Wednesday, 25 January 2023

Lockerbie bombing suspect's arraignment deferred amid delays securing a lawyer

[This is the headline over a Reuters news agency report published this afternoon. It reads as follows:]

The arraignment of a Libyan intelligence operative suspected of making the bomb that blew up Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 and killed 270 people was deferred on Wednesday due to delays and challenges securing a defense attorney.

Abu Agila Mohammad Mas'ud Kheir Al-Marimi, 71, is the first suspect in the attack to face criminal charges in the United States.

The bomb exploded aboard a Boeing 747 over Lockerbie as it flew from London to New York in December 1988. All 259 people on board were killed, and another 11 people died on the ground.

US Magistrate Judge Moxila Upadhyaya formally appointed federal public defender Whitney Minter to represent him on Wednesday, after Minter said Mas'ud's family was unable to retain a defense lawyer on their own.

Minter said Mas'ud has no substantial assets and has not been employed for a decade. He makes mortgage payments on a home in Libya, and his children help cover his living and medical expenses.

[From a Fox News report:]

Abu Agila Mohammad Mas'ud Kheir Al-Marimi's arraignment was (...) pushed back to Feb 8.

US Magistrate Judge Moxila Upadhyaya formally appointed federal public defender Whitney Minter to represent him Wednesday, Reuters reported. (...)

Upadhyaya also set a Feb 23 date for a detention hearing.

Wednesday, 18 January 2023

CIA Director's Libya visit prompts speculation about Senussi handover

[What follows is excerpted from an article headlined CIA Director’s visit to Libya Not Just a Visit published yesterday on The Libya Update website:]

The visit of the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency William J Burns to Libya was surrounded by a halo of mystery and a lack of details about its reasons, which opened the door to wide speculation, especially about its timing. The visit came weeks after the handover of Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud, suspected of making the bomb that destroyed a passenger plane over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 that killed 190 Americans, amid rumors that more suspects will be extradited. (...)

The head of the Libyan government in Tripoli, Abd al-Hamid al-Dbeibeh, had received Burns, accompanied by the Chargé d’Affairs of the US Embassy and his accompanying delegation, in the presence of Libya’s Foreign Minister Najla El Mangoush, and the head of the intelligence service, Hussein al-A’eb. This was amid remarkable secrecy on what was discussed or agreed upon during the visit.

According to the media office of the Libyan government, Burns stressed “the need to develop economic and security cooperation between the two countries.” (...)

Ned Price, the Spokesperson for the US Department of State said he cannot comment on the visit of US Intelligence Director William Burns to Libya. (...)

This American secrecy about the reasons for this visit increased the interest of observers in Libya, with anticipation of its results soon. This is especially regarding the extradition of more suspects in the “Lockerbie” case, such as Abdullah al-Senussi, the former intelligence chief and brother-in-law of Colonel Gaddafi. He was the second man in the Gaddafi regime, who is currently in a prison in the Libyan capital. (...)

The visit of an American official of this level to Libya for the first time since 2012, amid a complex situation in the country, and weeks after the controversial handover of Mas’ud to Washington, all of this makes the visit worth the attention that has been focused on it, according to the Libyan academic and analyst, Abdul Ghani Atia.

“This visit will completely shuffle the cards in the Libyan scene. On the one hand, it was no surprise that many talk that Abdullah Al-Senussi will be handed over to the US,” Atia believes.

“If Al-Senussi, who is accused of war crimes inside Libya and considered a controversial figure in the country, is extradited, this will represent a cave of treasures in the Lockerbie case. The man was Gaddafi’s right arm, and he is even more dangerous than Saif al-Islam, the son of Gaddafi himself.” Atia said.

[A further article about the implications of the visit can be found in US spy chief gives his support to Libya PM as part of a deal over Lockerbie? by Martin Jay on the Strategic Culture Foundation website.]

Saturday, 7 January 2023

Politics has obstructed justice for victims of the Lockerbie bombing

[This is the headline over an article by Kim Sengupta published today on the website of The Independent. It reads in part:]

The appearance of Agila Mohammad Masud al Marimi in an American court last month after being held captive in Libya has been portrayed as a vital breakthrough in the long pursuit of justice in the Lockerbie bombing.

It is nothing of the kind. It is, instead, continuation of a course of action which had resulted in a shameful miscarriage of justice; one which brings us no nearer to establishing the truth about the terrible atrocity in which 270 people were killed when their Pan Am flight was blown up just before Christmas in 1988.

The Libyan government – such as it is in the currently fractured country – has ordered an investigation into the abduction of the 71-year-old man from his home in Tripoli by a militia before he turned up in the US. The country’s attorney general did not issue an arrest warrant, and says the handover to American authorities is likely to have been illegal.

The “confession” that he was the Lockerbie bombmaker which Masud – a former Gadaffi regime agent – allegedly made to Libyan officials after he was seized in Libya a decade ago, has long been considered dubious by many with knowledge of the bombing and its subsequent investigation.

The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken insisted that the rendition of Masud was the “product of years of cooperation between US and Scottish authorities and the efforts of Libyan authorities over many years.” Officials in Washington have refused to furnish any details of how the transaction took place.

But it is not just possible abuse of procedure which is the main issue in this. The prosecution of Masud is predicated on the narrative that Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, a Libyan, was responsible for the attack.

But many of those closely involved in the case are convinced that his conviction, by a Scottish court, was fundamentally unjust, should have been overturned and have been campaigning for this over the years.

I saw Megrahi in the winter of 2011 in Tripoli, where he had been sent from his prison in Scotland after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. He was lying in bed attached to a drip, oxygen mask on his skeletal face, drifting in and out of consciousness. The medicine he needed had been plundered by looters in the chaotic aftermath of the fall of the Gaddafi regime; the doctors treating him had fled.

The vengeful pursuit of Megrahi, the feeling that he had escaped justice by failing to die in a cell, persisted among those who were adamant that he was guilty. He was faking his illness, they claimed right until his death; there were demands that the post-revolutionary Libyan government should arrest and send him back to Scotland or on to the US.

Megrahi died a few months later.

Members of some of the bereaved families in the bombing have long been convinced that his conviction was wrong. Dr Jim Swire, who lost his daughter, Flora was clear: “I went into that court thinking I was going to see the trial of those who were responsible for the murder of my daughter. I came out thinking he had been framed. I am very afraid that we saw steps taken to ensure that a politically desired result was obtained.”

I reported from the specially constituted Scottish court at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands, where Megrahi and his fellow Libyan defendant, Lamin Khalifa Fhimah, were tried and the flaws in the prosecution case became apparent very early.

The two men were charged with what amounted to joint enterprise, yet Megrahi was found guilty and Fhimah was freed. The prosecution evidence was circumstantial and contradictory. Key prosecution witnesses were shaky under cross-examination.

The evidence of a supposedly prime “CIA intelligence asset”, Abdul Majid Giaka (codename “Puzzle Piece”) – who turned up in court wearing a drag queen’s costume in an attempt to hide his identity – was widely ridiculed. It emerged later that important evidence had not been passed to the defence lawyers by the Crown.

There was scathing criticism from international jurists about the proceedings. Professor Hans Köchler, a UN appointed [observer], described them as an “inconsistent, arbitrary and a spectacular miscarriage of justice”. The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission subsequently identified six grounds where it believed “a miscarriage of justice may have occurred”.

Cynical realpolitik had played a key role in the prosecution. Both British and American officials initially claimed that Iran commissioned the attack on the Pan Am flight using the Palestinian guerrilla group PFLP (GC), based in Damascus, in retaliation for the shooting down of an Iranian airliner by the US.

