Prosecutors Unseal Lockerbie Bombing Charges

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Prosecutors Unseal Lockerbie Bombing Charges

Wreckage of the airliner that exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, 32 years ago.

Photo: roy letkey/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

WASHINGTON—U.S. prosecutors unsealed charges against an alleged bomb-maker under the late Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi on Monday, reopening a long-stalled case over the 1988 Lockerbie bombing on the 32nd anniversary of the attack.

In a criminal complaint filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., prosecutors charged Abu Agila Mohammad Masud with multiple counts of destroying an aircraft and a vehicle resulting in death, saying he assembled the device that was used to blow up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people, including 190 Americans.

Mr. Masud is currently serving a separate 10-year sentence for bomb-making in Tripoli, the Libyan capital. U.S. officials say they are working to bring Mr. Masud to face the charges in the U.S. Libyan authorities haven’t yet made any decision on whether to hand over Mr. Masud, an adviser to the government told The Wall Street Journal last week.

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In a 26-page affidavit, FBI agent Rachel Otto said Mr. Masud admitted to a Libyan interrogator in 2012 to building the bomb and working with two Libyan intelligence officials previously charged with involvement in the plot. Mr. Masud also told the Libyan law-enforcement officer who questioned him that the bombing had been “ordered by Libyan intelligence leadership” and that Mr. Gadhafi had “thanked him and other members of the team for their successful attack on the United States.”

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

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

In 1991, prosecutors charged two Libyan intelligence officials, Abdel Baset al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, with conspiring to place a bomb on board Pan Am 103. Libya’s refusal to extradite the two men to the U.S. for trial hindered the Justice Department’s efforts to prosecute them. Scottish prosecutors had brought a parallel case, and in 1999—after years of wrangling among the U.S., the U.K. and Libya—the Gadhafi regime handed over Megrahi and Mr. Fhimah for trial in the Netherlands under Scottish law. 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 worked with Megrahi and Mr. Fhimah, to plan the attack, which involved getting the bomb on board an Air Malta flight to Frankfurt, Germany, where it was transferred with other luggage onto the first leg of Pan Am 103. It cites evidence that was previously used against the two men, including clothing fragments in the suitcase that held the bomb. Investigators traced the clothes to a shop in Malta.

A diary recovered from Mr. Fhimah’s office in Malta included an entry from December 15, 1988, that said: “ Abdel Baset [Megrahi] is coming from Zurich . . . take taggs [sic] from the Maltese Airlines[.]”

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 information about Mr. Masud’s interview over 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 say present reasons to doubt the Libyans’ role in the Lockerbie bombing.

Write to Aruna Viswanatha at Aruna.Viswanatha@wsj.com

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