Lockerbie bombing: Suspect will not face death penalty after appearing in court

Charges had been laid in the US two years ago against Abu Agila Mas'ud, but he was only on Monday brought before an American court - Robert Moore reports

The man suspected of building the bomb that downed Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988 – killing 270 people – will not face the death penalty, a US court has heard.

Libyan-born Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi is alleged to have helped make the bomb which killed all 259 passengers and crew on board the jumbo jet bound to New York from London, on December 21, 1988.

Another 11 people were killed in Lockerbie when wreckage destroyed their homes, in what remains Britain's deadliest terrorist attack.

The bombing itself laid bare the threat of international terrorism more than a decade before the September 11 attacks in 2001.

But prosecutors said they would not be pursuing the death penalty against Mas'ud because the bombing occurred before the specific charges which he faces carried a possible penalty of capital punishment.

He faces three charges related to the explosion, including destruction of an aircraft, resulting in death.

On Sunday, the US Justice Department announced that Mas'ud had been taken into custody, two years after it revealed that it had charged him in connection with the explosion.

Two other Libyan intelligence officials have been charged in the US for their alleged involvement in the attack, but Mas'ud was the first defendant to appear in an American courtroom for prosecution.

A police officer walks past the wreckage in Lockerbie, Scotland. Credit: AP

A bearded and balding Mas'ud wore a green jail uniform and walked with a halting gait to the defence table, at Monday's hearing.

He spoke occasionally through an interpreter while the federal defenders who represented him at the hearing said he wanted representation from his own lawyers.

At one point, as the charges were being discussed, Mas'ud said in Arabic: "I cannot talk until I see my attorney."

A detention hearing was set for later in December.

Last month it was reported that Mas'ud had been kidnapped by a militia group in Libya, leading to speculation that he was going to be handed over to the American authorities to stand trial.

A US Justice Department spokesperson told the Reuters news agency that Mas'ud would make an initial appearance in a federal court in Washington.

In 2020, Mas’ud was charged by the US Attorney General William Barr with being the third person involved in the terrorist attack.

At the time, he was said to be in Libyan custody and Mr Barr said US authorities would work "arm in arm" with their Scottish counterparts.

Mr Barr said: "Let there be no mistake, no amount of time or distance will stop the US and our Scottish partners from pursuing justice in this case."

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