US investigators say there are vital new clues, as mass-murder charges are due to be announced. It’s the 32nd anniversary of the Lockerbie bombing on Monday.20 December 2020
Exactly thirty-two years after the destruction of PanAm plane over Lockerbie, the United States Justice Department has found evidence that it says will strengthen mass-murder charges against the man they will accuse of constructing and delivering the bomb.
At a press conference expected today — Monday – it will reveal some of its secret evidence against Abu Agila Masud, who has been languishing in a Libyan jail for a different bomb-related crime.
The indictment alleges, according to US Justice Ministry sources, that Masud inserted around a kilogramme of high-explosive Semtex into a two-speaker Toshiba radio-cassette, and attached it to a Swiss-made timer. It was concealed in a suitcase and exploded thirty-eight minutes into a flight from Heathrow that was headed for New York, killing two hundred and seventy people.
Investigators say the new evidence may include a fingerprint trace that, they claim, has been matched with Masud’s. They refused to discuss where they found it.
It is understood either to have been taken from the fragment of the bomb’s circuit-board found at the crash site, or it comes from an immigration card filled in by Masud at Malta’s international airport just before the PanAm plane’s destruction.
The immigration card revealed Masud’s name and passport details. Until now it was not known that fingerprint evidence could be extracted from the card or from the circuit-board.
Investigators have interviewed Masud in Tripoli, according to sources familiar with the case. Masud had been sentenced five years ago to ten years in jail for involvement in bombing vehicles in which opponents of Colonel Gaddafi had been travelling as Libya spiralled into a chaotic civil war.. It is understood that his fingerprints were only recently sent to Washington DC for comparative analysis in an FBI laboratory.
Demands for extradition to the US to face trial may follow the unsealing of an indictment. However the current ruler of Libya are themselves deeply divided. Though Masud is held by a shaky government that is recognised and supported by the international community, it also has pressures from tribal leaders and nationalists not to accede to American demands.
It is possible that Scottish police would therefore seek to have the alleged bomber brought to trial in Scotland, or, as happened in , before Scottish judges sitting in another country. Last time three Scottish judges convicted AbdelBaset al-Megrahi of multiple murders and sentenced him to life imprisonment in a trial held in a former US military camp in Utrecht, Holland.
Masud had been a suspect, but when Scottish police went to Libya In nineteen ninety nine the authorities there, under Colonel Gaddafi, denied knowledge of him, so two other Libyans were put on trial.
The announcement of criminal charges against Masoud is apparently timed to indicate a success for the US Attorney-General William Barr. He is to leave office on Wednesday, after falling out with President Donald Trump. Barr was also attorney-general under President Reagan when he announced the charges against Megrahi and another Libyan.
At the last ceremony to mark the PanAm disaster, held each year near Washington DC, Barr spoke emotionally about his determination to bring more of the culprits to justice.
He said: ‘In 1991, I made a pledge to you on behalf of the American law-enforcement community: ‘We will not rest until all those responsible are brought to justice.’ That is still our pledge. For me personally, this is still very much unfinished business.’
Barr, when in charge of Lockerbie investigation, points to a bomb fragment.
However, a former CIA intelligence officer, John Holt, has told The Telegraph he is highly sceptical of what is now known of the charge to be brought against Masud.
Holt considers it far more likely that the operation was masterminded and carried out on the instructions of Iran by a small radical group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command. That unit was already responsible for placing two previous bombs in civilian airliners.
There was an obvious motive, Holt pointed out. Five months before the PanAm disaster, a United States warship mistook a civilian Iranian Airbus for a fighter plane and shot it down near the Iranian coast, killing close to three hundred people.
‘I am astonished that if there was any evidence against Masud it has taken the US government years to decide to bring charges. It looks to me like a last-minute effort for Barr to create a legacy for himself: as the man who never gave up seeking the killers of the PanAm flight,’ said Holt
The former CIA officer, who was operating in Malta during the Lockerbie investigations there, broke his silence this month for the first time since retiring from a twenty-four-year career with the US intelligence agency.
‘I find it hard to believe there is any evidence that has just come up, that wasn’t there many years back. So the timing of this so-called unsealing of a criminal charge is very suspicious.’
Ex-CIA intelligence officer John Holt in an unnamed Arab country. Copyright MediaZones.
However Ken Dornstein, a film-maker whose brother David died in the PanAm bombing, claims a convicted conspirator in a different Libyan-run bombing was told by Masud that he was also involved in the Lockerbie disaster.
After defecting, an East German counter-espionage officer told the FBI over two decades ago that Masud made the bomb that exploded in a Berlin nightclub in nineteen eight six, killing two American GIs and injuring two-hundred people.