WASHINGTON — A Libyan man suspected of making the bomb that blew up a passenger plane over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 made his initial appearance in federal court Monday after being taken into U.S. custody.
Abu Agila Mas’ud was charged in a three-count indictment, including two counts of destruction of an aircraft resulting in death and one count of destruction of a vehicle used in foreign commerce by means of an explosive resulting in death. The charges carry potential sentences of up to life in prison.
Prosecutor Erik Kenerson on Monday told the judge that the Justice Department will not be seeking the death penalty because the charges against Mas’ud were not punishable by death at the time of the bombing. Today, those charges are punishable by the death penalty.
Mas’ud, 71, did not enter a plea during his court appearance. He was represented by two public defenders; an interpreter was present as well. Mas’ud indicated that he wants to try to retain his own counsel, and that he has no health problems.
In arguing for Mas’ud to remain in detention, a federal prosecutor emphasized to the judge that he is accused of making the bomb that brought down Pan Am Flight 103 on Dec. 21, 1988, killing 259 people on board and 11 others on the ground. Of those killed, 190 were American. It remains the deadliest terror attack in the United Kingdom.
Mas’ud did not argue against the government’s request that he be held in detention. He consented to be detained for one week while he waited to hear about his lawyer.
“I cannot talk until I see my attorney,” he said at one point through the interpreter.
Mas’ud was remanded into the custody of the U.S. Marshals and is being held without bond.
On Sunday, U.S. and Scottish authorities said that the bombing suspect had been taken into custody. It was unclear how he had arrived in U.S. hands.
The bomb on board the Pan Am flight exploded 38 minutes after takeoff on its way from London to New York. The civilian aircraft crashed in Lockerbie, a small town in southwest Scotland, about 80 miles south of the capital Edinburgh.
In a statement from the White House, Homeland Security advisor Liz Sherwood-Randall praised “the unrelenting efforts of the Department of Justice, Department of State, and their partners.”
“Yesterday, the United States lawfully took custody of Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi and brought him to the United States where he faces charges for his alleged involvement in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103,” Sherwood-Randall said. “This action underscores the Biden Administration’s unwavering commitment to enforcing the rule of law and holding accountable those who inflict harm on Americans in acts of terrorism.”
Magistrate Judge Robin Meriweather set Dec. 19 as the next court appearance for Mas’ud. She also scheduled a detention hearing for Dec. 27.
Mas’ud will become the first Libyan operative to be tried on American soil in connection with the bombing.
Former Libyan intelligence officer Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was convicted of the bombing in 2001 at a special court in the Netherlands overseen by three Scottish judges and no jury. He is so far the only person convicted in the attack.
He was freed in 2009 on compassionate grounds because he was terminally ill with cancer. Still protesting his innocence, he died in Libya three years later.
Another Libyan intelligence operative, Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, was acquitted of all charges.
Daniel Barnes contributed.