Showing posts sorted by date for query Masud. Sort by relevance Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by date for query Masud. Sort by relevance Show all posts

Sunday 12 May 2024

Britain rejected secret deal to prosecute Lockerbie bomber in Ireland

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

Officials feared Irish courts were ‘soft on terrorism’ and more likely to acquit Libyan agent Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi, previously classified papers reveal

Britain rejected a secret deal to put the Lockerbie bomber on trial in Dublin amid suggestions that Ireland was “soft on terrorism” and more likely to acquit him, it has emerged.

Previously classified diplomatic documents disclose that Colonel Gaddafi, the Libyan dictator, expressed a willingness to hand over Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi to the Irish authorities.

The US and British governments maintained that al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence agent, was responsible for the bombing in December 1988 which led to the deaths of 270 people when Pan Am flight 103 exploded over Scotland.

Gaddafi refused to hand him and fellow suspect Lamin Khalifa Fhimah to the authorities in Washington or Edinburgh, leading to years of sanctions and negotiations.

Albert Reynolds, the Irish prime minister, met John Major, his British counterpart, in an attempt to broker a deal to end the stalemate.

However, Downing Street ruled the proposal was too risky after a senior diplomat claimed Irish courts were prone to making “inexplicable” decisions and raised fears that any hearing would be targeted by terrorists.

Gaddafi, who ruled Libya from 1969 when he seized power until he was overthrown and murdered in 2011, was outspoken in his support for the IRA. (...)

Previously unpublished documents from 1994, seen by The Sunday Times, have been opened and placed at the National Archives at Kew.

One, written by Sir Roderic Lyne, Major’s private secretary, confirms for the first time that a clandestine Anglo-Irish summit took place.

“During the tete-a-tete conversation between the prime minister and the taoiseach on May 26, the latter surfaced a Libyan proposal to hold the Lockerbie trial in Ireland,” he wrote.

A handwritten addendum states: “Ireland would be preferable to Canada. But given the Provisional IRA connection a trial there would be piquant to say the least!”

The following month John Dew, deputy head of mission at the UK embassy in Dublin, said the proposal posed unacceptable risks and raised particular concerns about the possibility of al-Megrahi being cleared by a sympathetic Irish court.

“This should not be taken lightly,” he wrote. “Irrespective of the independence of the Irish judiciary — and we all know of some strange rulings in the past — an acquittal would have major implications for Anglo-Irish relations.

“Our public opinion would inevitably interpret it as confirmation that Ireland was soft on terrorism.

“Her Majesty’s government would face serious questioning about why it had allowed the trial to take place in Ireland in view of inexplicable and unpredictable past rulings.” (...)

A separate memo written in the same month by UK Foreign Office civil servants said Reynolds’s suggestion should be taken seriously.

“A trial in Ireland would have some distinct attractions; it is a compatible legal system, it is nearby and it is not a realm or even in the Commonwealth,” it said.

“A number of Irish citizens were on board flight Pan Am 103. It seems that trial in Ireland might be acceptable, both to the Irish government and Libya.

“However, in view of the Provisional IRA connection it would be a more controversial venue than, for example, Australia.”

The British government ultimately rejected the Irish offer, along with an invitation from Nelson Mandela months later for a trial to take place in South Africa.

Eventually, the Libyan suspects went on trial in May 2000 in a Scottish court set up in a former US air base in the Netherlands.

After eight months Lord Cullen, the presiding judge, pronounced a guilty verdict on al-Megrahi. [RB: The presiding judge was actually Lord Sutherland. Lord Cullen presided over the 2001 appeal at Camp Zeist.]

He was sentenced to 27 years in a Scottish prison but released on compassionate grounds while terminally ill in 2009.

He maintained his innocence until his death in 2012 and his family are still fighting to have his conviction overturned.

Fhimah was found not guilty and returned to Libya.

More than three decades on, another man who is suspected of building the bomb that downed Pan Am flight 103 is being prosecuted in the US.

A court in Washington DC fixed a date of May 12, 2025, for the trial of Abu Agila Mohammad Masud, a Libyan citizen who maintains he is not guilty.

In 2018 relatives of Lockerbie victims told The Times that they had been repeatedly bugged by the security services after official documents suggested that they needed “careful watching”.

