The man accused of making the bomb that brought down Pan Am flight 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in 1988 has appeared in a US court.
Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir al Marimi appeared in person at the Washington DC federal courthouse.
Dressed in a green jumpsuit, he walked slowly into court and spoke up only to confirm his name. He was not invited to enter a plea.
About 20 people whose relatives died in the bombing were in the public gallery.
Among them was a widow with her daughter and a man with his father who lost his mother.
They were some of many families made incomplete by the biggest terror attack in British history.
“I’ve been doing this [pursuing justice] for 34 years,” one relative, Stephanie Bernstein, told Sky News.
“My daughter was seven when my husband was killed… The United States government is going to take care of its citizens in life and in death… grateful to the Biden administration.”
Dr Jim Swire, who lost his daughter Flora in the bombing, said he hoped Mas’ud would eventually tell the bereaved families more about what really happened that day.
“Hopefully he can tell us about how it was done, and contribute to discovering the truth about this ghastly, terrible business.”
The proceedings lasted under an hour and paved the way for a further detention hearing on 27 December.
Mas’ud said, through federal lawyers assigned to him, that he had not yet been able to assign his own legal counsel. He has been given a week to do so, and he will remain in custody.
Investigation concluded bomb placed in suitcase
Mas’ud has long been sought by prosecutors and suspected of being the “third man” behind the downing of the American plane over Lockerbie in December 34 years ago.
The 747 jumbo was at 31,000ft and just over half an hour into its transatlantic flight from London Heathrow to New York’s JFK airport when a bomb exploded.
The 243 passengers and 16 crew on board the plane all died. On the ground, in the town of Lockerbie in Dumfries and Galloway, 11 more people died as debris fell on to homes.
A painstaking and lengthy investigation combed 845-square miles of Scottish countryside for debris. It concluded that the bomb had been placed inside a cassette player that was wrapped in clothes and placed inside a suitcase.
After the Libyan government claimed responsibility in 2003, two former members of its intelligence service were arrested, extradited and tried.
Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah was acquitted. Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi was found guilty and jailed for life in 2012.
Investigators always suspected third man
Megrahi, who failed twice to have his conviction overturned, was released on compassionate grounds in 2009 and died in Libya in 2012.
But investigators always suspected a third man was part of the plot.
In 2011 after the overthrow of leader Muammar Gaddafi, Mas’ud was taken into custody in Libya as part of a sweep of arrests of regime loyalists.
The following year, he is said to have told a Libyan law-enforcement official that he was the Lockerbie bomb maker.
This apparent confession in 2012 formed the basis of a US Department of Justice case against him which was released in 2020.
The details of how Mas’ud was transferred from Libyan custody to American hands has not been revealed.
Scotland’s top law officer to meet US officials
The bombing remains the deadliest terror attack in British history. People from 21 counties were killed.
Scotland’s top law officer has welcomed the news that Mas’ud is in US custody.
“The steps taken by the US justice authorities are significant and progress towards a legal breakthrough is welcomed by Scottish prosecutors and police,” Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain KC said.
“The tragic events of December 1988 have bound Scotland and the US together in deep loss and steadfast determination that all those who committed this atrocity should be brought before a court.”
She added: “For more than 20 years, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service has maintained a case team working on this investigation, bringing together a range of prosecutorial expertise in counter-terrorism, major crime investigations, forensic analysis, international co-operation and mutual legal assistance.”
Ms Bain said officials in Scotland and the US will continue to investigate the case, “with the sole aim of bringing those who acted along with al Megrahi to justice”.
She confirmed she would be meeting American officials next week to discuss the case.