US to unseal charges against Libyan Lockerbie bombing suspect

17 December 2020, 07:52 | Updated: 17 December 2020, 08:27

Aftermath of Pan Am Flight 103, which exploded Lockerbie in Scotland, killing 270 people
Aftermath of Pan Am Flight 103, which exploded Lockerbie in Scotland, killing 270 people. Picture: PA

By Matt Drake

The US Justice Department expects to unseal charges against a Libyan man in the coming days who is suspected of making the bomb used in the 1988 Pan Am attack, according to a person familiar with the case.

Flight 103 was exploded over Lockerbie in Scotland, killing 270 people including dozens of American college students.

It spurred global investigations and produced sanctions against Libya, which ultimately surrendered intelligence officials wanted in the attacks for prosecution in Europe.

US prosecutors are to seek the extradition of Abu Agila Mohammad Masud to stand trial in the US.

The announcement of a new prosecution would likely carry personal significance for Attorney General William Barr, who is leaving the position next week, but held the same job when the Justice Department revealed criminal charges nearly 30 years ago against the intelligence officials.

The head of the Justice Department's criminal division at the time was Robert Mueller, who went on to serve as FBI director and as special counsel in charge of the investigation into ties between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign.

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News of the criminal case was first reported by The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

A person familiar with the Justice Department's plan who was not authorised to discuss it by name confirmed it to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

The New York-bound flight exploded over Lockerbie less than an hour after take-off from London on December 21, 1988.

Among the Americans on board were 35 Syracuse University students flying home for Christmas after a semester abroad.

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The attack, caused by a bomb packed into a suitcase, killed 259 people on the plane and 11 on the ground.

One man - former Libyan intelligence official Abdel Baset al-Megrahi - was convicted of the bombing, and a second Libyan suspect was acquitted of all charges.

Al-Megrahi was given a life sentence, but Scottish authorities released him on humanitarian grounds in 2009 when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He later died in Tripoli.

The New York Times says Mr Masud's exact whereabouts are unknown but that he was jailed in Libya for unrelated crimes at some point.

Mr Masud is alleged to have been a top bomb-maker for the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Neither the Libyan authorities or the US justice department have publicly commented.