That changed suddenly, however, after the first Gulf War when Syria joined the US sponsored coalition against Saddam Hussein: the same Western officials now held that Libya was the culprit state.

Colonel Gadaffi’s regime eventually paid out (...) compensation to the families of the victims; but that was seen by those unconvinced by the new theory as one just of the deals which, at the time, brought him back into the international fold.

An appeal to clear Megrahi’s name, backed some of the bereaved families and eminent lawyers, was turned down by the Appeal Court in Edinburgh in 2015 because the law was “not designed to give relatives of victims a right to proceed in an appeal for their own or the public’s interest”.

The US case against Masud is that he had colluded with Megrahi and Fhimah to carry out the bombing. It is claimed that he met the two men in Malta with the bomb which went on to the hold of the Pan Am plane through a connecting flight.

But, as we know, Fhimah was acquitted by the Lockerbie court, where the prosecution had insisted that he and Megrahi were the two bomb plotters in Malta.

Robert Black, KC, an eminent law professor born in Lockerbie who played a key role in organising the Camp Zeist trial, and subsequently became convinced that there had been a miscarriage of justice warned back in 2013 that British officials were trying to retrospectively manipulate information implicating Masud and buttressing the case against Megrahi. “It looks like the Crown Office is trying to shore up the Malta connection, which is pretty weak,” he said.

Much of the information implicating Masud as being linked to Megrahi is coming from a former Libyan security official called Musbah Eter, who the FBI has been interviewing.

Eter has had a chequered life. He was convicted of the bombing of the La Belle nightclub in Berlin in 1986; an attack which prompted Ronald Reagan to bomb Libya, with some of the warplanes flying from British bases. A German TV investigation subsequently revealed that Eter was a CIA “asset”.

We do not know why it took him more than two decades to come forward with the Lockerbie information, or what influence his relationship with US intelligence played in this.

As well as Masud, the Americans hold that Abdullah al-Senussi – who was both Muammar Gaddafi’s chief of intelligence and his brother-in-law – is involved in the bombing. He is in prison in Libya, and may also end up in the US.

We will see Masud, and probably Senussi as well, end up facing Lockerbie charges at a court, and we may yet see another CIA operative – Eter this time – doing a court turn in a drag queen’s wig. None of this, however, will bring us nearer to knowing the truth about the terrible Lockerbie massacre.

[RB: Further pieces on the Lockerbie case by Kim Sengupta can be accessed here.]

Saturday, 31 December 2022

Steps taken to cancel out voices which contradict the official narrative

[Today's edition of The Times contains an article headlined Lockerbie Iran claim was cut from TV interview. It reads in part:]

A filmed discussion between Sir Salman Rushdie and a spokesman for the Lockerbie bombing families “vanished” from a UK broadcast after it was suggested that Iran, rather than Libya, had been responsible for the atrocity.

Dr Jim Swire, a GP who became the public face of the campaign to hold an independent inquiry into the bombing, took part in a live interview with the author of The Satanic Verses on Irish TV.

Swire, whose daughter Flora was killed in the attack, and Rushdie, who was the subject of a fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini, used the platform to argue that the Iranian regime had blood on its hands.

Their interview went out live and uninterrupted on The Late Late Show, a long-running chat show, but newly declassified documents show that it was excised when the programme was later shown on Channel 4. Swire believes that it was removed because of political pressure. (...)

Correspondence between Swire and Douglas Hogg, then a Foreign Office minister, has been opened and placed in the National Archives at Kew. In one letter, from February 1993, Swire wrote: “On the 15th of January I took part in The Late Late Show broadcast live by the Irish RTE TV network.

“Without any forewarning the next guest turned out to be Salman Rushdie, with whom I had some discussion on air concerning the nature of the Iranian regime. It was far from complimentary and was omitted when the programme was rebroadcast on Channel 4 in this country.

“I was impressed by [Rushdie]. The meeting renewed my conviction that Iran had a hand in Flora’s murder.”

Iran was initially suspected of having contracted a Syrian-based terrorist group to carry out the Lockerbie bombing, in revenge for the US downing an Iranian airliner, killing 290 passengers and crew, in July 1988.

However, the US and UK turned their attention to Libya. The intelligence officer Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi remains the only person to be convicted in connection with the atrocity. Mohammed Abouagela Masud, another Libyan suspect, was taken into US custody this month.

Swire, now 86, and other family members continue to believe that crucial evidence was withheld from Megrahi’s trial and that his conviction was wrongful.

“It still seems extraordinary to me that an exclusive interview involving Salman Rushdie — a hugely influential global figure — was removed when the programme was shown to a British audience,” he said. “I can offer no explanation as to why that might have been done. However, I have become accustomed to steps being taken behind the scenes by the authorities to cancel out voices which contradict the official narrative on Lockerbie.”

In 2018, declassified documents emerged showing that Margaret Thatcher had been warned in 1988 that the Lockerbie families were becoming increasingly organised and needed “careful watching”.

Swire and the Rev John Mosey, a church minister who lost his teenage daughter Helga in the bombing, alleged that their phone calls and mail were monitored after they spoke out publicly.

Their stories were corroborated by Dr Hans Koechler, who was appointed by the United Nations as an independent observer at Megrahi’s trial. He said that his computers had been accessed and data was removed after he had compiled reports on the case.

Friday, 30 December 2022

UK government "doing their best to support the US in a cover up"

[What follows is excerpted from a report by Martin Jay headlined Lockerbie: Papers reveal Mandela didn’t buy Blair’s Libya ruse published today on the website:]

Confidential documents which became released in the UK might be the reason why the Americans recently kidnapped a third Libyan suspect who they have framed for the Lockerbie bombing.

On December 29th, it was revealed that documents held in the national archive showed that Nelson Mandela actually told the UK it was wrong to hold Libya responsible for the Lockerbie bombing, according to reports. 

They reveal discussions between former British prime minister Tony Blair and his cabinet and Mr Mandela, who was acting as an intermediary for Libya, after the Lockerbie bombing with the South African icon firmly believing that Libya had no hand in the Lockerbie bombing. (...)

In the meeting between Mr Blair and Mr Mandela on April 30, 2001, Mr Mandela opposed the UN stance.

“Mandela argued it was wrong to hold Libya legally responsible for the bombing,” the cables revealed.

“He had studied the judgment from the trial and was critical of the account the judges had taken of the views of the Libyan defector, even though they had described him as an unreliable witness.

“He had discussed it with Kofi Annan [former secretary general of the United Nations] as he felt the Security Council resolution requiring that [Libya’s president Muammar] Qaddafi accept responsibility were at odds with the legal position. (...)

In May 2003 that Libya accepted responsibility for the bombing and had previously agreed to set up a $2.7 billion fund to compensate families of those killed in the explosion, although few experts even believe that Gaddafi accepted culpability but was trying to find a diplomatic solution.

Al Megrahi being found guilty and the compensation package was a way out for the Libyan leader.

The Libyan intelligence agent was framed and was the only man convicted over the attack. He was sentenced to life until his release on compassionate grounds in 2009 after a cancer diagnosis. He died in Libya in 2012. [RB: The only evidence that Megrahi was involved with Libyan intelligence came from Majid Giaka. The judges found Giaka to be a fantasist, wholly incredible and unreliable, but (with no explanation) accepted his evidence on this one issue.] 

The efforts by Margaret Thatcher, John Major and finally Tony Blair to support the Libyan angle are highly suspicious though, as a number of experts believe that the UK governments were simply doing their best to support the US in a cover up.

