The Libyan intelligence operative arrested last month for allegedly building the bomb that blew up Pan Am Flight 103 above Lockerbie, Scotland, more than 34 years ago was scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday in Washington, D.C., but family members expressed that they’ve had trouble securing a defense attorney, according to a report.
Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi’s arraignment was, therefore, pushed back to Feb. 8.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Moxila Upadhyaya formally appointed federal public defender Whitney Minter to represent him Wednesday, Reuters reported.
Minter told the judge that Mas’ud’s family was unable to retain a defense lawyer on their own, according to the outlet. The public defender requested additional time to review the indictment with Mas’ud before entering a plea or responding to the government’s request to keep him jailed before trial.
The Dec. 21, 1988, terrorist attack killed 270 people, including 190 Americans, dozens of whom were college students flying back to New York City in time for Christmas after studying abroad. On Dec. 12, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the arrest of Mas’ud. The now-71-year-old from Tunisia and Libya is the first suspect to face charges in the U.S. in connection to the Lockerbie attack following a three-decade-long investigation by Scottish and American law enforcement.
LOCKERBIE BOMBING SUSPECT IN CUSTODY
Upadhyaya also set a Feb. 23 date for a detention hearing. According to Reuters, Minter told the court that Mas’ud has no substantial assets and has not been employed for a decade. The alleged bombmaker makes mortgage payments on a home in Libya, and his children help cover his living and medical expenses, Minter added.
Just 38 minutes after takeoff from London-Heathrow while in route to John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, a bomb in the forward cargo area of the Boeing 747 exploded at 31,000 feet above Lockerbie, Scotland, destroying the aircraft almost instantaneously, according to the Justice Department.
All 259 people aboard died, and 11 others were killed on the ground.
Among the 190 Americans lost were 35 Syracuse University students returning home to the United States for the holidays after a semester studying abroad.
Of the 43 victims from the United Kingdom, eleven residents of Lockerbie perished on the ground as fiery debris from the falling aircraft destroyed an entire city block of homes.
In what was considered the largest international terrorist attack in the United States and the United Kingdom at the time, citizens from Argentina, Belgium, Bolivia, Canada, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Philippines, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Trinidad and Tobago were also among those killed.
In 1991, two suspects — Abdel Baset Ali al-Megrahi (Megrahi) and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah (Fhimah) – were charged in both the U.S. and U.K. in connection to the Lockerbie bombing.
They were tried in a Scottish court sitting in The Netherlands. Fhimah was acquitted. Despite Megrahi being found guilty in 2001 and sentenced to life in prison, he was later released by Scottish authorities in 2009 because he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He died at home in Tripoli in 2012, Reuters reported.
Mas’ud was charged through a December 2020 criminal complaint but wasn’t indicted until November 2022.
The complaint alleges 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 allegedly 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, the complaint says.
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, the complaint says. Fhimah allegedly then placed the suitcase on the conveyor belt. Subsequently, Mas’ud boarded a Libyan flight to Tripoli.
Days after returning to Libya, Mas’ud and Megrahi met with a senior Libyan intelligence official, who thanked them, the complaint says. Three months later, Mas’ud and Fhimah allegedly met with then-Libyan leader Muamar Qaddafi, who thanked them for carrying out a great national duty against the Americans, and Qaddafi added that the operation was a “total success.”
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If convicted, Mas’ud faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Reuters reported that prosecutors don’t plan on seeking the death penalty because it was not legally available at the time of the alleged crime.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.