Abu Agela Mas’ud won’t face death penalty in Lockerbie bombing, U.S. says


Prosecutors said in federal court Monday that the law does not allow them to seek the death penalty for the former Libyan intelligence officer charged with building the bomb that destroyed a passenger plane flying over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, killing 270 people, including 190 Americans.

Abu Agela Mas’ud Kheir al-Marimi, 71, made his first appearance in U.S. District Court in Washington on Monday afternoon, a day after U.S. authorities announced that they had extradited him. He would be the first person prosecuted in the United States in connection with the attack 34 years ago.

The Justice Department years ago charged two other men in connection with the killings, but Libyan officials never agreed to allow them to appear in an American courtroom. Instead, they were prosecuted by a Scottish court. Officials so far have declined to say what agreement they struck with Libya to bring Mas’ud to the United States.

Mas’ud faces two different criminal charges, including destruction of an aircraft resulting in death. He could be sentenced to life in prison. Prosecutors told Magistrate Judge Robin M. Meriweather that while the charges Mas’ud faces now are punishable by death, they were not eligible for the death penalty in 1988.

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Mas’ud, who was born in Tunisia and also holds Libyan citizenship, appeared with a public defender, limping into the courtroom wearing a green jail jumpsuit. Relatives of victims killed in the bombing were present.

Speaking in Arabic through a translator, he told the judge that he had the flu and was taking medication, and that he wanted to obtain his own lawyer but had not yet done so. “I cannot talk before I have my attorney,” Mas’ud said.

Meriweather agreed to delay the detention hearing until Dec. 27.

Until Sept. 11, 2001, the bombing of the Boeing 747 was the largest terrorist attack against U.S. civilians in history. It led to sanctions against Libya and helped shape the FBI’s handling of international investigations.

In 1991, Libyan intelligence operative Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi and his alleged accomplice Lamen Khalifa Fhimah were charged in the Lockerbie bombing. Libya initially refused to send them to the United States or Britain for trial, instead handing them over in 1999 for trial by a Scottish court on a former U.S. military base in the Netherlands.

Fhimah was acquitted, while Megrahi was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Megrahi died in 2012, about three years after being released from prison with a cancer diagnosis.

Mas’ud was charged years later, after the FBI obtained a copy of a 2012 interview of him by a Libyan law enforcement officer.

According to the U.S. affidavit filed in support of the criminal case, Mas’ud admitted making the bomb that took down the plane and assisting Megrahi and Fhimah in executing the plot.

Mas’ud has been in Libyan custody in an unrelated case.

State Department spokesman Ned Price declined to give details Monday of what led to his transfer to the United States. “It is safe to say that this happened in consultation with appropriate Libyan authorities and the United States is in regular contact and discussion with our Libyan counterparts, but I would need to leave it at that,” Price told reporters at a briefing.

John Hudson contributed to this report.

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