Lockerbie bombing: Abu Agila Masud is in U.S. custody, authorities say



A Libyan man accused of making a bomb that killed hundreds of people aboard an American passenger plane over Lockerbie, Scotland, almost 34 years ago is in U.S. custody, officials said Sunday.

A spokesman for the Justice Department said Abu Agila Masud is expected to make his first court appearance in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, but didn’t say when. The former Libyan intelligence operative is accused of making the explosive device that destroyed a Pan Am jet on Dec. 21, 1988, killing all 259 people on board the Boeing 747 and 11 others on the ground.

The Justice Department charged Masud in 2020 with helping make the bomb. In announcing the charges on the 32nd anniversary of the attack, then-Attorney General William P. Barr said that the operation was ordered by the leadership of Libyan intelligence and that Moammar Gaddafi, Libya’s leader from 1969 to 2011, had personally thanked Masud for his work.

It was unclear how authorities took Masud into custody.

A spokesman for the Scottish Crown Office said Sunday that Scottish prosecutors and police, working alongside colleagues from the United States and United Kingdom, “will continue to pursue this investigation.” The office said it would not comment further, citing the ongoing investigation.

Stephanie Bernstein, 71, a Maryland resident whose husband, Michael, was one of the victims, called the development “surreal.”

“It’s critical to hold people like this accountable, no matter how many years after the fact,” said the retired rabbi and vice president of the Victims of Pan Am Flight 103 group. “We have generations of people who have been working on this for 34 years. We’ll never stop. This is a critical milestone.”

The plane bound from London to New York “exploded into pieces almost instantaneously,” federal investigators said in a statement of facts filed in 2020. Everyone on board was killed, among them 190 Americans that included a group of Syracuse University students returning home for the holidays.

Masud was the third person charged in the case. In 1991, during Barr’s first stint as attorney general, he announced the first charges — against Libyan intelligence operative Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi and his alleged accomplice Lamen Khalifa Fhimah. Libya refused to send them to the U.S. or Britain for trial, stalling efforts at prosecution and prompting sanctions.

In 1999, the Libyan government turned over the two to be tried in Scottish court on a former U.S. military base in the Netherlands. Fhimah was acquitted, while Megrahi was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. He was released in 2009 after a cancer diagnosis. He died about three years later.

Alexandra Ma contributed to this developing story, which will be updated.

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