Libya PM admits role in Lockerbie suspect’s transfer

The transfer of a former intelligence explosives expert to the US has prompted anger in Libya and criticism from a rival government based in the east of the country.

Abu Agila Mohammad Mas'ud Kheir Al-Marimi, also known as Mohammed Abouajela Masud, accused of making the bomb that blew up Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie in Scotland in 1988, is shown listening in this courtroom sketch drawn during an initial court appearance in U.S. District Court in Washington, U.S.
Abu Agila Mohammad Masud Kheir al-Marimi, accused of making the bomb that blew up Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie in Scotland in 1988, is shown listening in this courtroom sketch during an initial court appearance in the US District Court in Washington, DC, on December 12, 2022 [Bill Hennessy/Reuters]

Libya’s Prime Minister Abdulhamid al-Dbaiba has admitted that his administration was involved in the transfer of Abu Agila Mohammad Masud Kheir al-Marimi, a Lockerbie bombing suspect, to the United States last week.

“An arrest warrant was issued against him from Interpol. It has become imperative for us to cooperate in this file for the sake of Libya’s interest and stability,” al-Dbaiba said in a televised speech.

He added that the extradition was lawful and that his government was simply cooperating with an ‘’international judicial framework to extradite accused citizens”.

Al-Dbaiba provided no hard evidence for naming Masud as the bomb maker for the midair bombing of a Pan Am flight that killed 270 people, but said his country “had to wipe the mark of terrorism from the Libyan people’s forehead”.

The bombing helped turn the government of Libya’s former leader, Muammar Gaddafi, into an international pariah. Gaddafi was overthrown in a 2011 revolution and killed.

Al-Dbaiba and his Tripoli-based Government of National Unity (GNU) had not yet commented on the detention or his transfer to the US, with which Libya has no extradition treaty.

The Libyan prime minister’s comments came a day after the country’s chief public prosecutor, Siddiq al-Sour, announced there would be an investigation into the circumstances of Masud’s detention and transfer following a complaint from the suspect’s family.

On Tuesday, the leader of the rival government based in eastern Libya, Prime Minister Fathi Bashagha, called Masud’s detention illegal and urged his immediate release.

The extradition has added to discontent among Libyans, long frustrated by years of chaos and division. In Facebook videos posted on Thursday, people in Tripoli were seen carrying posters that blamed al-Dbaiba and his allied militia forces for Masud’s transfer.

Some critics of al-Dbaiba accuse him of illegally detaining Masud and handing him over to the US to curry its support in his standoff with rival factions over control of the government.

Masud, a former explosives expert with Libya’s intelligence services, is suspected of making the bomb that blew up a Boeing 747 travelling from London over Lockerbie in Scotland in 1988, killing 259 people on the plane and 11 on the ground. Some 190 American citizens were on the flight destined for New York.

He was not formally charged by the US until 2020, when it uncovered fresh evidence revealing he had apparently confessed his crimes to a Libyan law enforcement official.

His family said he was seized from his home by an armed unit linked to al-Dbaiba last month, Reuters reported.

On Sunday the US said he was in their custody. The next day, Masud appeared at a federal court in Washington and was charged with an act of international terrorism.

Al-Dbaiba said the government would provide Masud with a lawyer “regardless of his involvement in terrorism”.

A breakthrough in the long investigation came in 2017, when the US Justice Department acquired a copy of a 2012 interview that Masud gave to the North African country’s law enforcement, in which he allegedly admitted to building the bomb used in the Pan Am attack.

According to an FBI affidavit, Masud said the attack was ordered by Gaddafi’s intelligence services.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies