Libya's PM Bashagha calls for US to release Lockerbie bombing suspect

American authorities said Abu Agila Mohammad Masud has been arrested and will face trial in the US

Fathi Bashagha, one of Libya’s rival prime ministers, in May. AP
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Libya's eastern parliament-appointed Prime Minister, Fathi Bashagha, has called for the release of the former Libyan intelligence officer accused of making the bomb that downed Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988, killing all on-board.

American authorities said Abu Agila Mohammad Masud, 71, had been arrested and will face trial in the US. On Monday, he appeared in a Washington federal court, where he was charged with an act of international terrorism.

“My question directed to the American administration is how … he reached Washington,” Fathi Bashagha, one of Libya’s rival prime ministers, told a local Libyan television channel as he was leaving a meeting of the country’s East-based parliament.

“What we think is that he was kidnapped. Of course, this is outside the legal, judicial and legitimacy framework, and this is something I reject and do not recognise. At all.”

Libya had been split between rival eastern and western factions since 2014, before a 2020 truce brought it under a fragile united government.

A plan to hold an election in December collapsed in recent months amid arguments among major factions and prominent candidates.

In western Libya, militia groups are believed to have amassed great wealth and power from kidnappings and their involvement in the country’s lucrative human trafficking trade.

An artist's sketch of Whitney Minter, a public defender, standing to represent Abu Agila Mohammad Masud, who has been accused of making the bomb that brought down Pan Am Flight 103, in a court in Washington. AP

Mr Bashagha’s comments seemed to suggest that his rival’s government — that of Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, based in Tripoli — was somehow complicit in the operation to extract Mr Masud.

Mr Masud’s extradition is a milestone in the decades-old investigation into the attack that killed 259 people in the air and 11 on the ground. American authorities in December 2020 announced charges against Mr Masud, who was in Libyan custody at the time.

Though he is the third Libyan intelligence official charged in the US in connection with the attack, he is the first to appear in an American courtroom for prosecution.

The New York-bound Pan Am flight exploded over Lockerbie less than an hour after take-off from London on December 21, 1988. Citizens from 21 different countries were killed.

Among the 190 Americans on board were 35 Syracuse University students flying home for Christmas after a term abroad.

Unidentified crash investigators inspect the nose section of the crashed Pan Am flight 103, a Boeing 747 airliner in a field near Lockerbie, Scotland, Dec.  23, 1988. AP

US authorities in December 2020 announced charges against Mr Masud, who was in Libyan custody at the time.

A breakthrough in the Justice Department’s investigation came when US officials in 2017 received a copy of an interview that Mr Masud, a long-time explosives expert for Libya’s intelligence service, allegedly had with Libyan law enforcement in 2012 after being taken into custody following the collapse of the government of the country’s dictator Muammar Qaddafi.

In that interview, US officials said, Mr Masud admitted building the bomb in the Pan Am attack and working with two other conspirators to carry out the plan. He also said the operation was ordered by Libyan intelligence and that Qaddafi thanked him and other members of the team after the attack, according to an FBI affidavit.

Updated: December 14, 2022, 12:58 PM
EDITOR'S PICKS
NEWSLETTERS