The Rev John Mosey, a church minister who lost his teenage daughter Helga in the atrocity, said that after speaking publicly his phone calls were often disrupted and documents relating to the bombing had gone missing from his computer.

Jim Swire, an English GP who lost his daughter Flora and became the public face of the campaign to secure an independent inquiry into the atrocity, reported similar intrusions and deliberately included false information in private correspondence, only for it to appear in the press days later.

The claims were corroborated by Hans Köchler, an Austrian academic appointed by the United Nations to be an independent observer at the Netherlands trial, who alleged that data had been taken from his computers.

Saturday 17 February 2024

Jim Swire is a force of nature

[What follows is excerpted from a report published yesterday evening on the website of The Sun:]

Retired GP Jim Swire is a force of nature – a man with balls of steel.

His search for justice after his daughter was murdered in the Lockerbie bombing has been so intense that at times he has put his own life in danger.

The 87-year-old campaigner faced down the late “mad dog” Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s guards armed with AK-47s, sneaked a fake bomb on a plane to expose security flaws and fears he could be a target for Iranian assassins.

But 35 years after 270 people were murdered in the attack over Scotland, on the Pan Am passenger jet flying from London to New York, thoughts of his 23-year-old daughter Flora break his indomitable spirit.

When Jim tries to remember the last words he said to medical student Flora before she left to catch the plane, tears flood his eyes and we pause the interview.

We are speaking in the conservatory of his Cotswolds home because he hopes an upcoming TV drama about the terror bombing will create the same public outcry seen when ITV’s Mr Bates Vs The Post Office, starring Toby Jones highlighted the organisation’s IT scandal.

Oscar-winning actor Colin Firth will play Jim in the Sky series, Lockerbie, which is being filmed now. (...)

Apart from his grief — and bravery — there is also anger at the bungling officials who failed to stop the fateful bomb getting on to the Boeing 747 on December 21, 1988, at Heathrow Airport before it exploded shortly after 7pm. (...)

He tells The Sun: “I am satisfied Colin will do his utmost to portray someone who has been searching diligently for the truth in the name of the murder of his daughter and all those other people.” getting on to the Boeing 747 on December 21, 1988, at Heathrow Airport before it exploded shortly after 7pm. (...)

Jim, a BBC soundman turned GP, believes documents are still being withheld from relatives which could reveal either a cock-up in the investigation or a cover-up.

The worst terror atrocity ever to be visited upon the UK is still shrouded in mystery and controversy.

Only one person has been convicted of carrying out the attack — Libyan Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. His country-man Abu Agila Mohammad Masud is awaiting trial.

A call had been made to the US embassy in Finnish capital Helsinki warning that a bomb would be loaded on a Pan Am flight in Frankfurt, Germany, bound for Heathrow then New York.

That information was not passed on to regular travellers.

The threat should have been taken seriously because in October that year terrorists from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine — General Command were found with bombs in Neuss, Germany, designed to trigger once a plane reached a certain height. (...)

Understandably, Jim cannot hide his rage over this fatal delay. He says of the bomb: “It was in the baggage compartment, almost beneath the feet of my daughter and all of those innocent passengers. It exploded almost 48 hours from the warning having been passed on by the Department of Transport. Have we had an apology? No, we have not.

“Whatever you believe about Libya or all the rest of it, that’s where the explosion occurred, that was the warning they had and that was the way they handled it.

“If that doesn’t make a relative of anyone murdered in that atrocity angry, it bloody well should.” (...)

The late Paul Channon, Transport Secretary at the time, under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, denied there had been a security failure but lost his job.

In the wake of Lockerbie, airlines claimed far more stringent inspections of luggage were put in place.

Keen to put that promise to the test, Jim, who had explosives training during a stint of military service, built a replica of the Lockerbie bomb with the Semtex explosive replaced by marzipan.

He managed to get it past Heathrow’s security even though a member of security found the Toshiba tape recorder containing the fake device.

Jim recalls: “The lady who opened up the suitcase said, ‘Sir, have you taken out the batteries?’ and I said, ‘Yes’, and she put it back.

“That poor lady had not been trained in what might and might not be dangerous.”

The Lockerbie crime scene was the largest ever in UK history. (...)