If American families knew the truth about the Lockerbie bombing – that the Pan Am flight was carrying drugs and money under the supervision of CIA officers on board as part of a whacky scheme of Ronald Reagan to cooperate with terrorists in Beirut – then the legal cases would be unprecedented in US history.

Because of this gargantuan cover up, America, still to this day needs to keep the Libyan ‘story’ alive.

Consequently, a Libyan man, Abu Agila Masud, was recently accused of making the bomb that destroyed the Pan Am flight and was taken into US custody through an illegal rendition helped by rogue militias in Libya believed to have been paid by the US. Some sceptical analysts might conclude that the date of the released documents was known by the US, hence the timing of the kidnapping of Masud.

Wednesday, 28 December 2022

Will Libya extradite ex-spy chief to US over Lockerbie?

[This is the headline over a report published yesterday on Voice of America's VOA Africa website. It reads in part:]

The recent handover of a former Libyan intelligence officer by the Tripoli-based government to the US for his alleged involvement in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing has sparked speculation that an ex-Libyan spy chief could be next.

Questions about the potential extradition of former Libyan spy chief Abdullah al-Senussi have been circulating after US authorities earlier this month announced Abu Agila Mohammad Mas'ud Kheir Al-Marimi, accused of making a bomb that killed 259 people aboard a Pan Am flight and 11 on the ground in Scotland, was in their custody.

The potential extradition of al-Senussi, currently serving time in Tripoli for his involvement in crimes committed under the Gaddafi regime, could lead to a trial for his alleged involvement in the Lockerbie bombing. This would mark a significant turning point in the long-standing investigation into the 1988 terrorist attack.

Al-Senussi's family has appealed to Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah to release him.

"This is the final warning to the Libyan government: If Abdullah al-Senussi and his comrades are not freed, all viable resources in the south will be put to a halt," al-Senussi's son told local news on Monday.

Al-Senussi, who is also the brother-in-law of late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, hails from al-Magarha, a tribe renowned for its ties with the former regime and its influence in southern Libya.

During a recent interview with Al Arabiya, a pan-Arab news channel, Dbeibah denied any intention of extraditing al-Senussi to the US.

"All of these are fabrications and media exaggeration," he said.

Political analyst Ibrahim Belgasem told VOA said that “Libyan law does not allow the extradition of Libyan citizens for trial in a foreign country,” adding that Libyan citizens “feel very sensitive about this case as they suffered years of sanctions and were isolated from the world.” (...)

In 1992, after Libya refused to extradite suspects al-Megrahi and Fhimah, the United Nations imposed an air travel and arms embargo on the country. This embargo was later broadened to include an asset freeze and a ban on the export of certain goods to Libya. (...)

In 1999, the Libyan government agreed to transfer the two suspects to the Netherlands for trial, following negotiations led by Nelson Mandela and the Saudi government with the US and UK.

In 2001, al-Megrahi was found guilty while Fhimah was acquitted and returned home.

In 2008, Libya reached an agreement with the US to establish a process for resolving claims by American citizens and companies against the Libyan government, thanks in part to the Libyan Claims Resolution Act (LCRA), a bill sponsored by then-Senator Joe Biden.

The LCRA was passed following the settlement reached between the Libyan government and the families of the victims, which included a payment of $2.7 billion.

Al-Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence officer, was the sole individual to be convicted in connection with the Lockerbie bombing. Despite maintaining his innocence, he was sentenced to 27 years in prison and ultimately served only seven before being released on compassionate grounds due to terminal illness. He died in Libya in 2012.

In 2020, US Attorney General William Barr announced new charges against a former Libyan intelligence operative, Abu Agela Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi, for his role in building the bomb that killed 270 people.

Earlier this month, US law enforcement officials confirmed Al-Marimi was in custody for his alleged role in Pan Am Flight 103.

"The United States lawfully took custody of Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi and brought him to the United States where he faces charges for his alleged involvement in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103," the White House said in a statement on Dec 14.

Libya has no extradition agreement with the US and details about the handover remain unknown. (...)

It took the Libyan government three days to admit its role in the extradtion, causing hundreds of Libyans, including Al-Marimi's family, to protest condemning the prime minister.

Abdulmonem Al-Marimi, nephew and spokesperson of Masud’s family told The Associated Press that "everyone knows that this thing must be done according to Libyan laws, but unfortunately the government handed him over, bypassing all Libyan laws.”

"Our demand is from the Attorney General that we hope that he will take measures regarding the Prime Minister [Abdul Hamid Dbeibah], who admitted and said that he's the ones who extradited him,”Al-Marimi added.

If the possibility of extraditing al-Senussi to Washington arises, "there is concern that his supporters, who hold significant sway in sensitive areas of Libya such as the oil fields and water resources in the south, could cause unrest in the country," Belgasem said.

This concern is supported by the fact that al-Senussi's family has twice disrupted the water supply for over 2 million people in the city of Tripoli, once over the kidnapping of al-Senussi's daughter and the other when the family attempted to secure his release.

Political analyst Salah Al-Bakoush, however, told VOA that might not happen this time around and if it did, "General Khalifa Haftar controls the south, so the US could push him not to allow al-Sanussi's family to create any trouble in that region."

Al-Bakoush also said al-Senussi's extradition to Washington is "highly unlikely" at least until the public outrage over the extradition of Al-Marimi subsides.

Friday, 23 December 2022

Libya aborted plan to hand Gaddafi spy chief to US at last minute

[This is the headline over a report in today's edition of The Guardian. It reads in part:]

Extradition of Abdullah al-Senussi over Lockerbie bombing would have closely followed that of Mohammed Abouagela Masud

The extradition to the US of Muammar Gaddafi’s most trusted and notorious aide was abruptly halted by Libya at the 11th hour this week for fear of public anger after the handover of another ex-senior Libyan intelligence operative, officials in Tripoli have told the Guardian.

Abdullah al-Senussi, a former intelligence chief and brother-in-law of Gaddafi, is blamed for a series of lethal bombings directed at western aviation as well as other targets.

The US want the 72-year-old, currently held in prison in Tripoli, to answer questions connected to the attack which brought down a US-bound aircraft over Lockerbie in Scotland in 1988. Senussi has long been suspected of masterminding the operation, which killed 270 people.

Earlier this month the US announced that another Libyan suspect in the Lockerbie bombing, Mohammed Abouagela Masud, was in its custody. Masud was taken from his Tripoli home by armed men on 17 November, held for two weeks by a militia and then handed over to US government agents in the port city of Misrata.

His family said he had been unlawfully abducted. In a statement on Tuesday, the US embassy in Libya said the process had been “lawful and conducted in cooperation with Libyan authorities”.

The handover of Masud has provoked outrage in Libya, putting the government of interim prime minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh under severe pressure and leading to the shelving of plans to transfer Senussi to US custody.

“The idea was to have Masud sent to the US first and then give them Senussi. There have been discussions for months about this. But then officials got worried,” said one Libyan official source with knowledge of the case. A second said Senussi was meant to be handed over at the weekend.

Known as “the butcher”, Senussi is being held in the Rawawa prison in Tripoli and is thought to be in ill health. He was sentenced to death in a mass trial that concluded in 2015.

Senussi was considered Gaddafi’s most trusted aide. (...)

The effort to secure the transfer of Masud and Senussi was launched under Donald Trump’s administration but has been revived over the last nine months through discussions between US officials and the Libyan government, the sources said.

