Third Lockerbie bomb suspect now in US custody, officials say

Mohammed Abouagela Masud accused of setting timer for bomb that destroyed Boeing 747, killing 270 people

Part of the main memorial stone to the victims of the Pan Am flight 103 bombing in the garden of remembrance at Dryfesdale cemetery, near Lockerbie, Scotland.

A Libyan accused of preparing the bomb that killed 270 people when an explosion ripped through Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988 is now in US custody, officials have confirmed.

Scottish prosecutors, who have been closely involved in the investigation, said the families of those who were killed “have been told” that Mohammed Abouagela Masud had been extradited to the United States.

Masud, a former Libyan intelligence operative, is accused by the US of having set the timer for the bomb that destroyed the Boeing 747, and of being the third man in a plot that was the most deadly terrorist attack to have taken place on British soil.

Two other men were prosecuted at the time, one of whom, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. Released when he was suffering from terminal cancer, he died in 2012. The second man, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, was acquitted.

But US investigators also pursued Masud and finally announced criminal charges against him two years ago. It is not known exactly how he was extradited, but he was previously in detention in Libya.

The Pan Am flight from London Heathrow to John F Kennedy airport in New York exploded at 31,000ft over Scotland on 21 December 1988, after 38 minutes in the air. A total of 259 people were killed onboard, while fiery debris from the exploded plane killed another 11 on the ground in Lockerbie.

According to the US affidavit, Masud was a key figure in the bomb plot and worked with Megrahi and Fhimah to carry it out. Fhimah was later acquitted at a trial.

Investigators say Masud met with the other two in Malta, where he had been directed to fly by a senior Libyan intelligence official with a prepared suitcase. He was asked to set the timer by the other two men, and the suitcase travelled via feeder flights to the hold of the Boeing 747, where it exploded.

Three months after the bombing, the US alleges, Masud and Fhimah met with then Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, who “thanked them for carrying out a great national duty” and said the operation was a total success.

At the time Gaddafi was in conflict with the west, but later under his leadership Libya renounced terrorism and accepted responsibility for the aircraft bombing in 2003 in return for relief from economic sanctions.

A spokesperson for the US Department of Justice confirmed the US had taken custody of Masud, and indicated he would be put on trial in due course. “He is expected to make his initial appearance in the US district court for the district of Columbia,” the spokesman added.

Scotland’s Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service said: “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 Megrahi to justice.”

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