Initially, the finger of suspicion pointed toward Iran, because it had close links to the PFLP-GC and its leaders had sworn revenge for the accidental shooting down of an Iranian passenger jet in July 1988 by a US warship.

Then the FBI investigation, carried out in unison with Dumfries and Galloway Police, pivoted instead toward Libya.

Detectives concluded that Libyan Arab Airlines security chief Al-Megrahi and his colleague Lamin Khalifah Fhimah were responsible for the atrocity. (...)

[F]ollowing pressure from sanctions, the two Libyan suspects were tried in Holland in 2000. As the trial went on Jim started to doubt they had been responsible for Flora’s murder. When Al-Megrahi was found guilty — although Fhimah was cleared and let go — he collapsed from shock.

Jim says: “My son sitting next to me in the courtroom thought that I had died.”

He now believes the late PFLP-GC leader Ahmed Jibril was the true mastermind of the horror that claimed his daughter’s life.

Jibril died of heart failure in July 2021 in Syrian capital Damascus, and Jim says: “I can’t conceal from you I am delighted he is dead.”

He suspects that Jibril’s ultimate paymasters were Iran’s security services.

Pointing the finger at Tehran’s murderous ayatollahs shows how fearless Jim is. He says: “It has often occurred to me that I might get bombed. The more the truth comes out the more possible it is that I might get killed by Iran for wanting revenge.

“It seems to me the direct line came from Iran.”

But Scottish judges have twice upheld the murder convictions of Al-Megrahi, who died from cancer in 2012.

Next year US prosecutors will bring Masud to trial, accusing him of making the bomb that destroyed Pan Am Flight 103.

Whatever any court decides, nothing will take away the pain from Jim and his wife Jane.

As Jim puts it: “When someone close to you in your family gets murdered, you get handed a life sentence.

“Jane and I will go to our graves still mourning the loss of Flora.”

Thursday 18 January 2024

MacAskill reiterates belief Megrahi involved at "low level"

[What follows is excerpted from a long article about former Cabinet Secretary for Justice Kenny MacAskill published on the website of Holyrood magazine on 15 January:]

MacAskill was perceived by some as a solid pair of hands in justice, to others as far too close to its institutions, but he came to global prominence in 2009 when he made the decision to release the so-called ‘Lockerbie bomber’, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, from prison on compassionate grounds so he could return to Libya to die having been diagnosed with prostate cancer.

MacAskill took sole responsibility for the controversial decision and delivered it to a specially recalled parliament with all the gravity of a Presbyterian minister giving a sermon. He said Megrahi faced a sentence imposed by a “higher power”, adding: “It is one that no court, in any jurisdiction, in any land, could revoke or overrule. It is terminal, final and irrevocable. He is going to die.”

It felt at the time that the decision to free Megrahi was a truly momentous one and that the eyes of the world were on Scotland. Opprobrium was heaped on the justice secretary from the relatives of the US victims of the bombing and political figures, including President Obama and the then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, spoke out against it. (...)

Almost 35 years to the day that Pan Am Flight 103 came down over Lockerbie, I ask MacAskill how heavy that decision had weighed on him.

“It didn’t, I just did what was my job to do,” he says, dismissively, in his distinctive sing-song tone. “I remember going to speak to special advisers when we found out Megrahi was ill and it was all agreed this would be my decision alone, you could lose a cabinet secretary, but you cannot lose the government. So that put a firewall around it in terms of the correct procedures. You also have to remember, it was actually a very short period of time because although he was diagnosed earlier, there was a frenetic summer that basically went, June, July, and that was it, it was over. (...)

“At the end of the day, I stand by the decision I made. I think history has proven that, and Abu Agila Masud is currently in a US prison having been charged with making the bomb. The only thing that continues to irritate me is those that view Megrahi as some, you know, Arab saint – he was involved. He was low level, he was the highest-ranking Libyan that the Libyans were prepared to hand over, and he was the lowest down the rung that the West was prepared to accept. But he was released following all the rules and guidance and on a point of principle. He lived longer than expected, which caused some difficulties, but equally, that was because he was getting treatment that we didn’t offer on the NHS and, more importantly, as everybody knows, if you’ve got a reason to live, then you do live longer, as opposed to being sad in a lonely prison cell on your own and you turn your face to the wall. I’ve seen that with family in hospital, they just decide life isn’t for them, and so that’s what happened. I have no doubts that the right decision was made, none.”