In August an agreement about the transfer of Senussi and Masud was reached with Dbeibeh. Dbeibeh’s mandate expired last December and he has a clear incentive to win favour with the US, analysts say.

As Senussi is currently behind bars, a transfer by Libya to the US would have been administratively more straightforward than that of Masud, who was detained without a warrant by militia loyal to a commander accused of systematic human rights abuses.

“This is a completely different case,” said one Libyan official.

Senussi is also a widely reviled figure in Libya, and cannot be portrayed as a pawn simply following orders, as Masud has been by his supporters.

In the early 1980s, while Senussi ran Gaddafi’s internal security services, many opponents of the regime were killed in Libya and overseas. Libyans hold him responsible for the 1996 massacre of about 1,200 inmates at the Abu Salim prison while a court in France convicted him in absentia in 1999 for his role in the 1989 bombing of a passenger plane over Niger that killed 170 people.

Senussi, then head of Libya’s external security organisation, has long been accused of recruiting and managing Abdel-Baset al-Megrahi, the man convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. (...) [RB: In August 2011 The Wall Street Journal published a letter from Megrahi to Senussi that was found in the latter's archives after the fall of the Gaddafi regime. Megrahi wrote "I am an innocent man" and blamed his conviction on "fraudulent information that was relayed to investigators by Libyan collaborators".]

Successive Libyan governments insisted on prosecuting Senussi on home soil. The ICC decided in 2013 that as Libya had put Senussi on trial it would halt its own proceedings against him. The former intelligence chief was eventually condemned to death in July 2015 in a process that was severely criticised by human rights campaigners.

It is unclear if the transfer of Senussi to the US has been shelved indefinitely, or merely postponed.

Alia Brahimi, an expert on Libya with the Atlantic Council, said the case demonstrated a tension between the demands of the law and the demands of justice.

“Senussi is suspected of a great many crimes and the possibility that he might answer for one of them, an act of mass murder no less, is extraordinary,” Brahimi said. “Any transfer would generate enormous controversy, whatever the circumstances, as did that of Masud, and rightly so. But the lasting story will be about the long arm of American justice, and it will be heard around the world.

“Successive transitional governments [in Libya] have struggled to hold members of the old regime accountable in a transparent and ordered way, because of the chaos which has prevailed since the revolution but also because of the continuing power of regime interest groups.”

The family of Senussi and tribes still loyal to him have threatened unrest if he is transferred to the US.

Thursday, 22 December 2022

What might a second Lockerbie trial look like?

[This is the headline over an article by Dr Mustafa Fetouri just published on the website of the Middle East Monitor. It reads in part:]

Libyan Abu Agila Muhammad Mas'ud Kheir Al-Marimi will appear for the second time before a federal court in Washington DC next Tuesday where he will be told formally of the charges against him. Mas'ud first appeared in court eight days ago after he was kidnapped from his bedroom in Tripoli on 12 December. The US law enforcement agencies colluded with a notorious local militia to snatch the old man and take him to America.

In his first appearance in court the suspect refused to talk to the judge because he claimed that he did not have a lawyer. It was reported that he rejected the lawyer appointed by the court to represent him. His family is working to provide their own lawyer.

The 71 year old will face charges relating to his alleged part in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing in which 270 people were killed when Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over the Scottish town of Lockerbie. (...)

The US has always insisted on trying the Lockerbie case in its own courts but it failed to get access to the suspects as Libya refused to hand over its citizens to the Americans. After a decade of negotiations and political wrangling by the late Nelson Mandela and others, it was agreed to have the trial in Camp Zeist, in the Netherlands.

Today, 34 years later, the US appears to have its long-awaited Lockerbie bombing trial, the second in a case that is not only very old but also very complicated.

So what might second Lockerbie trial look like in a US court? What are the chances of Mas'ud being found guilty or acquitted? Furthermore, what will be the implications of the verdict on the whole case, particularly on the conviction of the late al-Megrahi whose lawyer, Aamer Anwar, has been trying to overturn his conviction, posthumously, since 2014 without success? Will Mas'ud's defence be able to convince the American jury that his client had nothing to do with the bomb that destroyed the doomed flight?

The US prosecutors have to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, many things. For a start they have to establish a link between Mas'ud and the bomb in the first place and that he did, indeed, make the bomb that brought down Pan Am Flight 103 on 21 December 1988. The US alleges that he confessed to this in 2012 while being interrogated in Libya's notorious Al-Hadba Prison, south of Tripoli. Many question if such a confession is admissible in court given the conditions in which it was extracted. Former US Attorney General William Barr insisted recently that the confession is admissible in a US federal court. He even called for the death penalty if Mas'ud is convicted after prosecutors said that they will not seek capital punishment.

Al-Hadba has a terrible reputation. In 2015, Human Rights Watch questioned the methods used to interrogate detainees, including senior former Gaddafi officials, one of whom was Gaddafi's son Saad. A Tripoli-based legal expert who requested anonymity said, "Only a kangaroo court might accept anything let alone a confession from Al-Hadba Prison."

Moreover, to get a conviction, US prosecutors must convince the jury that it was a bomb made by Mas'ud, and no other device, that destroyed the Boeing 747 Jumbo jet on that cold evening as it flew at 31,000 feet. The prosecution apparently rests on the US allegation that Mas'ud handed over a Samsonite suitcase containing the bomb to Fhima, who dropped it into the Pan Am Flight 103 luggage feeder at Luga Airport in Malta. Proving that Mas'ud was in Malta on 21 December 1988 might be easy, but proving that he actually took the explosive-laden suitcase and handed it over to Fhima is a difficult one. Any evidence presented here will be circumstantial as there are no witnesses to testify to seeing Fhima and Mas'ud at the airport or anywhere else in Malta 34 years ago.

One expert on the case, Scottish law Professor Robert Black, told me that he thinks the "crux of the case" against Mas'ud will be whether it "can be proved beyond reasonable doubt" that he manufactured the bomb that destroyed the aircraft. This would lead to issues connected with the timer alleged to have been used to detonate the bomb. Tiny fragments of that timer were, allegedly, found among the wreckage in a field almost a year after the disaster. More evidence emerged after the first trial in Camp Zeist, though, suggesting that that "evidence" was planted by US investigators to frame Libya. According to George Thompson, a private investigator who worked on the case, the type of timer said to have been used in the bomb was not in production in 1988.

The third issue is that the US prosecutors have to explain, convincingly, how and where the bomb got into the luggage hold area of the Boeing 747. The 34-year-old official US narrative is that the suitcase with the bomb inside came from Malta and was fed into Pan Am Flight 103A at Frankfurt Airport in Germany. The plane then left for London Heathrow Airport ... However, since the 2001 trial more evidence and testimonies have emerged challenging that theory.

Mas'ud's best chance of acquittal or getting a lenient sentence rests on his defence team's ability to reopen the entire Lockerbie issue. For any trial to be fair it must consider the Lockerbie bombing as a single case and the US should not cherry-pick what it likes to advance in its line of argument.

I believe that it should be an international court that tries Mas'ud, not a US federal court. The late Nelson Mandela, who mediated between the US, Britain and Libya to arrange the 2001 trial, once said, "No one country should be complainant, prosecutor and judge." However, that is exactly what the US is in Mas'ud's case. Is that fair? And does it mean that his chance of a fair trial is very, very small indeed?

So what might a second Lockerbie trial look like? A "kangaroo court" perhaps?

