[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.
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