[RB: Kenny MacAskill's contention that Megrahi was involved in the Lockerbie bombing, albeit at a low level, has been advanced by him before. A detailed rebuttal can be found here: The unravelling of Kenny MacAskill ... and the case against Megrahi.]

Wednesday 27 December 2023

Masud's family says lawyer believes he can be acquitted

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

The family of Abu Ajila Masud al-Marimi, the Libyan citizen suspected in the Lockerbie case, said that the defense team tackling the case file reviewed its details and expressed satisfaction at the possibility of Masud's being found not guilty of the charges against him.

The family said in a press statement that the court postponed the ruling in the case until mid-2025, citing the short time to follow up on the case in detail, listen to witnesses, and inform the team of all the documents, announcing the final formation of the team to defend the case, awaiting the [disbursement] of its fees from the [Benghazi-based] government (...).

The Federal Court announced May 12, 2025, as the date for the trial of Abu Ajila, who faces three charges, including his participation in manufacturing the bomb that was on board the Pan Am plane that crashed in Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988.

Regarding Abu Ajila's health condition, the family indicated that the defense team will submit a request to the court to consider the possibility of transferring him to house arrest outside the prisons, as he suffers from chronic diseases.

Meanwhile, the American lawyer [Kobie Flowers] of Brown Goldstein [& Levy] visited Abu Ajila in prison and listened to his health conditions and his treatment inside the prison.

The family stated that the team will also submit a request, immediately after starting its work, for them to attend the trial session, similar to what the families of the plane victims requested, pointing out that the US Congress had passed a law allowing attendance at the sessions before the federal court rejected their request.

Tuesday 24 October 2023

Legal bid to give Lockerbie families access to Masud trial

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

US politicians are being asked to allow people from 21 countries to listen live to the second Lockerbie bombing trial.

A Libyan man is currently in US custody, accused of making the device that destroyed Pan Am 103 on 21 December, 1988.

Of the 270 victims, 190 were from the US, 43 from the UK and the remaining from 19 other nations.

American prosecutors say their families should have access to a phone line to allow them to follow the case.

Trials in US federal courts are not televised and a judge has previously ruled there is no legal basis for allowing such a move.

Abu Agila Masud was handed over to the US authorities in as yet unexplained circumstances in Libya in December 2022.

Appearing in a Washington court under his full name Abu Agila Mohammed Mas'ud Kheir Al-Marimi, the convicted bomb maker faces several charges, including destruction of an aircraft resulting in death.

He has entered a not guilty plea and so far no date for a trial has been set. (...)

Prosecutors from the US Department of Justice say many of the relatives of the victims are too old or infirm to travel to Washington to watch the court proceedings in person.

In their request to US lawmakers, they said: "This combination of advanced age and geographic distance and dispersion from Washington DC means that many victims face significant obstacles to obtain meaningful access to the court proceedings."

The application by the US prosecutors defines "victims" as anyone who suffered "direct or proximate harm" by the bombing, was present at or near the scene when it occurred or immediately afterwards, and their relatives.

On one view, that could include people in Lockerbie who witnessed the crash and its aftermath, along with members of the emergency services and military.

The American prosecutors also argue that the US investigation has involved international co-operation, in particular from police and the Crown Office in Scotland.

They are seeking statutory authority for the court to allow "remote video and telephone access" to preliminary evidential hearings and the trial itself.

Although video is mentioned, the application specifically requests the approval of a dedicated listen-only telephone line. (...)

The first Lockerbie trial took place at a specially-convened Scottish court sitting at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands. Relatives of the victims were able to watch via remote video feeds in Scotland and the US.

That case ended with the conviction of Abdulbasset al-Megrahi, who was found guilty of mass murder and jailed for life. (...) 

Scottish and American prosecutors alleged that the bombing was the work of the Libyan intelligence service and others were involved along with Megrahi.

The US justice department first announced criminal charges against Abu Agila Masud in December 2020.

They have alleged that he confessed to making the Lockerbie bomb after he was taken into custody following the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi's government in 2012.

