Lockerbie victim’s father calls for UN court to stage bomb suspect’s trial

Jim Swire opposed to trial being held in US

Parts of Pan Am flight 103 in a field in Lockerbie. Abu Agila Mohammad Masud is suspected of involvement in the bombing. AP
Powered by automated translation

The trial of the man suspected of making the bomb which blew up Pan Am flight 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie should be heard at a UN court, said the father of one of the victims.

The bombing of the commercial flight, travelling from London to New York on December 21, 1988, killed 270 people in Britain’s most severe terrorist attack.

On Sunday, authorities in Scotland announced that Abu Agila Mohammad Masud, who was said to be the “third conspirator”, was in US custody.

Abdelbaset Al Megrahi was convicted of bombing the flight in 2001 at a trial convened in a special Scottish court in the Netherlands. He received a life sentence and but was released early in 2009 after being diagnosed with cancer. He died in 2012 in Libya and remains the only person to have been convicted over the attack.

The US Justice Department said Masud would make an initial appearance at a federal court in Washington.

But Dr Jim Swire — whose daughter Flora died in the bombing — said Masud's trial should not be held in America.

Dr Swire cited statements made by former South African president Nelson Mandela at a meeting of world leaders in Edinburgh in 1997, when the statesman said no country should be “complainant, prosecutor and judge”.

“There are so many loose ends that hang from this dreadful case, largely emanating from America, that I think we should remember what Mandela said to the world and to us then and seek a court that is free of being beholden to any nation directly involved in the atrocity itself,” he told BBC Radio Scotland on Monday.

Dr Swire said for that reason the trial should not take place in the US.

“I think now, in view of what we now know about how Scotland handled the case, it should not take place in Scotland,” Dr Swire said.

“The obvious way forward ... is to resort to the United Nations and invite them to provide a court with appropriate facilities to try this man and hopefully to review all the evidence that was used against the unfortunate Megrahi.”

Lockerbie Bombing - in pictures

However, Kara Weipz, an American whose brother Richard Monetti died in the bombing, said many families wanted Masud to be tried under US law.

She said: "It's not a disrespect to Scottish law, it's just what we know. It's our system and this was a terrorist attack against a US carrier, there were 190 Americans on the plane.

"This is a terrorist attack against America, too — the second largest in our history. I think that it's very important for us to have this trial in the US under our laws — it means everything to the US families."

Her father, Bob Monetti, agreed the trial should take place in the US.

“The trial [of Al Megrahi] under Scottish jurisdiction last time took place in the Netherlands,” he said. "It was difficult for anybody to get to and the press didn’t attend it at all, so the news never got out.

“All the evidence that was presented, nobody knew about. At least if it was in the US, especially Washington DC, there will be a lot of news coverage and people can hear what’s going on. There will be no confusion about what happened.”

Kenny MacAskill, who as Scotland's justice secretary opted to release Al Megrahi on compassionate grounds in 2009 after he was convicted of the bombing, said Masud had long been a person of interest in the investigation.

"Masud'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," Mr MacAskill said on Monday. It was unclear how the suspect came to be apprehended by US officials, he added.

In 2020, Masud was charged by US Attorney General, William Barr, with being the third person involved in the terrorist attack over Lockerbie.

Richard Marquise, the former head of the US investigation, said Washington had “a lot invested in” Masud being convicted.

“We believed he was involved and time will tell once he comes to the process in the United States,” he told Sky News.

Updated: December 12, 2022, 10:25 AM