Pan Am Flight 103: The Story of Britain’s Deadliest Terror Attack
The bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 may have taken place more than 30 years ago, but the appearance in US court on Monday of alleged bomber Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi has sparked a new wave of interest in the attack.
Here’s what you need to know about the UK’s deadliest terror attack.
On December 21, 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 exploded 31,000 feet over Lockerbie, Scotland, 38 minutes after takeoff from London.
Two hundred and fifty-nine people aboard the Boeing 747 bound for New York were killed, along with 11 people on the ground.
Witnesses in and around Lockerbie reported parts of the plane falling “from the sky, some of which appeared to be engulfed in flames,” according to a 2020 affidavit from a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) special agent. shared by the United States. Department of Justice.
“As pieces of the plane hit the ground, some exploded. One such incident created an explosion that witnesses likened to a ‘mushroom cloud’ and left a crater about 40 feet deep where, moments before, residential homes were in the town of Lockerbie,” the officer said in the affidavit.
Subsequently, American and British investigators found fragments of a circuit board and timer, and concluded that a bomb, not a mechanical failure, had caused the explosion.
For three years, investigators from the United States, Britain, Germany and other countries interviewed more than 15,000 people in more than 30 countries and collected thousands of pieces of evidence.
Authorities have accused Libyan nationals Abdelbeset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi and Al Amin Khalifah Fhimah of making the bomb, which they say was made of Semtex plastic explosives, concealed in a Toshiba tape recorder, hidden in a Samsonite suitcase and slipped onto an Air Malta flight to Malta in Frankfurt, Germany.
The unaccompanied bag was reportedly transferred to a Pan Am flight to London and then to Flight 103.
The CIA and FBI said the suspects, employed by Libyan Arab Airlines in Malta, were also Libyan intelligence agents.
Libya’s then-leader Muammar Gaddafi denied any guilt in the attack.
But after Libya was sanctioned by the United Nations for initially refusing to hand over the suspects for trial, it was agreed that the pair would be prosecuted at a neutral site in the Netherlands.
In 2002, the suspects were handed over to the UN.
The following year, Libya agreed to pay $2.7 billion in compensation to the families of those killed, paving the way for the lifting of UN sanctions against the country.
Megrahi and Fhimah’s trial began on May 3, 2000 and ended on January 31, 2001. Megrahi was eventually convicted and jailed for at least 27 years. Fhimah was found not guilty.
In October 2008, it was announced that Megrahi was suffering from terminal cancer, and in August 2009 he was released from a Scottish prison on compassionate grounds.
After being released, Megrahi returned to Libya and received a warm welcome. He died on May 20, 2012.
In October 2015, Scottish officials announced that two additional Libyans had been identified as suspects in the bombing.
Five years later, on December 21, 2020, United States Attorney General William Barr announced criminal charges against former Libyan intelligence officer Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi in connection with the attack. from Lockerbie.
The apparent rift in the case came after Mas’ud was arrested by Libyan authorities for another matter. A 2012 Libyan interrogation report claiming he admitted to making the Lockerbie bomb was passed on to US authorities, and in 2020 the FBI traveled to Tunisia to interview the former Libyan official who collected the declaration of Mas’ud.
Mas’ud was charged in a criminal complaint with allegedly supplying the suitcase with the prepared explosive that was later placed on the flight. At the time, he was being held in Libya.
On Sunday, the US Department of Justice said Mas’ud was in US custody.