from London to New York exploded over the Scottish village of Lockerbie, killing all 259 passengers and crew and 11 people on the ground.
This attack is the deadliest ever carried out on British soil, but also the second deadliest against Americans after the attacks of 11 September 2001, when 190 victims were American.
– Nightclub –
Only one person has been convicted of this attack: Libyan Abdelbaset Ali Mohamed al-Megrahi, who has always maintained his innocence, was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2001 after a trial in a Scottish criminal court established on a neutral basis in the Netherlands. Another defendant had been acquitted.
Released on 20 August 2009 by the Scottish courts due to terminal cancer, al-Megrahi received a triumphant welcome on his return to Tripoli. He died in 2012.
By 2003, Muammar Gaddafi’s regime had officially acknowledged responsibility for the attack and paid $2.7 billion in compensation to the victims’ families.
After his fall in 2011, American and Scottish investigators traveled to Libya to explore new leads. The British media had then mentioned the name of Abou Massoud and the name of Abdallah Senoussi, former head of the Libyan intelligence services and brother-in-law of Gaddafi.
After the revolution, Massoud was arrested by the new authorities. According to the New Yorker magazine, in 2015 he was sentenced to ten years in prison for manufacturing bombs used in 2011 by the Gaddafi regime against its opponents.
During an interrogation in 2012, he admitted to the new regime’s intelligence services his participation in the attack on Lockerbie, but also on a nightclub in Berlin in 1986 (three dead), according to US court documents.
Investigators also have travel records that notably show he made a flight between the Libyan capital Tripoli and the island of Malta just before the attack.
This is where the bomb, contained in an audio cassette and hidden in a suitcase, according to these documents, had been planted to later be placed in the hold of the Pan Am flight.