Will new evidence point to the man who made the Lockerbie bomb?

21 December 2020 By Paul Martin

American investigators into the culprits behind the Lockerbie disaster are confident they have new evidence incriminating Abuagila Masud, whose extradition they are seeking from a Libyan jail.  

Though US Attorney General William Barr is poised to announce that Masud is considered to have made or delivered the bomb that destroyed the PanAm plane,  his Justice Department has not yet  revealed its file of evidence.  

The US Justice Department wants him extradited to face a trial either in an American or a Scottish court. It has not given any details of fingerprint match-ups.

At a press conference [expected this afternoon], Attorney-General William Barr is expected to reveal some of the hitherto-secret evidence against Masud, who has been languishing in a Libyan jail for a different bomb-related crime.

Masud has been serving a ten year jail sentence for his role in bombing vehicles belonging to rebels combating the collapsing regime of Moammar Gaddafi nearly ten years ago. 

The announcement of criminal charges against Masud  will come as a boost 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.

The planned announcement drew an angry response from the Reverend John Mosey, whose 19-year-old daughter Helga, a passenger on the doomed aircraft, was among  43 Britons who died in the disaster, along with 190 Americans.

Rev Mosey said: “I consider the timing and particularly the choice of this specific day, which is special to many of us, to be bizarre, disrespectful, insensitive and extremely ill-considered”.

A former CIA intelligence officer, John Holt, has told Correspondent.World he is highly sceptical of what is now known of the evidence 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. 

‘I am astonished that if there was any such evidence against Masud it has taken the US government over thirty 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 destroyers of the PanAm flight,’ said Holt.

The former CIA officer, who was operating in Malta during the Lockerbie investigations there,  broke his silence for the first time since finishing his 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,’ he said.

The indictment will allege that Masud inserted around a kilogramme of high-explosive Semtex into a two-speaker Toshiba radio-cassette, and attached it to a Swiss-manufactured 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.

Masud has long been under suspicion over Lockerbie. After defecting, an East German counter-espionage officer told the FBI nearly three decades ago that Masud made the bomb that exploded in Berlin at the La Belle nightclub in nineteen eight six, killing two American GIs and injuring two hundred people.

 The announcement will be seen by American and Scottish prosecution teams as support for the conviction of Masud’s colleague, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the only person found guilty of mass murder by any court after the Lockerbie disaster. 

Megrahi, who was set free eleven years ago due to a terminal cancer diagnosis, died more than two years later in Tripoli, still protesting his innocence.  Judgment in a posthumous appeal against his conviction nineteen years ago is to be announced soon by the Scottish Supreme Court.

Calls for Masud’s extradition may fall on deaf ears. He is being held by a shaky government that. though recognised and supported by the international community, is subject to  pressures from tribal leaders and nationalists unwilling to accede to American demands.