Thursday 5 October 2023

Further preliminary steps in US prosecution of Abu Ajila Masud

The US Department of Justice has recently released the following information about the criminal proceedings in Washington DC against alleged Lockerbie bomb maker Abu Ajila Mohammad Mas'ud Kheir Al-Marimi:

"On September 29, 2023, the parties filed a joint status update, informing Judge Dabney L Friedrich of the status of discovery.  The  parties informed Judge Friedrich that the government had provided four productions to the defense and would shortly be providing a fifth, and that it was working on getting additional materials from Scotland and various countries.  The defense stated that it had received the discovery to date and was reviewing it. 

"On October 2, 2023, Judge Friedrich set a 'tentative' status hearing for December 15, 2023, at 1:00 pm in Courtroom 14.  At this point, we have no reason to believe that this status date will change, despite its 'tentative' status.  If it does change, we will notify you as soon as we are able to." 

Thursday 7 September 2023

Masud and "US counterterrorism's long arm of justice"

[What follows is excerpted from an article by Christopher P Costa headlined 9/11, Benghazi and US counterterrorism’s long arm of justice published yesterday on the website of The Hill, the house magazine of the United States Congress:]

Conventional wisdom in policymaking circles is that the US counterterrorism enterprise is nonpartisan. I agree. I saw firsthand how the Trump administration benefited from continuity grounded in professionalism and threaded to sound counterterrorism policy prescriptions passed on from previous administrations, both Democrat and Republican. 

After years of painstaking counterterrorism work, talking with both former terrorists and victims of terrorism, as well as attending terrorism trials, I’ve come to realize that continuity comes from a long institutional memory between administrations, and justice in these cases is often at the crossroads of law enforcement and counterterrorism operations. 

As FBI Director Christopher Wray noted, it took 34 years of painstaking investigative work to bring the maker of the Lockerbie bomb tied to the destruction of Pan Am flight 103 to justice this year. That effort is the province of foreign partners, the Department of Justice, the FBI and, eventually, a US court. Legal arrows – in terms of investigations, extraditions and trials – can be more potent than simply killing terrorists on battlefields overseas. The rule of law remains an indispensable tool for policymakers. 

This dedication to continuity drives the tenacity of the legal system to finish the work of prior administrations. (...)

First, policy continuity across political administrations has kept the nation safe from terrorism. Second, in light of the Lockerbie bomber’s extradition last December, justice and continuity matter deeply and are two sides of the same coin. (...)

Sometimes this continuity would have to carry on for decades before reaching closure.  

The Christmastime bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, for example, killed 270 passengers, including 190 Americans, on Dec. 21, 1988, and last December, the FBI was finally able to take custody of a suspect for building the explosive device that downed the flight. As a result of the Justice Department’s focus and tenacity in concluding a case that began more than 30 years earlier, Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud was then extradited to the United States to face prosecution for one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in American history. (...) 

[RB: Masud was not "extradited" to the United States. He was kidnapped by a local militia and later, with the connivance of the Tripoli "government" handed over to US agents. Libyan law does not permit extradition of citizens to a foreign country for trial, only voluntary surrender by the suspect; and there is, and can be, no suggestion that Masud volunteered.]

In a time of political polarization, we can be sanguine about the professionalism of the US counterterrorism enterprise, and the long memory of United States justice, regardless of administration. Maybe that’s worth reflecting on this Sept 11 anniversary.

Monday 31 July 2023

Sky and BBC to screen rival dramas on Lockerbie disaster

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

A second major transatlantic drama series on the Lockerbie bombing terror attack is in the works — this time at the BBC and Netflix.

The British broadcaster and US streamer will co-produce Lockerbie, a factual drama that will explore the joint investigation into the 1988 disaster by Scottish and American authorities. (...)

Line of Duty producer World Productions is making the six-part series, which was initially developed by MGM Television and Night Train Media alongside filmmaker Adam Morane-Griffiths.

The BBC and Netflix commission comes more than a year after Sky and Peacock came together to greenlight a separate series, also titled Lockerbie. That project was meant to premiere this year but has been delayed amid continued development.

Jim Sheridan, the Oscar-nominated director of My Left Foot, and daughter Kirsten Sheridan are writing the Sky/Peacock series, which centers on a family’s search for justice. Carnival Films is producing.

