Accused bomb maker in Lockerbie attack won't face death penalty, prosecutor says
WASHINGTON – A federal magistrate judge ordered the suspect in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, to be held without bond and scheduled hearings to assign a defense lawyer and determine whether he should remain in custody until trial.
Abu Agila Mohammad Masud Kheir Al-Marimi, 71, is charged with making the bomb that destroyed the plane and faces three federal charges of destroying an aircraft or vehicle used in foreign commerce resulting in death. The Justice Department announced Sunday that Masud was in custody.
Each count carries a maximum penalty of life in prison or the death penalty and a $250,000 fine. But Assistant U.S. Attorney Erik Kenerson said because the death penalty was not available in 1988, the government would not pursue that penalty if Masud is convicted.
Masud asked through an interpreter to have his own counsel for the case that could send him to prison for the rest of his life. But before he could line up his own lawyer, public defenders from D.C. and Virginia appeared with him at the Monday hearing.
Masud spoke briefly through a translator at the hearing to say he could understand what was happened. “I took some medication and I have some flu,” he said.
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What was the Lockerbie bombing?
The bombing Dec. 21, 1988, killed all 259 passengers on the plane and 11 people on the ground in Lockerbie, Scotland. The victims included 190 U.S. citizens, 43 United Kingdom citizens and residents of 19 other countries, Kenerson said.
“At the time, it was the deadliest terror attack in the United States and the United Kingdom,” Kenerson said. “It remains the deadliest in the United Kingdom’s history and has been surpassed in this country only by the attacks that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001.”
More: Lockerbie bombing suspect in 1988 Pan Am flight is in US custody, says Justice Department
Masud has more December court dates
U.S. Magistrate Judge Robin Meriweather set a hearing Dec. 19 to recognize his lawyer or assign a public defender. She also set a Dec. 27 detention hearing. A hearing is scheduled Wednesday for his arraignment, but that will likely be postponed until after his lawyer is determined.
Meriweather read Masud his rights to decline to speak to authorities and against self-incrimination. But she postponed hearing his initial plea until he has a lawyer.
A public defender from Northern Virginia, Whitney Minter, said Masud prefers to hire his own lawyer to represent him in the case. She spoke with him about allowing a week for him to arrange his own lawyer and to schedule the detention hearing at the end of the month.
More: Lockerbie bombing anniversary: Attorney General Barr unveils new charges in 1988 attack
Case against Masud years in the making
Federal authorities unveiled the case against Masud two years ago, charging him with destruction of an aircraft resulting in death and destruction of a vehicle of interstate commerce with an explosive.
At the time the charges were announced, then-Attorney General William Barr, who helped lead the initial investigation during his first stint as attorney general, said a "breakthrough" in the case came in 2016, when federal investigators learned that Masud, a long-suspected co-conspirator, had been arrested and interrogated by Libyan authorities in 2012 after the collapse of the Moammar Gadhafi regime.
A copy of the interview and other evidence was provided to U.S. authorities, allegedly linking Masud to the assembly of the explosive.
According to court documents, the operation had been ordered by Libyan intelligence officials, and Gadhafi thanked Masud for "the successful attack on the United States."
U.S. officials also believe Masud was involved in the 1986 bombing of the LaBelle Discotheque in Berlin, which killed two American service members and a Turkish woman.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Lockerbie bombing: Accused bomb maker won't face death penalty