[RB: I am not an American lawyer, but in my view the precise mechanism whereby the bomb got onto Pan Am 103 won't loom large in the US trial. As I understand it, under the relevant Federal legislation (see US Department of Justice outlines allegations against Masudall the prosecution has to prove is (a) that Masud made the bomb (b) that he knew it would be planted on an aircraft and (c) that his bomb was so planted and led to the destruction of Pan Am 103. Proving precisely how to device got onto the aircraft would not be essential to getting a conviction. Establishing Masud's guilt does not require proof of how his bomb got onto the plane, whether via Malta, Frankfurt or Heathrow ingestion.

I think the crux of the case will be whether it can be proved beyond reasonable doubt that it was a Libyan bomb, manufactured by Masud, that brought the plane down. So the evidence that has emerged since Zeist about the metallurgy of the fragment of circuit board alleged to have formed part of the bomb timer will be vital: Lockerbie: Bomb trigger or clever fake?]

Tuesday, 20 December 2022

A new chapter in Lockerbie bombing horror story

[This is part of the headline over a long report just published on the Arab News website. It reads in part:]

For some, the arrest last week of a Libyan man charged with having made the bomb that downed the jumbo jet over Lockerbie on Dec 21, 1988, offers the prospect of long overdue justice for the 270 victims of the disaster and their families.

For others, though, confidence in the judicial system and the joint US-Scottish investigation that has led to the latest arrest was shaken long ago by uncertainties that continue to hang over the trial and conviction in May 2000 of another Libyan, Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi, who in 2001 was found guilty of carrying out the bombing. (...)

Last week, 71-year-old Abu Agila Mohammad Masud Kheir Al-Marimi, an alleged former intelligence officer for the regime of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, appeared in a US court accused of being the bombmaker.

It is a stunning development in a case which, for many relatives of the dead, has never been satisfactorily settled. Masud’s anticipated trial represents an unexpected opportunity for the many remaining doubts surrounding the Lockerbie disaster to be resolved once and for all.

Key among them is the suspicion, which has persisted for three decades, that the Libyans were falsely accused of a crime that was actually perpetrated by the Iranian regime.

Iran certainly had a motive. On July 3, 1988, five months before the bombing, Iran Air flight 655, an Airbus A300 carrying Iranian pilgrims bound for Makkah, had been shot down accidentally over the Strait of Hormuz by a US guided-missile cruiser, the Vincennes.

All 290 people on board were killed, including 66 children and 16 members of one family, who had been traveling to Dubai for a wedding.

In 1991, a subsequently declassified secret report from within the US Defense Intelligence Agency made it clear that from the outset Iran was the number-one suspect.

Ayatollah Mohtashemi, a former Iranian interior minister, was “closely connected to the Al-Abas and Abu Nidal terrorist groups,” it read.

He had “recently paid $10 million in cash and gold to these two organizations to carry out terrorist activities and ... paid the same amount to bomb Pam Am flight 103, in retaliation for the US shoot-down of the Iranian Airbus.”

The evidence implicating Iran piled up. It emerged that two months before the bombing, German police had raided a cell of the terror group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command and seized a bomb hidden in a Toshiba cassette player, just like the one that would be used to blow up Pan Am flight 103.

Yet in November 1991 it was two Libyan intelligence operatives, Abdel Baset Ali Al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, who were charged with the murders. The case against them was circumstantial at best.

After years of negotiations with Qaddafi’s government, the two men were eventually handed over to be tried in a specially convened Scottish court in the Netherlands. Their trial began in May 2000, and on Jan 31, 2001, Al-Megrahi was found guilty and Fhimah was acquitted.

The crown’s case was that an unaccompanied suitcase containing the bomb had been carried on an Air Malta flight from Luqa Airport in Malta to Frankfurt. There, it was transferred to a Pan Am aircraft to London, where it was loaded onto flight 103.

Inside the suitcase, wrapped in clothing, was the Toshiba cassette player containing the bomb.

A small part of a printed circuit board, believed to be from the bomb timer, was found in the wreckage, along with a fragment of a piece of clothing. This was traced to a store in Malta where the owner, Tony Gauci, told police he remembered selling it to a Libyan man.

Gauci, who died in 2016, was the prosecution’s main witness, but from the outset there were serious doubts about his evidence. He was interviewed 23 times by Scottish police before he finally identified Al-Megrahi — and only then after seeing the wanted man’s photograph in a newspaper article naming him as a suspect.

In their judgment, even the three Scottish judges conceded that “on the matter of identification of the … accused, there are undoubtedly problems.”

Worse, in 2007 Scottish newspaper The Herald claimed that the CIA had offered Gauci $2 million to give evidence in the case.

Another part of the prosecution’s case was that the fingernail-sized fragment of circuit board found in the wreckage, believed to have been part of the timer that triggered the bomb, matched a batch of timers supplied to Libya by a Swiss company in 1985.

However, the company insisted the timer on the aircraft had not been supplied to Libya, and in 2007 its CEO claimed that he had been offered $4 million by the FBI to say that it had.

Many have denounced the trial as a sham, suggesting that Qaddafi agreed to surrender Al-Megrahi and Fhimah, accept responsibility for the attack and pay compensation to the families of the victims, only because the US promised that the sanctions that had been imposed on Libya would be eased.

After Al-Megrahi’s appeal against his conviction was rejected in March 2002, one of the independent UN observers assigned to the case as a condition of Libya’s cooperation condemned what he called the “spectacular miscarriage of justice.”

Professor Hans Köchler said that he was “not convinced at all that the sequence of events that led to this explosion of the plane over Scotland was as described by the court. Everything that is presented is only circumstantial evidence.”

It remains to be seen what evidence will be presented in the upcoming trial of Masud.

Reports say that he was released only last year from prison in Libya, having been jailed for a decade for his part in the government of Qaddafi, who was overthrown in 2011.

Last week, Libya’s Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah said that his government had handed Masud over to the Americans.

“An arrest warrant was issued against him from Interpol,” he said on Dec 16. “It has become imperative for us to cooperate in this file for the sake of Libya’s interest and stability.”

As Dbeibah put it, Libya “had to wipe the mark of terrorism from the Libyan people’s forehead.”

From the very beginning, one of the strongest advocates for the innocence of Al-Megrahi was Jim Swire, a British doctor whose daughter Flora died in the bombing on the eve of her 24th birthday. Now 86, Swire has spent the past three decades campaigning tirelessly to expose what he believes was a miscarriage of justice.

Al-Megrahi, suffering from prostate cancer, was released from prison on compassionate grounds in 2009. Shortly before his death in Libya in 2012, he was visited in his sick bed by Swire, who in an interview last year recalled Al-Megrahi’s last words to him: “I am going to a place where I hope soon to see Flora. I will tell her that her father is my friend.”

Last week, Swire called for the trial of Masud not to be held in the US or Scotland.

“There are so many loose ends that hang from this dreadful case, largely emanating from America, that I think we should … seek a court that is free of being beholden to any nation directly involved in the atrocity itself,” he said.

“What we’ve always been after amongst the British relatives is the truth, and not a fabrication that might seem to be replacing the truth.”

Sunday, 18 December 2022

"Even a facade of legality was not maintained"

[What follows is excerpted from a report headlined US accused of illegal abduction of Lockerbie bomb suspect from Libya published in today's edition of The Observer:]

The abduction of a former Libyan intelligence operative accused of preparing the bomb that brought down Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 and his transfer into US custody raises concerns about a renewed willingness in Washington to flout international law to hunt alleged terrorist fugitives.

The family of Mohammed Abouagela Masud, who appeared in a US courtroom last week, have described how the 71-year-old was “kidnapped” from his home in Tripoli’s Abu Salem neighbourhood around 1am on 17 November by armed gunmen sent by a notorious local militia commander. He was then held by another militia for two weeks before being handed over to US agents.