Jonathan Lee, the novelist behind High Dive, is writing the BBC/Netflix drama alongside Gillian Roger Park (The Young Offenders), a Scottish screenwriter who will pen two episodes.

They will draw on extensive interviews done by Morane-Griffiths, who spoke to Scottish police and US investigative agencies. The series will also examine the bombing’s impact on the people of Lockerbie.

Michael Keillor (Best Interests) will direct. The executive producers are Simon Heath and Roderick Seligman for World; Steve Stark and Stacey Levin for Toluca Pictures; Adam Morane-Griffiths, Sara Curran,  Herbert L Kloiber, Keillor; and Gaynor Holmes for the BBC. The co-EP is Joe Hill. 

Netflix drama commissioner Mona Qureshi said: “The moment we read Jonathan’s pilot script, informed by Adam’s meticulous research, we understood that this team had found a way into these events that is epic and intimate, local and global, personal and political. The devastation wrought on the night of 21st December 1988 continues to reverberate through the decades.”

BBC commissioner Holmes added: “We have the right team in place to tell this extraordinary story with the greatest of care, making sure the series reflects the devastating events of that night, the complex and far-reaching investigation that followed and the effect it had on all those who lost loved ones.”  

[A report in today's edition of The Times contains the following:]

The six-part show will air on the BBC and Netflix more than 35 years after flight Pan Am 103 exploded over the small Scottish town in 1988, killing 270 people including 43 Britons.

Lockerbie will focus on the investigation into the crash, starting with the search for evidence on the ground in Scotland, before travelling to the US and Malta, where the bomb is thought to have been assembled. It will take in the trial of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who was convicted in the Netherlands in 2001 and jailed for life before being released on compassionate grounds three years before his death in Libya in 2012. The US indictment last year of the suspected bombmaker, Abu Agila Masud, will also feature.

Thursday 1 June 2023

Further US court appearance for Lockerbie accused Masud

The court calendar of the US District Court for Washington DC indicates that a Status Conference in the case against Lockerbie accused Abu Ajila Masud took place (or at least was scheduled) yesterday, 31 May. The calendar states:

Case Number and Title - 22-cr-0392:  USA v. KHEIR AL-MARIMI

Judge - Judge Dabney L Friedrich

Time - 05/31/2023 09:00AM

Courtroom - Courtroom 14 In Person

Purpose - Status Conference

I can find no online media report on the proceedings at, or the outcome of, the court hearing.

Monday 22 May 2023

Lockerbie suspect Masud to appear again in US court on 31 May

[What follows is the text of a report published today on the website of The Libya Observer:]

The family of the Libyan citizen who is the suspect in the Lockerbie bombing case, Abu Agila Masud stated that the date of his trial session will be on May 31. [RB: I suspect, though I have no inside information, that this will simply be another procedural hearing. It would surprise me greatly if either the prosecution or the defence were yet in a position to go to trial.]

The family said in press statements that they hired a lawyer at their own expense, other than the one assigned, to follow up on the case to obtain information about the next court session.

The family expressed its dissatisfaction with the failure of the lawyer assigned by the Federal Court to follow up on the case, noting that they did not make any statement regarding his health condition and the extent to which the case had reached.

Regarding the promises made to the family to form a defense team, they said that they were unable to assign a defense team for Abu Agila, noting that all the promises given to them regarding the provision of the defense team’s funds were useless and untrue, considering it an evasion of responsibility.

The family expressed its disappointment with the Libyan state taking a “bystander” position regarding what is happening in the case of handing over a Libyan citizen to the American authorities without defending him.

[RB: What follows is excerpted from a report published today (Tuesday, 23 May) on the Libya Review website:]

The family of the Libyan intelligence operative suspected of making the bomb that blew up Pan Am flight 103, said that Abu Ajila’s Masoud will appear before the court on 31 May, without a defence team.

The family explained that they are “unable to afford the fees of the legal team. We hired a new lawyer, at our own expense, other than the one assigned to follow up the case, to obtain information about the next session.”

They expressed their dissatisfaction with the failure of the lawyer assigned by the Federal Court to follow up on the case. It pointed out that the lawyer “did not make any statement regarding his health condition and the extent of the case.”

