Extradition of alleged Lockerbie bomb-maker from Libya shrouded in confusion

Abu Agila Mohammad Masud now in custody of FBI agents in the US

Abu Agila Mohammad Mas'ud Kheir Al-Marimi, also known as Mohammed Abouajela Masud, (2nd L) sits behind bars during a hearing at a courtroom in Tripoli November 16, 2014.  Tripoli's government on October 16, 2015 named the two new Libyan suspects in the Lockerbie bombing investigation as Abdullah al-Senussi, the former spy chief of ousted leader Muammar Gaddafi, and a second man, Mohammed Abu Ejaila.  No details were immediately available on the second suspect in the 1988 airline bombing that killed 270 people.  But one person familiar with the case said Ejaila may also be known as Mohammed Abouajela Masud, a known bomb maker.  Picture taken November 16, 2014.  REUTERS / Ismail Zitouny
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How a Libyan man, charged by the US over his alleged involvement in the deadly 1988 Lockerbie bombing over Scotland, was taken into FBI custody was shrouded in confusion and accusations on Monday.

The nephew of Abu Agila Mohammad Masud, an ex-intelligence official, said his uncle was detained by forces linked to the Defence Ministry of Libya's Tripoli-based and internationally recognised Government of National Unity on November 17.

The nephew told local media that Mr Masud, described as bedridden and thought to be 80, had been held captive in Libya's third city of Misurata, in the north-west of the country. Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, the Prime Minister of the GNU, comes from Misurata, a comparatively well-off and powerful city that sits to the east of the capital Tripoli.

Mr Masud's nephew said the family had sought the release of his uncle and were surprised to learn he had been taken into US custody. Washington two years ago accused Mr Masud of making the bomb that destroyed a Pan Am flight over Scotland in 1988, killing 270 people.

Libya's eastern-based House of Representatives on Monday urged the Attorney General to open a criminal investigation into anyone "who was involved in the kidnapping" of Mr Masud and "handed him over to foreign authorities".

Officials in Mr Dbeibah's GNU have previously suggested they could work with the US on the extradition of Mr Masud, who was an intelligence official during the reign of ex-dictator Muammar Qaddafi. The former leader was overthrown in a 2011 revolution and died at the hands of militiaman believed to be from Misurata.

In November last year, the GNU's foreign minister anticipated "positive outcomes" over the case of Mr Masud.

The GNU came to power in March last year under a UN-brokered deal that was supposed to pave the way for elections that never came. The legitimacy of the GNU, only ever supposed to be a provisional administration, has been contested by other factions within divided Libya.

One of those is the eastern-based government of Fathi Bashagha, appointed by the House of Representatives — whose legitimacy itself has been contested.

Mr Bashagha, also from Misurata, criticised the apparent extradition of Mr Masud, saying he feared it took place "without the supervision of the Libyan judiciary" and "constitutes a flagrant legal violation and an infringement of the sovereignty of the Libyan state".

"We strongly reject any form of terrorism and support the principle of accountability, the trial of all those who committed a crime contrary to the law ... provided that all this is done according to the principles of transparency and procedural and judicial legitimacy."

Mr Masud is alleged to be the “third conspirator” behind the downing of Pan Am flight 103 in 1988.

Former Libyan intelligence officer Abdelbaset Al Megrahi spent seven years in a Scottish prison after his conviction in 2001 but always denied any involvement in the bombing.

On Sunday, a representative for the US Department of Justice said Mr Masud had been taken into custody.

“The United States has taken custody of alleged Pan Am flight 103 bombmaker Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi”.

Speaking to the BBC, Kenny MacAskill — who as Scotland's justice secretary opted to release Al Megrahi on compassionate grounds in 2009 — said Mr Masud had always been a person of interest.

“Mas’ud’s involvement has always been suspected, he was always high on the list and was one of the original suspects wanted by the authorities at the outset,” he said.

“The only surprise is that he’s now been apprehended, they’ve been looking for him for a while, Qaddafi would never release him. When Qaddafi was toppled, those warlord factions might have hated each other but they equally both hated the USA so they were never prepared to release him, so how the USA have managed to spring him I don’t know.”

Updated: December 12, 2022, 3:13 PM