The case recalls the excesses of the “war on terror” which saw dozens of so-called renditions – clandestine, illegal transfers of suspects by US intelligence services.

Abdel Moneim al-Muraimi, Masud’s nephew, told the Observer that his uncle had been unlawfully abducted. “We have filed a complaint with the attorney general’s office and demanded an investigation of the people who kidnapped him and those who handed him over. We want them to face justice. This is an assault on a citizen in his home,” al-Muraimi said. (...)

Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said: “We have long called for accountability for crimes [including the Lockerbie attack] under international law but this has to be done in a manner that respects due process and upholds fair trial rights. In this case even a facade of legality was not maintained … there was no hearing for [Masud] to challenge the lawfulness of his detention and transfer.”

The exact legal justification for the transfer of Masud is unclear. Libya does not have an extradition treaty with the US, no court is known to have considered any request from Washington nor from the government of Libya, and there is no record of any warrant issued for Masud’s detention. Libyan officials have cited an Interpol warrant.

“This is clearly illegal under Libyan law. It was very obviously an extraordinary rendition contrary to international law,” said Jason Pack, author of Libya and the Global Enduring Disorder. But in a televised broadcast on Thursday evening, Libya’s prime minister, Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, said Masud’s extradition was lawful and his government was cooperating with an “international judicial framework to extradite accused citizens”.

Libyan officials with knowledge of the case told the Observer that Masud was seized by gunmen loyal to Abdel Ghani al-Kikli, known as “Gheniwa”, an infamous local militia commander who controls the capital’s poor, crowded Abu Salem neighbourhood.

“Several armed vehicles filled with armed men arrived at his house … and kidnapped him. My father and my uncle’s other brothers live on the same street so we went out to see what was going on, but they threatened us with weapons. It was terrorism, real terrorism,” said al-Muraimi.

Al-Kikli has been accused of human rights abuses. Amnesty has documented disappearances, torture and unlawful killings while a UN report earlier this year described “beating by guards, denial of medical care, starvation and enslavement practices” by al-Kikli’s militia at a migrant detention centre west of Tripoli.

Libyan sources in Tripoli said Donald Trump’s administration officials had been in discussions with local authorities about bringing Masud to the US to stand trial since 2019. These “conversations” had continued under Joe Biden.

In July, powerful individuals within the Tripoli-based Government of National Unity (GNU) contacted US government officials and offered to hand Masud over despite his recent release from prison. The 71-year-old had been serving a 10-year sentence for crimes while an intelligence operative under the regime of Muammar Gaddafi, who was ousted in 2011,

After being abducted from his home, Masud was transferred to a heavily armed paramilitary unit called the Joint Force in the port city of Misrata. The Joint Force was set up a year ago by Dbeibeh to act as a personal praetorian guard and has been accused of human rights abuses, including an extra-judicial execution earlier this year, torture, arbitrary detention and forced disappearances.

After around 10 days in Misrata, Masud called his family who were allowed to visit him in a militia base. “They said, ‘Don’t worry about him, we are taking care of him and will not hand him over’,” al-Muraimi, told the Observer. Two weeks later, US officials collected Masud and flew their captive to Malta on a secret flight and then on to the US, Libyan officials said. (...)

Dbeibeh’s mandate expired last December and he may have hoped to win favour from the Biden administration by giving Masud to the US.

Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, said last week that Masud had been brought to the US “in a lawful manner according to established procedures”. But Amnesty’s Eltahawy said that relying on “commanders of abusive militias and armed groups … for law enforcement or special operations only further entrenches their power and emboldens them to commit further horrific crimes”.

Masud’s relatives are concerned about the health of an “old, sick man”. “As a family, we have been in complete shock. We did not expect this to happen at all,” al-Muraimi said.

Thursday, 15 December 2022

Magnus at it again

[What follows is excerpted from an article by Magnus Linklater headlined A chance to challenge Lockerbie conspiracy theories published in today's edition of The Times:]

Suspect’s extradition to the US represents a pivotal moment in a case that has long been dogged by doubt

For those who have followed the tortuous Lockerbie trail, this is a key moment, the first chance to test not just Masud’s involvement but to challenge the long list of conspiracy theories that have dogged the case since the outset. It is almost conventional wisdom to argue that the one man convicted of the bombing, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, was innocent; that Libya had nothing to do with the attack and that agencies on both sides of the Atlantic conspired to fix the evidence so as to shift blame away from the most likely perpetrators, a Palestinian terrorist group sponsored by Iran.

Many thousands of words have been devoted to sustaining a sequence of events that has US intelligence agents planting or altering a bomb fragment to implicate Libya, then coaching a Maltese witness into identifying Megrahi as the man who came into his shop in December 1988 to buy clothing later used to wrap the bomb. So dodgy was the witness and so conflicting his evidence, say Megrahi’s defenders, that the charge against him is unsustainable and the Scottish judges and lawyers who convicted him are guilty of a miscarriage of justice.

As with all conspiracy theories, this one requires a massive suspension of disbelief. Not just the falsifying of evidence, or the manipulation of a witness, but the number of people who would have to know about it yet have remained silent — intelligence agents and detectives on both sides of the Atlantic, Scottish lawyers and judges, bomb specialists and other technicians — a rogue’s gallery of experts, all subscribing to a lie.

There is one fact, however, that no conspiracy theory can quite explain. Present in Malta the day when, prosecutors say, the bomb was loaded on to a connecting flight from Luqa airport, was not only the Libyan intelligence officer Megrahi, but a shadowy figure who, like Megrahi, left the island later that day to return to Libya.

A long and detailed investigation to find out who was behind the attack was embarked upon by Ken Dornstein, an American film-maker whose brother died on Pan Am 103. His inquiries began with a bomb exploding in a Berlin nightclub in 1986, killing two US servicemen. Dornstein succeeded in identifying the man who made the bomb and was sent a picture from Libya that confirmed it. That man was Masud. His presence in Malta with Megrahi is confirmed by passport records. Later he appears as a blurred figure behind bars in a Libyan court, facing charges on a separate bombing offence. He is seen again, in the back of a car, among the welcoming party when Megrahi returns to Libya after release from a Scottish jail in 2009.

Those who claim Megrahi was wrongly convicted have a lot of explaining to do. Why, if he was innocent, was he in Malta with a known bomb-maker? And how did all those clever US agents manage to ensure the men they would later frame were in the right place at the right time? I am sure the conspiracy theorists will come up with an answer. It had better be good.

[Magnus Linklater has a long history of branding as conspiracy theorists those of us who remain unconvinced of the legal justification for the conviction of Abdelbaset Megrahi. The manifold replies to this repeated Linklater slur can be found here. His silence in response to challenges to answer the points raised in them is eloquent. Examples of such rebuttals by John Ashton and Dr Morag Kerr are to be found in Lockerbie and the claims of Magnus Linklater.]

Tuesday, 13 December 2022

US Department of Justice outlines allegations against Masud

[What follows is excerpted from a press release issued yesterday by the US Department of Justice:]

Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi (Mas’ud), 71, of Tunisia and Libya, made his initial appearance in the US District Court for the District of Columbia on federal charges, unsealed today, stemming from the Dec 21, 1988, civilian aircraft bombing that killed 270 people. The victims included 190 Americans, 43 citizens of the United Kingdom, including 11 people on the ground in Lockerbie, Scotland, and citizens from the following countries: Argentina, Belgium, Bolivia, Canada, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Philippines, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Trinidad and Tobago.

