WASHINGTON – Outgoing U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Monday announced criminal charges against a new suspect in the 1988 terrorist bombing of a Pan Am airliner that blew up over Lockerbie, Scotland.
The charges against Abu Agela Masud, a Libyan bombing expert, came on the 32nd anniversary of the deadly bombing and two days before Barr steps down as the nation’s top law enforcement officer.
“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,” Barr said at a press conference at the Justice Department.
Attorney General William Barr speaks during a news conference, Dec. 21, 2020 at the Justice Department in Washington.
Barr attorney genral in the administration of President George H. W. Bush in 1991 when U.S. and Scottish authorities charged two Libyan intelligence officials in the terrorist attack.
It took a decade of intense international pressure and diplomacy before Libya handed over the suspects to the Netherlands where they stood trial in a special sitting of a Scottish court.
One of the two men, Abdel Baset Ali al-Megrahi, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. He was released on humanitarian grounds in 2009 because he had cancer and later died. The second man was acquitted.
The bombing of the New York-bound Pan Am Flight 103 killed 259 passengers and 11 people on the ground. The victims included 35 Syracuse students returning from a semester abroad.
The bombing was an apparent retaliation for U.S. airstrikes against Libya ordered by President Ronald Reagan in response to the 1986 bombing of a Berlin nightclub frequented by American servicemen.
The case against Masud is based in part on new information uncovered by filmmaker Ken Dornstein, whose brother David Dornstein, died in the Pan Am bombing. Dornstein’s three-part investigative series, titled “My Brother’s Bomber,” aired on PBS’s FRONTLINE show in 2015.
FILE – Kathy Daniels Tedeschi, L, whose husband died in the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing, hugs Ken Dornstein, producer of “My Brother’s Murderer,” at the 27th anniversary for the victims, at Arlington National Cemetery in Vriginia, Dec. 21, 2015.
After al-Megrahi’s release, Dornstein said he “set out on a quest for answers,” learning during the course of his investigation that Mas’ud may have played a role in the bombing and was still alive, according to an account of Dornstein’s investigation by PBS.
A former FBI agent told Dornstein that the FBI knew about Masud but could never identify him.
Barr said the breakthrough in the case came after law enforcement authorities learned in 2016 that the third conspirator had been arrested after the collapse of the Qaddafi regime and interviewed by a Libyan law enforcement officer in September 2012.
Masud remains in Libyan custody, and Barr said he hoped that Libyan authorities will hand him over to stand trial in the United States.