Last month, the family said that his legal team withdrew from defending Abu Ajila Masoud for not paying the required financial dues.

Masoud, 71, is currently appearing before US courts without an attorney, his family confirms, noting that all parties that vowed to pay the costs of the legal team paid nothing and abandoned their pledges and promises.

Masoud’s family recently issued a statement denouncing the silence of the Government of National Unity (GNU), for not cooperating in knowing the fate of the Libyan citizen, as he is suffering from chronic disease.

The family said that the Libyan authorities did not assign a lawyer to defend Masoud or help them communicate with him. The Libyan Embassy in the US also didn’t show any support or intervene to help Masoud, the family says.

They appealed to the public to support him. “Masoud is a victim of political deals,” the family concluded.

Masoud has pleaded not guilty before the Federal Court in Washington. 

Monday 13 February 2023

Human rights concerns in Lockerbie suspect’s rendition

[What follows is excerpted from a report published today on the Human Rights Watch website:]

United States and Libyan authorities should clarify the legal basis for the abusive arrest and subsequent extradition to the US of a Libyan suspect in the 1988 deadly airplane bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, Human Rights Watch said today. US authorities on December 12, 2022, announced that they had custody of and intended to prosecute Abu Agela Masud Kheir Al-Marimi, a former official of the government of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, after an armed group seized him from his home in Tripoli.

“It appears that no Libyan court ordered or reviewed Masud’s transfer to the US, and he had no chance to appeal, raising serious due process concerns,” said Hanan Salah, associate Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The political impasse and chaos in Libya don’t allow US authorities to disregard violations of fundamental rights.”

The Tripoli-based Libyan prime minister, Abdelhamid Dabeiba, said his Government of National Unity (GNU) collaborated with the US on the transfer, while Libyan judicial authorities have challenged the handover’s legality and opened an investigation. Libya and the US have no extradition treaty.

The US should uphold international fair trial standards and grant Masud access to his family members, including by promptly processing visas for them. US authorities should also grant him the right to challenge his extradition. As Prime Minister Dabeiba promised, Libyan authorities should provide consular visits, help Masud get effective legal counsel, and coordinate his family’s visits. They should also investigate and hold accountable members of the armed group responsible for violently seizing Masud from his home.

Masud is the third Libyan in the last decade transferred to the US under murky legal circumstances to stand trial on a terrorism-related charge.

The US had long sought Masud’s arrest for his alleged role in the Lockerbie bombing. The apparent basis for the charges are confessions he allegedly made in 2012 to a Libyan interrogator. A relative of Masud told Human Rights Watch that family members had no prior notification of the extradition, and learned about it from social media posts about his appearance in a US court on December 12. They said they knew of no judicial procedures before he was sent from Libya, and spoke with him by phone for the first time on February 10, two months after his transfer to the US. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. (...)

Masud was not under an arrest warrant in Libya, said his relative, when he was seized on November 17 in his home in the Abu Salim district of Tripoli by an armed group whose members refused to identify themselves during the arrest, wore no insignias, and came in cars that were unmarked. They took him to an undisclosed location, his relative said. However, Abu Salim district is controlled by the Stability Support Apparatus, which also controls parts of the Libyan capital and is aligned with the GNU prime minister.

Armed group members arrived at around 1:30 a.m., the relative said. The group stationed armed men in front of the homes of Masud and of other family members nearby, barring everyone from leaving. Members of the group shoved Masud’s wife and beat his daughter, who needed medical attention for her hands after the incident, the relative said. They also beat one of Masud’s sons with a rifle. They dragged Masud, 71, whose mobility was reduced due to illness, across the floor, refusing help from family members to carry him.

The Abu Salim police refused to record a kidnapping complaint brought by the family the next day, prompting the family to contact armed groups and the General Prosecutor’s Office to try to find out where he was, the family member said.

On November 24 or 25, a week later, Masud called to tell his family he was being held in Misrata, 200 kilometers east of the capital, by an armed group allied with Prime Minister Dabeiba known as the Joint Force, and under Omar Bughdada’s command. The group permitted Masud to call his relatives and permitted the family to visit him twice in Misrata before his transfer to the US. On December 11, authorities in Scotland announced that Masud had been taken into US custody.

