Libya opens probe into Lockerbie suspect’s extradition to US

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BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) — Libya’s chief prosecutor on Wednesday said that he had opened an investigation into the extradition of a Libyan national accused of making the bomb that downed Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, to the United States.

U.S. authorities announced they had arrested former intelligence officer Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi on Sunday. The following day he appeared in federal court in Washington, D.C. and was charged with an act of international terrorism.

Speaking with reporters in Tripoli, prosecutor Al-Siddiq Al-Sour said the investigation has been opened following a complaint from Mas’ud’s family that his extradition was not lawful. Al-Sour later confirmed the investigation with The Associated Press but did not provide further details.

Libya and the U.S. have no formal extradition agreement.

Mas’ud was kidnapped from his family home in Tripoli by armed men in November, according to a statement issued by his family shortly after the event. The family blames authorities in Libya’s capital Tripoli for the alleged kidnapping and extradition, it added. Masud’s family have released no official comment since that statement and did not respond to the AP’s request for comment.

Torn by civil war since 2011, Libya is divided between the government of Prime Minister Hamid Dbeibah in Tripoli and a rival government based in eastern Libya headed by Prime Minister Fathi Bashagha.

In western Libya, militia groups have amassed great wealth and power from kidnappings and their involvement in the country’s lucrative human trafficking trade.

The official spokesman for Libya’s Tripoli government did not respond to a request for comment about the investigation.

According to Jalel Harchaoui, a North Africa-focused analyst, a proper investigation into how Mas’ud was taken, detained, and transferred would likely uncover illegal steps.

“The investigation is unlikely to take place unless Debibah and his support base grow significantly weaker,” Harchaoui said.

On Tuesday, Bashagha labelled Mas’ud’s extradition as illegal and called for the former intelligence officer’s immediate release.

The New York-bound Pan Am flight exploded over Lockerbie less than an hour after takeoff from London on Dec. 21, 1988, killing 259 people onboard and 11 others on the ground when it crashed. Some 190 American citizens were on the flight that was destined for New York.

A breakthrough in the decades-long investigation came in 2017 when the U.S. Justice Department received a copy of an interview that Mas’ud, a former explosives expert with Libya’s intelligence services, had given to the North African country’s law enforcement in 2012, while in custody following the collapse of Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s decades-long rule.

In the interview, U.S. officials said, Mas’ud admitted building the bomb in the Pan Am attack. He also said the operation was ordered by Gadhafi’s intelligence services, according to an FBI affidavit.

American authorities in December 2020 announced charges against Mas’ud. At that time, Mas’ud was in Libyan custody.

Mas’ud is the third Libyan intelligence official charged in the U.S. in connection with the Lockerbie attack but the first to appear in an American courtroom. U.S. officials have not explained how he was taken into their custody.

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