On Dec 21, 2020, the Department of Justice made public a criminal complaint charging Mas’ud with destruction of aircraft resulting in death, and destruction of a vehicle used in foreign commerce by means of an explosive resulting in death. The United States subsequently requested the publication of an INTERPOL Red Notice – as is typical in cases involving foreign fugitives – requesting all INTERPOL member countries to locate and arrest the defendant for the purpose of his extradition or lawful return to the United States to face the charges. On Nov 29, 2022, a federal grand jury formally indicted Mas’ud on the same charges contained in the criminal complaint. That indictment was unsealed today.

From the time the tragic events occurred in 1988 through the present, the United States and Scotland have jointly pursued justice for all the victims of the Pan Am 103 bombing. The partnership will continue throughout the prosecution of Mas’ud.

“Nearly 34 years ago, 270 people, including 190 Americans, were tragically killed in the terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. Since then, American and Scottish law enforcement have worked tirelessly to identify, find, and bring to justice the perpetrators of this horrific attack. Those relentless efforts over the past three decades led to the indictment and arrest of a former Libyan intelligence operative for his alleged role in building the bomb used in the attack,” said Attorney General Merrick B Garland. “The defendant is currently in US custody and is facing charges in the United States. This is an important step forward in our mission to honor the victims and pursue justice on behalf of their loved ones.”

“Today’s action is another crucial step in delivering justice for the victims of the senseless terrorist attack on Pan Am Flight 103,” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa O Monaco. “Our thoughts are with the victims’ families, whose tireless work to honor the lives and legacies of their loved ones has inspired the Department of Justice and our Scottish partners throughout our investigation for the last 34 years. Let this be a reminder that the men and women of the Department of Justice will never forget the loss of innocent lives or waver in our commitment to holding terrorists accountable – no matter how long it takes.” (...)

Planning and Executing the Bombing of Pan Am Flight 103

The December 2020 criminal complaint alleged that from approximately 1973 to 2011 Mas’ud worked for the External Security Organization (ESO), the Libyan intelligence service which conducted acts of terrorism against other nations, in various capacities including as a technical expert in building explosive devices. In the winter of 1988, Mas’ud was directed by a Libyan intelligence official to fly to Malta with a prepared suitcase. There he was met by Megrahi and Fhimah at the airport. Several days later, Megrahi and Fhimah instructed Mas’ud to set the timer on the device in the suitcase for the following morning, so that the explosion would occur exactly eleven hours later. Megrahi and Fhimah were both at the airport on the morning of Dec 21, 1988, and Mas’ud handed the suitcase to Fhimah after Fhimah gave him a signal to do so. Fhimah then placed the suitcase on the conveyor belt. Subsequently, Mas’ud boarded a Libyan flight to Tripoli scheduled to take off at 9:00 am.

According to the allegations in the complaint, three or four days after returning to Libya, Mas’ud and Megrahi met with a senior Libyan intelligence official, who thanked them for a successful operation. Approximately three months after that, Mas’ud and Fhimah met with then-Libyan leader Muamar Qaddafi, and others, who thanked them for carrying out a great national duty against the Americans, and Qaddafi added that the operation was a total success.

If convicted, Mas’ud faces a maximum penalty of life in prison. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the US Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

The FBI Washington Field Office is investigating the case along with prosecutors from the National Security Section of the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the Counterterrorism Section of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs and the US National Central Bureau provided valuable assistance in this matter. (...)

An indictment is merely an allegation, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

[RB: Here, for ease of reference, are the principal provisions of US Federal law that govern the charges brought against Abu Ajila Masud:]

18 US Code §32:

(a) Whoever willfully—

(1) sets fire to, damages, destroys, disables, or wrecks any aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States or any civil aircraft used, operated, or employed in interstate, overseas, or foreign air commerce;

(2) places or causes to be placed a destructive device or substance in, upon, or in proximity to, or otherwise makes or causes to be made unworkable or unusable or hazardous to work or use, any such aircraft, or any part or other materials used or intended to be used in connection with the operation of such aircraft, if such placing or causing to be placed or such making or causing to be made is likely to endanger the safety of any such aircraft; (...)

(8) attempts or conspires to do anything prohibited under paragraphs (1) through (7) of this subsection;

shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years or both.

18 US Code §34 - Penalty when death results:

Whoever is convicted of any crime prohibited by this chapter, which has resulted in the death of any person, shall be subject also to the death penalty or to imprisonment for life. [RB: The Department of Justice has announced that it will not be seeking the death penalty in the case  of Mr Masud.]

18 US Code §842:

(p)(2) Prohibition.—It shall be unlawful for any person—

(A) to teach or demonstrate the making or use of an explosive, a destructive device, or a weapon of mass destruction, or to distribute by any means information pertaining to, in whole or in part, the manufacture or use of an explosive, destructive device, or weapon of mass destruction, with the intent that the teaching, demonstration, or information be used for, or in furtherance of, an activity that constitutes a Federal crime of violence; or

(B) to teach or demonstrate to any person the making or use of an explosive, a destructive device, or a weapon of mass destruction, or to distribute to any person, by any means, information pertaining to, in whole or in part, the manufacture or use of an explosive, destructive device, or weapon of mass destruction, knowing that such person intends to use the teaching, demonstration, or information for, or in furtherance of, an activity that constitutes a Federal crime of violence.

18 US Code §844

(a) Any person who—

(1) violates any of subsections (a) through (i) or (l) through (o) of section 842 shall be fined under this title, imprisoned for not more than 10 years, or both; and

(2) violates subsection (p)(2) of section 842, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.

Monday, 12 December 2022

Masud "confession" states he was Malta clothes purchaser not Megrahi

[What follows is excerpted from a report published today in the Daily Record headlined Lawyer of only man convicted of Lockerbie bombing 'concerned' by arrest of suspect in US:]

The lawyer for the family of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the only man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, expressed concern over Masud’s arrest. (...)

Aamer Anwar said the arrest of Masud raises important questions over Megrahi’s conviction. Several victims’ families – but not all – believe it to be unsafe.

He said: “The United States claim that Masud’s confession to being involved in the conspiracy with Al-Megrahi to blow up Pan Am Flight 103, was ‘extracted’ by a ‘Libyan law enforcement agent’ in 2012, whilst in custody in a Libyan prison. What the US should have said was that Masud was actually in the custody of a war lord, widely condemned for human rights abuses and the circumstances in which such a confession was extracted would be strongly opposed in any US/Scottish court.

"The US criminal complaint against Masud states that he bought the clothes to put into the Samsonite suitcase that is claimed went on to blow up Pan Am Flight 103. The problem for the US department of justice is that the case against Megrahi is still based on the eyewitness testimony of Toni Gauci, stating that Megrahi bought the clothes.

“How can both Megrahi and Masud now be held responsible? In July this year, the UK Supreme Court rejected our leave to appeal seeking to overturn the conviction of the Scottish High Court which maintained Al-Megrahi was the bomber.

“Our legal team is in touch with the Libyan authorities but will also now consider what this means for the potential of any further miscarriage of justice appeal for Al-Megrahi. For the Megrahi family this is another piece in the jigsaw of lies, built on the back of the Libyan people, the victims of Lockerbie and the incarceration of an innocent man.”

Sunday, 11 December 2022

Lockerbie bombing suspect in US custody

[This is the headline over a report published today on the BBC News website. It reads in part:]

A Libyan man accused of making the bomb which destroyed Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie 34 years ago is in United States custody, Scottish authorities have said.

