Next week will mark 34 years since Pan Am Flight 103 exploded at an altitude of 31,000 feet over Lockerbie, Scotland. Two hundred fifty-nine souls aboard the aircraft died that fateful day, including 35 Syracuse University students studying abroad. Another 11 residents of the Scottish town died when the jet fell out of the sky. It was not only a horrific tragedy but signaled the beginning of the end of Pan American World Airways, which was never able to recover from the catastrophe.
Pan Am Flight 103 took off from London Heathrow Airport on the evening of Dec. 21, 1988, en route to New York’s JFK International Airport. At approximately 7:03 pm local time, “the aircraft abruptly disappeared from the radar screens of air-traffic controllers tracking the flight,” according to a Department of Justice affidavit. Pieces of the downed plane stretched almost the entire width of Scotland, leaving an approximate 840 square mile crime scene, and making for some sadly iconic photos. The Lockerbie disaster was considered the most devastating terrorist attack against the United States until 9/11.
Lockerbie Bombing Suspect to Appear in D.C. Court
Longtime Libyan senior intelligence operative Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi (who has three additional aliases according to the DOJ) but is most often referred to as MASUD – sometimes spelled Mas’ud – has been taken into custody for his alleged role in the terrorist attack. How he got there remains the subject of intense speculation.
The DOJ affidavit written by Rachel F. Otto detailed an interview conducted with Libya’s defunct External Security Organization (ESO) where “MASUD admitted that on orders of the ESO, and other high ranking ESO operatives, he built the bomb that brought down Pan Am Flight 103.” The Libyan also admitted to building the explosive device used to blow up La Belle Discotheque in Berlin, West Germany, in April 1986. He claimed that the location was chosen because “it was frequented by American military officers.”
His confession also included this:
“MASUD stated that in the winter of 1988, he was summoned by a Libyan intelligence official to meet at that official’s office in Tripoli, Libya. While in that meeting, which involved additional Libyan intelligence officials, MASUD was asked whether the “suitcases” were finished. When MASUD answered in the affirmative, one of the intelligence officials ordered MASUD to take one of the suitcases and travel with it to Malta. MASUD said that the following day, he traveled to Malta by air, carrying the equipped suitcase.”
The DOJ asserts MASUD handed off the deadly suitcase to a contact who put the luggage on a conveyor belt. He was instructed to set the timer so the explosion would occur after take-off.
Only Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who was also a former Libyan intelligence officer, had previously been convicted of the Lockerbie bombing. He was found guilty by a panel of three Scottish judges and released from prison in 2009 following a terminal cancer diagnosis. He died in 2012 in Libya, still maintaining he was innocent of the crime.
MASUD will be the first person to face trial for the Lockerbie tragedy in the United States. Late on Sunday, Dec.11, the brother of a Lockerbie victim called on the president to find out “If there’s a connection to Iran.” Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi’s initial court appearance will take place in the US District Court for the District of Columbia at a date not yet made public.
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