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Bomb-Maker Admitted to Building Device Used in 1988 Lockerbie Explosion, U.S. Prosecutors Say


WASHINGTON—An alleged bomb-maker for the late Libyan dictator

Moammar Gadhafi

has admitted to assembling the device that blew up a commercial jetliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, shedding what Justice Department officials said Monday was new light on a long-stalled inquiry into a terrorist attack that killed 270 people.

U.S. prosecutors made the new details public on the 32nd anniversary of the attack on Pan Am Flight 103 as they unsealed charges against the alleged bomb-maker,

Abu Agila Mohammad Masud,

who is currently serving a separate 10-year sentence for bomb-making in Tripoli, the Libyan capital. They said he confessed his role in the Lockerbie bombing to a Libyan law-enforcement officer in 2012.

At a press conference announcing the case, Attorney General

William Barr

said U.S. officials were working to bring Mr. Masud to face the charges in federal court in Washington, adding he felt the prospects of such a trial were “very good.”

An adviser to the Libyan government told The Wall Street Journal last week that the government hadn’t yet made a decision on whether to turn Mr. Masud over.

Mr. Masud faces counts of destroying an aircraft and a vehicle resulting in death in the attack, which killed 190 Americans among its other victims. The attack had led to conflicting accounts over exactly what happened for decades.

Members of the community in Lockerbie, Scotland, marked the 30th anniversary of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in 2018.


WPA Pool/Getty Images

Much of the case is based on a confession Mr. Masud allegedly gave after Gadhafi was overthrown and killed in a popular rebellion backed by NATO airstrikes in 2011. At the time, Mr. Masud said he worked with two other Libayan intelligence officials to carry out the attack.

The two officials,

Abdel Baset

al-Megrahi and

Lamen Khalifa Fhimah,

came to his hotel in Malta in the days before the Dec. 21, 1988, bombing, instructed him to set a timer on an explosive device packed inside a suitcase to go off 11 hours later, and handed him $500 to purchase clothes to put in the suitcase, according to the 26-page affidavit filed in connection with Mr. Masud’s charges.

He then met the two men at an airport in Malta, handed off the suitcase near the luggage check-in and watched Mr. Fhimah placed it on a conveyor belt, the affidavit said, citing Mr. Masud’s interview.

In addition, Mr. Masud admitted that the bombing had been “ordered by Libyan intelligence leadership” and that Gadhafi had “thanked him and other members of the team for their successful attack on the United States,” the affidavit said.

According to the affidavit, Mr. Masud’s confession was corroborated by evidence gathered by Scottish and American investigators in the years after the bombing.


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“The United States believes we have an extremely compelling case and can clearly prove this beyond a reasonable doubt at trial,” said the acting U.S. attorney in Washington,

Michael Sherwin,

whose office will prosecute the case.

The new charges open another chapter in one of the world’s longest and most sprawling terrorism investigations.

In 1991, U.S. and Scottish prosecutors charged Megrahi and Mr. Fhimah with conspiring to place a bomb on board the flight, but it wasn’t until 1999 the Gadhafi regime handed over the two men for trial in the Netherlands under Scottish law.

Red Cross rescue dogs and their handlers searched debris in Lockerbie after the Pan Am jet crashed.


John Redman/Associated Press

Megrahi was given a life sentence, only to be released eight years after his 2001 conviction on “compassionate grounds.” He died in 2012. Mr. Fhimah was acquitted.

According to the new complaint, Mr. Masud admitted he hid the detonator and timer in a way that would make it technically difficult to be discovered, by placing it close to the metallic parts of the suitcase. That suitcase traveled on an Air Malta flight to Frankfurt, Germany, where it was transferred with other luggage onto the first leg of Pan Am 103.

The complaint also cites evidence that was previously used against the two Libyan officials, including clothing fragments in the suitcase. Investigators traced the clothes to a shop in Malta.

A diary recovered from Mr. Fhimah’s office in Malta, which the affidavit said a business partner confirmed belonged to Mr. Fhimah, included an entry from December 15, 1988, saying that Megrahi was coming from Zurich. In another entry, according to the affidavit, Mr. Fhimah reminded himself to “bring the tags from the airport.”

Mr. Masud’s alleged 2012 confession came during his questioning by Libyan law-enforcement officers seeking to determine whether he had committed any crimes against Libya and the Libyan people during the 2011 revolution in an attempt to keep Gadhafi in power, the complaint said, citing an interview with the interrogator.

Libyan authorities had turned over information about Mr. Masud’s interview to Scottish authorities in 2017, the affidavit said.

Federal Bureau of Investigation agents and Scottish police in March interviewed the Libyan law enforcement officer who obtained the statements, the document said. That interview took place in Tunisia, law-enforcement officials previously told the Journal.

Mr. Masud admitted that he had traveled to Malta with the suitcase in late 1988, after he was “summoned by a Libyan intelligence official who asked whether the ‘suitcases’ were finished,” the affidavit said.

Mr. Masud also said one of the Libyan intelligence officials had informed him that Megrahi and Mr. Fhimah would meet him at the airport in Malta, which he said they did, according to the affidavit.

The new charges against another Libyan come as the family of Megrahi pursues an appeal of his conviction in Scottish courts, claiming flaws in the investigation that some families of victims also have long said present reasons to doubt Libya’s role in the bombing.

The lawyer heading that Scottish appeal,

Aamer Anwar,

said his clients, including the families of several British victims of the bombing, were appalled by Mr. Barr’s appearance on Monday. “The fact that the outgoing Attorney General William Barr thinks it is appropriate to invite families to watch his grandstanding at a press conference is deeply disrespectful to the families and victims,” he said in a statement.

Kara Weipz spoke on behalf of Pan Am Flight 103 victims and their families Monday as Attorney General William Barr, left, listened.


michael reynolds/pool/Shutterstock

Kara Weipz,

whose brother

Rick Monetti,

then a 20-year-old junior at Syracuse University, was killed in the Lockerbie bombing, spoke at the press conference. “I think I speak for the majority of family members when I say that we are justified, vindicated,” she said, adding: “Today confirms what we believe to be true.”

“We have pushed our government and the Scottish government to keep fighting, and they have not stopped,” said Ms. Weipz, who serves as president of the Victims of Pan Am Flight 103 group.

Susan Cohen,

who lost her 20-year-old daughter in the bombing, called the attack “a crime against America” and stressed her concern that Mr. Masud be brought to the U.S. for trial.

“I don’t want to see this buried again and this be a one-day wonder and then we are all back where we were before,” Mrs. Cohen said.

Corrections & Amplifications
The photo of Lockerbie, Scotland, residents marking the anniversary of the Pan Am bombing was taken in 2018. An earlier version of this article incorrectly said it was taken Monday. (Corrected on Dec. 21)

Write to Aruna Viswanatha at [email protected]

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