The US announced charges against Abu Agila Masud two years ago, alleging that he played a key role in the bombing on 21 December, 1988.

The blast on board the Boeing 747 left 270 people dead.

It is the deadliest terrorist incident to have taken place on British soil. (...)

Last month it was reported that Masud had been kidnapped by a militia group in Libya, leading to speculation that he was going to be handed over to the American authorities to stand trial.

In 2001 Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was convicted of bombing Pan Am 103 after standing trial at a specially-convened Scottish court in the Netherlands.

He was the only man to be convicted over the attack.

Megrahi was jailed for life but was released on compassionate grounds by the Scottish government in 2009 after being diagnosed with cancer.

He died in Libya in 2012. (...)

A spokesperson for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) said: "The families of those killed in the Lockerbie bombing have been told that the suspect Abu Agila Mohammad Mas'ud Kheir Al-Marimi ("Mas'ud" or "Masoud") is in US custody.

"Scottish prosecutors and police, working with UK government and US colleagues, will continue to pursue this investigation, with the sole aim of bringing those who acted along with Al Megrahi to justice."

[What follows is excerpted from a report just published on the website of The New York Times:]

The arrest of the operative, Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud, was the culmination of a decades-long effort by the Justice Department to prosecute him. In 2020, Attorney General William P Barr announced criminal charges against Mr Mas’ud, accusing him of building the explosive device used in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which killed 270 passengers, including 190 Americans.

Mr Mas’ud faces two criminal counts, including destruction of an aircraft resulting in death. He was being held at a Libyan prison for unrelated crimes when the Justice Department unsealed the charges against him two years ago. It is unclear how the US government negotiated the extradition of Mr Mas’ud.

Mr Mas’ud’s suspected role in the Lockerbie bombing received new scrutiny in a three-part documentary on “Frontline” on PBS in 2015. The series was written and produced by Ken Dornstein, whose brother was killed in the attack. Mr Dornstein learned that Mr Mas’ud was being held in a Libyan prison and even obtained pictures of him as part of his investigation. [RB: A critical commentary by John Ashton on the Dornstein documentary can be read here.] 

“If there’s one person still alive who could tell the story of the bombing of Flight 103, and put to rest decades of unanswered questions about how exactly it was carried out — and why — it’s Mr Mas’ud,” Mr Dornstein wrote in an email after learning Mr Mas’ud would finally be prosecuted in the United States. “The question, I guess, is whether he’s finally prepared to speak.”

After Col Muammar el-Qaddafi, Libya’s leader, was ousted from power, Mr Mas’ud confessed to the bombing in 2012, telling a Libyan law enforcement official that he was behind the attack. Once investigators learned about the confession in 2017, they interviewed the Libyan official who had elicited it, leading to charges.

Even though extradition would allow Mr Mas’ud to stand trial, legal experts have expressed doubts about whether his confession, obtained in prison in war-torn Libya, would be admissible as evidence.

Mr Mas’ud, who was born in Tunisia but has Libyan citizenship, was the third person charged in the bombing. Two others, Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi and Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah, were charged in 1991, but American efforts to prosecute them ran aground when Libya declined to send them to the United States or Britain to stand trial.

Instead, the Libyan government agreed to a trial in the Netherlands under Scottish law. Mr Fhimah was acquitted and Mr. al-Megrahi was convicted in 2001 and sentenced to life in prison. (...)

Prosecutors say that Mr Mas’ud played a key role in the bombing, traveling to Malta and delivering the suitcase that contained the bomb used in the attack. In Malta, Mr Megrahi and Mr Fhimah instructed Mr Mas’ud to set the timer on the device so it would blow up while the plane was in the air the next day, prosecutors said.

On the morning of Dec 21, 1988, Mr Megrahi and Mr Fhimah met Mr Mas’ud at the airport in Malta, where he turned over the suitcase. Prosecutors said Mr Fhimah put the suitcase on a conveyor belt, ultimately ending up on Pan Am Flight 103.

Mr Mas’ud’s name surfaced twice in 1988, even before the bombing took place. In October, a Libyan defector told the CIA he had seen Mr Mas’ud at the Malta airport with Mr Megrahi, saying the pair had passed through on a terrorist operation. Malta served as a primary launching point for Libya to initiate such attacks, the informant told the agency. That December, the day before the Pan Am bombing, the informant told the CIA that the pair had again passed through Malta. Nearly another year passed before the agency asked the informant about the bombing.

But investigators never pursued Mr Mas’ud in earnest until Mr Megrahi’s trial years later, only for the Libyans to insist that Mr Mas’ud did not exist. Mr. Megrahi also claimed he did not know Mr Mas’ud.

Tuesday, 29 November 2022

Libyan tribe urges Prime Minister to release Lockerbie suspect

[What follows is excerpted from a report published yesterday on the Libya Review website:]

The tribe of the Libyan officer, who was previously linked to the Lockerbie case, has called on the Prime Minister of the Government of National Unity (GNU), Abdel-Hamid Dbaiba to “intervene immediately to release him, without restrictions or conditions.”

The Maraima tribe demanded in a statement that Dbaiba “not involve the name of Abu Ajila Masoud in the Lockerbie case again.”

The tribe called for “the release of Abu Ajila after he was kidnapped by an unknown party on the background of the Lockerbie case.” It held the kidnapping party “legally and morally responsible,” and urged “the tribes and the Libyan people to work for Abu Ajila’s release.”

Earlier this month, the Libyan National Security Adviser, Ibrahim Bushnaf warned against deliberately raising the issue of the Lockerbie Case.

In press remarks on Friday, Bushnaf warned that if the Lockerbie case was raised again and criminal investigations were conducted, Libya would enter into decades of lawlessness. (...) Bushnaf’s statements came amid current allegations that Libya could hand over Abu Ajila. Local media reported that Abu Ajila was “kidnapped” by government-affiliated forces, and likely he will be handed over to the US.

“Before US President Donald Trump left the White House, the then US Attorney General, William Barr, raised the (Lockerbie) case. At that time, reports alleged that Barr was calling on the Libyan authorities to extradite Abu Ajila,” Bushnaf said.

On 6 February 2021, Libyan Foreign Minister, Najla Al-Mangoush expressed her willingness to cooperate with the United States to extradite Abu Ajila. She quickly retracted her statements, claiming that she “did not mention that text,” and that she was answering a question about the Lockerbie case.

[An article yesterday on The Reference website contains the following:]

The file of the downing of a passenger plane over Lockerbie in Scotland continues to haunt Libyan authorities.

This is especially true with the (...) Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh government planning to extradite the last defendant in the case to the United States.

Washington had repeatedly called for this extradition, even as Libya had paid tens of billions of dollars in compensation under late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Some Libyans are warning, meanwhile, against reopening the file of the plane.

This, they say, may force Libya to pay new compensation for the families of the victims of the plane downing.

The last defendant in the case, Bouajila Massoud, was kidnapped from his home in Tripoli by militias affiliated with Abdul Ghani al-Kakli [more commonly "Kikli"], a military commander loyal to the Dbeibeh government.

Massoud's kidnappers escorted him to an unknown location.

This development caused widespread anger, and several warnings against reopening this file, which may lead to forcing Libya to pay new compensation to the families of the victims and their countries.

Despite calls for disclosing the place where Massoud is kept and his release, the authorities in Tripoli did not make any response.

They only ruled out plans to negotiate over the Lockerbie file again.

Massoud, a former Libyan intelligence officer, was imprisoned after the downfall of the Gaddafi regime.

He was convicted on charges unrelated to the Lockerbie issue.