Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi (Mas’ud), 71, of Tunisia and Libya, made his initial appearance in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on federal charges, unsealed today, stemming from the Dec. 21, 1988, civilian aircraft bombing that killed 270 people. The victims included 190 Americans, 43 citizens of the United Kingdom, including 11 people on the ground in Lockerbie, Scotland, and citizens from the following countries: Argentina, Belgium, Bolivia, Canada, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Philippines, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Trinidad and Tobago.
On Dec. 21, 2020, the Department of Justice made public a criminal complaint charging Mas’ud with destruction of aircraft resulting in death, and destruction of a vehicle used in foreign commerce by means of an explosive resulting in death. The United States subsequently requested the publication of an INTERPOL Red Notice – as is typical in cases involving foreign fugitives – requesting all INTERPOL member countries to locate and arrest the defendant for the purpose of his extradition or lawful return to the United States to face the charges. On Nov. 29, 2022, a federal grand jury formally indicted Mas’ud on the same charges contained in the criminal complaint.
From the time the tragic events occurred in 1988 through the present, the United States and Scotland have jointly pursued justice for all the victims of the Pan Am 103 bombing. The partnership will continue throughout the prosecution of Mas’ud.
“The Justice Department has worked for more than three decades to seek justice for the 270 innocent victims of the Pan Am 103 bombing,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “Today, Mas’ud is charged for his alleged role in this heinous act of terror and he will appear in an American courtroom to answer for those crimes. To those who would seek to harm Americans anywhere in the world, know that we will find you however far you run and we will hold you accountable however how long it takes.”
December 21, 1988
At 7:03 pm (GMT), on Dec. 21, 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 was destroyed, almost instantaneously, 38 minutes after takeoff, when a bomb in the forward cargo area exploded. The plane was at 31,000 feet over Lockerbie, Scotland. It had taken off from London-Heathrow and was en route to John F. Kennedy Airport in New York.
Citizens from 21 countries were killed. 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, Scotland perished on the ground as fiery debris from the falling aircraft destroyed an entire city block of homes. The international terrorist attack, planned and executed by Libyan intelligence operatives, was considered the largest international terrorist attack in both the United States and the United Kingdom at the time.
Immediately after the disaster, Scottish and American law enforcement undertook a joint investigation that was unprecedented in its scope and, in November 1991, it led to criminal charges filed in both countries charging two Libyan intelligence operatives – Abdel Baset Ali al-Megrahi (Megrahi) and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah (Fhimah) – for their roles in the bombing. They were tried in a Scottish court sitting in The Netherlands. Fhimah was acquitted. Megrahi was found guilty.
Planning and Executing the Bombing of Pan Am Flight 103
The December 2020 criminal complaint alleged 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 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. 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. Fhimah then placed the suitcase on the conveyor belt. Subsequently, Mas’ud boarded a Libyan flight to Tripoli schedule to take off at 9:00 a.m.
According to the allegations in the complaint, three or four days after returning to Libya, Mas’ud and Megrahi met with a senior Libyan intelligence official, who thanked them for a successful operation. Approximately three months after that, Mas’ud and Fhimah met with then-Libyan leader Muamar Qaddafi, and others, who thanked them for carrying out a great national duty against the Americans, and Qaddafi added that the operation was a total success.
If convicted, Mas’ud faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.