On December 12, the US Department of State announced that Masud had been taken before a court in Washington, DC, to face two criminal counts, including destruction of an aircraft resulting in death, based on charges filed by the Justice Department in December 2020.

US authorities gave no details on Masud’s arrest and transfer in the absence of an extradition treaty. The US Embassy in Tunis, which covers Libya, tweeted that Masud’s transfer “was lawful and conducted in cooperation with Libyan authorities,” and that it “followed Interpol publishing a Red Notice for Masud in January 2022,” requesting member countries to arrest him for transfer to the US.

In a Statement of Facts from 2020, the US Justice Department maintains that there is probable cause that Masud conspired with others, and aided and abetted them, in causing the destruction of Pan Am flight 103. This affidavit, submitted to support the charges, said that the US appears to build its case around a confession allegedly made by Masud to an unidentified Libyan operative on September 12, 2012, while Masud was detained in Libya. US authorities obtained an English translation of the transcript of the interrogation in 2017. Anti-Gaddafi fighters had detained Masud in 2011 after the revolution in Libya. In 2015, following a mass trial marred by serious due process violations, a Tripoli criminal court sentenced him to 10 years in prison for his role in booby trapping cars during the 2011 revolution and 31 other former Gaddafi officials to various prison terms. Masud was ordered released in 2021 on medical grounds.

During his years in Libyan custody, Human Rights Watch documented the use of torture, intimidation, and other abuses in Libyan facilities, often to extract confessions. Libya’s justice system was and remains marked by serious due process violations. US authorities should ensure that no coerced confessions, including confessions made under torture, are used as part of the prosecution, in violation of US and international law, Human Rights Watch said.

Libyan authorities did not respond to the allegations that they participated in a possibly unlawful extradition until December 16, when Dabeiba stated on TV that he had cooperated with US authorities in the transfer. Dabeiba called Masud a “terrorist” but did not clarify the legal basis for the extradition. In a statement on December 14, Libya’s general prosecutor confirmed that his office had not been part of the extradition and that he had opened an investigation into whether Masud was extrajudicially transferred.

While Prime Minister Dabeiba pledged in the TV statement that Masud would get consular and family visits and that the Libyan government would pay his legal costs, this has yet to happen. Masud’s family has hired only a temporary legal counsel who met with Masud upon his arraignment in the US. (...)

“Justice for the many victims of Pan Am flight 103 risks being tainted unless the US and GNU governments clarify the legal basis for Masud’s transfer to US custody,” Salah said.

Wednesday 8 February 2023

Man accused of making the Lockerbie bomb denies all charges

[This is the headline over a report published this evening on the ITV News website. It reads in part:]

A 71-year old man suspected of making the bomb that brought down a jumbo jet over Lockerbie in 1988 has denied all the charges in court.

Abu Agila Mas'ud Al-Marimi, from Libya, is charged with the destruction of an aircraft, resulting in death.  

He appeared in court in Washington DC to face three charges related to the destruction of Pan Am flight 103. Through an interpreter, he pleaded not guilty to all of them. (...)

According to the US Department of Justice the accused worked for the Libyan External Security Organisation as a technical expert, including building explosive devices.

It is claimed he took the bomb to Malta and a few days afterwards set the timer so that the explosion would happen 11 hours later when it had been transferred from an Air Malta flight to the Pan Am aircraft. 

It is more than 20 years since Libyan intelligence officer, Abdelbaset Al Megrahi, was found guilty of mass murder in connection with the Lockerbie disaster. He was sent to prison but later released on compassionate grounds after being diagnosed with incurable cancer. He died in 2012. 

It is claimed that he and Al-Marimi were working together to destroy the flight, along with others from the Libyan regime. 

Following the fall of the Gaddafi regime Al-Marimi was arrested and imprisoned by the new regime in Libya. It is claimed that he confessed his involvement in the Lockerbie attack at that time. 

In December he was extradited to the United States to stand trial. [RB: He was not extradited: Libyan law does not countenance extradition of Libyan citizens. If they stand trial overseas it should be because they voluntarily agreed to do so, as Megrahi and Fhimah did. There is not a scintilla of evidence that Masud volunteered.]

If convicted he faces life imprisonment. He's due in court again on the 23rd of February for a hearing to decide whether he should stay in prison until his trial.

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 the 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?]