Attorney General William Barr announced Monday that a Libyan national named Abu Agila Mohammad Masud has been charged with terrorism crimes for his alleged role in the Lockerbie bombing, which is one of the deadliest terror attacks in history. The charge, which will be one of Barr's final acts as attorney general, will bring full circle an investigation he helped lead more then three decades ago as attorney general for former President George H.W. Bush in 1991.
On Dec. 21, 1988, a bomb exploded on Pan Am Flight 103, which originated in Frankfurt, Germany, and was bound for Detroit via London and New York City. The attack killed all 243 passengers and 16 crew members, and debris from the explosion killed 11 people on the ground in Lockerbie, Scotland, with the result that the incident became known as the Lockerbie bombing. It remains today the deadliest act of terrorism in U.K. history. Of the total 270 people who were killed, 190 were American citizens.
After a three-year joint investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and local Scottish authorities, arrest warrants were issued in 1991 for two Libyan men, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi and Lamin Khalifah Fhimah. Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, who was rumored to have ordered the attack, turned the men over for trial in Scotland. Al-Megrahi was ultimately found guilty of 270 counts of murder and sentenced to life in prison, while Fhimah was found not guilty.
In 2003, Gaddafi accepted responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing as part of an attempt to get sanctions lifted upon his country; however, he has denied personally ordering the attack.
The Scottish government sparked international controversy when it granted al-Megrahi compassionate release from prison due to prostate cancer, which was reportedly set to kill him within three months or less. Al-Megrahi left prison, reportedly to spend his last few weeks in Libya; however, al-Megrahi was perhaps not in quite as much extremis as advertised, as he lived in Libya until his eventual death three years later in 2012. Al-Megrahi maintained his innocence until his death.
Now, the United States believes it has found a vital third conspirator: the man who may have actually fabricated the bomb. According to the BBC, the United States learned that Masud was being held in prison in Libya and asked to review Masud's intake interview.
According to the Department of Justice's statement, Masud was one of Gaddafi's top bomb makers and traveled to Malta at Gaddafi's direction in 1988, where he constructed the bomb that would ultimately be used to destroy Pan Am Flight 103. The statement also claims that Masud was involved in the April 5, 1986, bombing of the LaBelle Discotheque in West Berlin, Germany, which resulted in the deaths of two United States servicemen.
According to the statement, "Our message to other terrorists around the world is this – you will not succeed – if you attack Americans, no matter where you are, no matter how long it takes, you will be pursued to the ends of the earth until justice is done."
The Department of Justice also announced that it plans to seek the extradition of Masud to the United States for trial, according to the BBC.