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Lockerbie bombing suspect makes initial appearance in U.S. court

Abu Agila Mas’ud has been charged in a three-count indictment. The charges carry potential sentences of up to life in prison.

WASHINGTON — A Libyan man suspected of making the bomb that blew up a passenger plane over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 made his initial appearance in federal court Monday after he was taken into U.S. custody.

Abu Agila Mas’ud was charged in a three-count indictment — two counts of destruction of an aircraft resulting in death and a count of destruction of a vehicle used in foreign commerce by means of an explosive resulting in death. The charges carry potential sentences of up to life in prison.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Erik Kenerson told the judge Monday that the Justice Department will not seek the death penalty because the charges were not punishable by death at the time of the bombing. Today, those charges are punishable by the death penalty.

Mas'ud, 71, did not enter a plea. He was represented by two public defenders; an interpreter was present, as well. Mas’ud indicated that he wants to try to retain his own counsel and that he has no health problems.

Image: Paul Hudson
Paul Hudson of Sarasota, Fla., holds up a photo Monday of his daughter Melina, who was killed at 16 years old, with the photos of almost a hundred other victims of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, at the federal courthouse in Washington.Andrew Harnik / AP

In arguing for Mas'ud to remain in detention, a federal prosecutor emphasized to the judge that he is accused of making the bomb that brought down Pan Am Flight 103 on Dec. 21, 1988, killing 259 people on board and 11 others on the ground. Of the 270 people who were killed, 190 were American. It remains the deadliest terrorist attack in the United Kingdom.

Mas'ud did not argue against the government’s request that he be held in detention. He consented to be detained for one week while he waited to hear about his lawyer.

“I cannot talk until I see my attorney,” he said through the interpreter.

Mas'ud was remanded into the custody of U.S. marshals and is being held without bond.

U.S. and Scottish authorities said Sunday that Mas’ud had been taken into custody. It was unclear how he had arrived in U.S. hands.

The bomb exploded 38 minutes after takeoff as the Pan Am flight was on its way from London to New York. It crashed in Lockerbie, a small town in southwest Scotland about 80 miles south of the capital, Edinburgh.

White House Homeland Security Adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall praised "the unrelenting efforts of the Department of Justice, Department of State, and their partners."

"Yesterday, 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," Sherwood-Randall said in a statement. "This action underscores the Biden Administration’s unwavering commitment to enforcing the rule of law and holding accountable those who inflict harm on Americans in acts of terrorism."

Magistrate Judge Robin Meriweather set Dec. 19 for Mas’ud’s next court appearance. She also scheduled a detention hearing for Dec. 27.

Mas’ud will become the first Libyan operative to be tried on U.S. soil in connection with the bombing.

Former Libyan intelligence officer Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was convicted of the bombing in 2001 at a special court in the Netherlands overseen by three Scottish judges and no jury. He is so far the only person to have been convicted in the attack.

He was freed in 2009 on compassionate grounds because he was terminally ill with cancer. Still protesting his innocence, he died in Libya three years later.

Another Libyan intelligence operative, Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, was acquitted of all charges.