[This is the headline over a report in today’s edition of Scotland on Sunday. It reads as follows:]
One of the new suspects in the Lockerbie bombing was “very close” to being indicted at the original trial along with Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, according to the former FBI agent who headed up the US investigation.
Dick Marquise said prosecutors decided against the move to pursue Abu Agila Mas’ud because they didn’t believe the case was strong enough.
Scottish prosecutors last week announced that are seeking permission to interview two new suspects, later confirmed as Mas’ud and Libya’s ex-intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi.
Both are currently incarcerated in the strife-torn North African state with Senussi facing the death sentence and Mas’ud jailed for ten years.
Marquise is a former FBI agent and was head of the US government’s investigation of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 which killed 270 people in 1988. He said both men were on the radar in the original investigation.
“Senussi was [former Libyan leader Muammar] Gaddafi’s intelligence chief as I recall,” he said.
“We had him as a possible suspect only because of his rank in the government and what he did there. We didn’t have any evidence against him, but he was someone we were well aware of and we had heard stories that he was involved deeply in terrorist plots, but nothing specific in regard to Lockerbie.
“Mas’ud on the other hand, he was very close to being indicted back when Megrahi was. We were aware of his travels with Megrahi in and out of Malta, a number of times. The last time that we were aware of was the morning that the bomb bag left. He and Megrahi were on the same plane.
“So we were aware of him. He was, we believed he was, a technician of some kind – a bomb builder. However, there was no real evidence against him other than that he was a bomb technician and he was on a flight with Megrahi. So prosecutors decided back in 1991 not to indict him.
“I think the prosecutors erred on the side of caution to say there’s no real concrete evidence. Nobody told us, well he came here and armed the bomb or put the timer together. There’s no real proof of that.”
A US documentary made by Ken Dorstein, whose brother David was on board Pan Am Flight 103, presented evidence last month which suggested that Mas’ud was the Lockerbie bomb-maker. It tracked down a former Libyan operative Musbah Eter, who had confessed to the 1986 bombing of Berlin’s La Belle disco which left three dead. Eter said Mas’ud brought the bomb into Berlin’s Libyan Embassy and showed him how to arm it.
Mas’ud did feature in Marquise’s book about Lockerbie, but he was asked to change it by the FBI when it went through the approval process, because it was believed that he could be indicted in future.
Senussi has been condemned to death by firing squad and Mas’ud has been jailed for ten years over charges of bomb-making.
Dr Noel Guckian, a former chargé d’affaires of the UK embassy in Libya, has warned that prosecutors face a legal and diplomatic minefield in securing access to the pair.
“The problem with Libya is that Libya has collapsed,” he said. “There are something like 1,700 militias and that can be just a group of people, to the extremist Islamic State. Some are tribal, some are pro-Gaddafi.”
Libya is divided between the internationally recognised government in Tobruk and the rival non-extremist Islamist regime which is also vying to be seen as the country’s government. It is the latter which the Scottish authorities have approached with a view to interviewing the new suspects.
Guckian, who spent five years in the North African country, warned of Foreign Office advice not to travel to Libya and added: “It’s going to be a hugely difficult operation to get people to talk to these two people and to do it in Libya.”