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The Lockerbie bombing anniversary: AG Barr unveils new charges in 1988 attack

Attorney General William Barr. (E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Outgoing Attorney General William Barr unveiled new charges Monday against another suspect in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 people, the majority of them Americans.

Federal prosecutors accused Abu Agila Mohammad Masud, a Libyan intelligence officer, who is suspected of helping to make the bomb that exploded aboard the Boeing 747 while it was flying over the small Scottish town en route from London to New York.

In announcing the charges, Barr called the incident a “heinous” act that is “seared in our memories.”

The charges add a fresh chapter to one of the world’s longest and most sprawling terrorism investigations. Investigators have pursued leads in dozens of countries and interviewed thousands of people in connection with the incident.

For Barr, who is leaving office Wednesday, the case also has been a deeply personal one. During his initial stint as attorney general in the George H.W. Bush administration, Barr announced the first charges in the case aided by Robert Mueller, then chief of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.

In addition to the 259 people killed aboard the flight less than an hour after takeoff, 11 people on the ground were killed as the plane’s wreckage scattered for miles.

Masud is believed to be in custody in Libya. The U.S. is expected to seek his extradition.

In 2001, Libyan intelligence officer Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi became the only person convicted for the attack. He was given a life jail sentence. However, authorities in Scotland released him in 2009 on humanitarian grounds after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He later died at his home in Libya’s capital, Tripoli, at age Tha60.

The Obama administration opposed the move.

Megrahi maintained he was innocent. At the time of the bombing, he was officially serving as chief of security for the state-owned Libyan Arab Airlines. But prosecutors argued that was a front for his role as a security officer for Jamahiriya Security Organization, Libya’s intelligence branch under then-leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Megrahi’s connection to the bombing was established only after investigators discovered a tiny plastic fragment and the remains of a shirt amid the debris. The plastic was determined to be part of the timing device that detonated the bomb. The shirt was packed inside the suitcase. A shop owner testified that Megrahi bought the shirt from her.


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