(STL.News) On this day 32 years ago, December 21, 1988, at 7:03 p.m. local time, a bomb destroyed Pan Am Flight 103 as it flew 31,000 feet above Lockerbie, Scotland. The massive Boeing 747 plane, known as the “Clipper Maid of the Seas,” exploded and fell to the ground in countless pieces scattered across 840 square miles, nearly the entire width of Scotland. The explosion killed all 259 people on board—243 passengers and 16 crew members, including 190 Americans. Falling debris claimed the lives of 11 Lockerbie residents on the ground, many of whom were in their homes and had just sat down for dinner. The Lockerbie bombing remains the deadliest single terrorist attack in the history of the United Kingdom, and the second deadliest terrorist attack for Americans—surpassed only by the 9/11 attacks.
Immediately after the bombing, the FBI partnered with law enforcement agencies from Scotland to investigate. That joint investigation led to the filing of charges in 1991 against two Libyan intelligence officers. The investigation also pointed to another conspirator—a man known by the name “Abu Agela Masud”—but at the time, investigators were unable to identify or locate that suspect.
Joined this morning by Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers … Acting United States Attorney for the District of Columbia Michael Sherwin … and Kara Weipz, whose brother Rick Monetti was killed on the flight and who now leads a Pan Am Flight 103 advocacy organization, I am pleased to announce that the United States has filed criminal charges against the third conspirator, Abu Agila Muhammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi, for his role in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.
Let there be no mistake: no amount of time or distance will stop the United States, and its partners in Scotland, from pursuing justice in this case.
Well over a third of Americans alive today were not yet born on the day of the Lockerbie bombing or would not have been old enough to remember it. But for those of us who do remember, that tragic event and the iconic images of its aftermath, some of which are displayed here today, are forever seared in our memories.
Passengers and crew aboard the flight came from 21 countries around the world. But by far the largest contingent on that doomed flight were Americans, including a group of 35 study-abroad students from Syracuse University who were on their way home to spend the holidays with their families.
There is no question that the Pan Am 103 attack was aimed at the United States, and this heinous assault lives in infamy in the collective memory of the American people. At Arlington National Cemetery, a cairn of 270 Scottish stones honors “those who lost their lives in this attack against America.” And at Syracuse University, 35 Remembrance Scholarships are awarded each year, with each recipient representing a particular Syracuse student killed aboard the plane.
Following the bombing, many of the victims’ families made an agonizing journey to Scotland to the place where they lost their loved ones. The people of Lockerbie, though devastated themselves, provided around-the-clock hospitality. In an unforgettable gesture, a group of Scottish women meticulously collected clothing from amid the wreckage; washed, ironed, and folded the garments they found; and sent them home to the victims’ family members as a final connection to their loved ones. Sadly, the remains of 17 victims were never identified or found.
From the beginning, the United States and Scotland have been determined to find and hold accountable those who perpetrated the Pan Am 103 attack. As I mentioned, our joint investigation led to the filing of charges in November 1991 in both the United States and Scotland against two Libyan intelligence officers—Abdel Baset Ali al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah. Nearly ten years later, in May 2000, a specially established Scottish court convened in The Netherlands to try the two men. In January 2001, Megrahi was convicted on all charges, but Fhimah was acquitted.
The breakthrough that has led to the charges announced today arose when law enforcement 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. According to the criminal complaint affidavit, Masud built the bomb that destroyed Pan Am Flight 103 and worked with Megrahi and Fhimah to carry out the plot. The affidavit also alleges that the operation had been ordered by the leadership of Libyan intelligence and that, after the downing of the aircraft, Qaddafi had thanked Masud for the successful attack on the United States. In addition to his involvement in the Lockerbie bombing, Masud was also involved in the 1986 bombing of the LaBelle Discotheque in Berlin, West Germany, which killed two American service members and a Turkish woman. Although Masud remains in Libyan custody, Libyan authorities provided a copy of the interview to law enforcement.
Based on that and other evidence, prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the Counterterrorism Section of the National Security Division unsealed a complaint this morning in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia charging Masud with terrorism-related crimes for his role in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. At long last, this man responsible for killing Americans and many others will be subject to justice for his crimes.
The Lockerbie bombing case holds special significance for me because I was serving as the Acting Attorney General when charges were filed against Megrahi and Fhimah in 1991. I know firsthand the toil, tears, and sweat that have been poured into pursuing justice for the victims of the Lockerbie bombing and their families. And so it is with profound gratitude that I recognize and thank our law enforcement friends in Scotland for their nearly 32-year partnership with us on this case. I also thank Lord Advocate of Scotland James Wolffe for his continued partnership. There is much work still to be done, and we will not be able to do it without our colleagues in Scotland. We are committed to working arm-in-arm with them as we move forward in this case. I am especially proud of the countless agents and analysts of the FBI who have worked the Pan Am 103 case relentlessly over the decades. Thank you for your dedication and perseverance. And finally, I thank the prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the National Security Division for their many years of hard work and for preparing the charges in this case.
Today, Masud remains in Libyan custody, and we intend to work closely with our Scottish counterparts to use every feasible and appropriate means to ensure that he answers for his part in the Lockerbie bombing. It is my hope that Libyan authorities will allow Masud to be tried for this crime and will provide the support and witnesses necessary to bring him to justice. Nevertheless, while we will never rest in our efforts to hold Masud accountable, I hope that the families of the lost will find some comfort in the charges filed today. The alleged facts underlying these charges fill important gaps in the historical record and help complete the account of how the bombing was executed and who was responsible. Finding the truth is the first step toward achieving justice.
Much has changed in the more than three decades since Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie. Libya accepted responsibility for the bombing in 2003. Qaddafi and his regime are no more. Libya is no longer at war with America. And while we still face terrorist threats, our terrorist enemies are different, and we are more vigilant. Time, to be sure, marches on, and there is a tendency to think that grief does as well. But even though grief, like memories, may fade, for those who have lost love ones unexpectedly, it never truly fades away.
To the families of those who died in the sky above Lockerbie all those years ago, I know that the small step we take today cannot compensate for the sorrow you feel to this day. But I hope that you will find some measure of solace in knowing that we in the United States Government, on behalf of the American people and in partnership with our counterparts in Scotland, have never relented, and will never relent, in the pursuit of justice for you and your loved ones.