Despite new suspects, Lockerbie closure remains elusive

AP News
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Posted: Oct 16, 2015 9:53 AM
Despite new suspects, Lockerbie closure remains elusive

LONDON (AP) — Scotland's leader said Friday she hopes the identification of new suspects in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing will lead to "full justice" for families of the 270 victims. But former British diplomats say putting the alleged perpetrators on trial for the airline bombing remains a distant prospect.

Scottish prosecutors say they have asked Libyan authorities to let U.S. and Scottish police interview two Libyans over the attack on Pan Am Flight 103. The plane, flying from London to New York, blew up over Lockerbie, Scotland, on Dec. 21, 1988, killing all 259 people aboard the plane and 11 others on the ground. Many of the victims were American college students flying home for Christmas.

Former Libyan intelligence officer Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who died in 2012, is the only person convicted in the attack. Many questions remain about the bombing of the plane, including who ordered it and how it was carried out.

"There are many families who still feel that they haven't had full justice in terms of what happened to their loved ones," said Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. "(Scottish officials) are absolutely determined that if there are other people out there who were involved who can be brought to justice, then there is a real determination to see that happen."

Scottish and U.S. authorities have not named the two suspects, but the BBC said officials in Tripoli had identified them as Mohammed Abouajela Masud and Abdullah al-Senoussi. British authorities investigating the bombing have previously sought to question al-Senoussi, who was deposed Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi's intelligence chief.

Al-Senoussi was also Gadhafi's brother-in-law and one of Libya's most powerful — and feared — figures. After Gadhafi's fall and slaying in 2011, he fled but was captured in Mauritania and sent back to Libya.

Oliver Miles, a former British ambassador to Libya, said Friday that Libyan authorities would be unwilling to hand over al-Senoussi, who has been sentenced to death for crimes unrelated to Lockerbie.

"He is too hot in Libya," Miles said. "He's the biggest fish in the pond."

Al-Senoussi has also been convicted in France, where in 1999 a court found him guilty in absentia over the bombing of a French passenger flight that blew up over Niger in 1989, killing 170 people.

"If a Scottish court could get hold of Senoussi, it could be a very big development indeed," said Richard Dalton, Britain's ambassador to Libya between 1999 and 2002. "But I think the chances of them getting hold of him are very low."

Libya's current political chaos also complicates the situation.

Scottish authorities say they have asked the Libyan attorney general in Tripoli for help in their quest to interview the suspects. But Libya has two rival governments now — an Islamist-backed administration based in Tripoli and an internationally recognized government based in the country's east.

The U.N. last week announced a proposed unity government to bring peace to the North African nation, but it has yet to be approved by the country's two parliaments.

It's unclear to what extent the Tripoli-based government, which is believed to have control of al-Senoussi, will be willing or able to assist Britain and the U.S.

Little is known about the second suspect, whose name has been spelled variously as Mohammed Abouajela Masud and Abu Agila Mas'ud.

Ken Dornstein, an American documentary filmmaker whose brother David died in the Lockerbie attack, has spent years trying to piece together the plot and has identified Mas'ud as the potential bomb-maker.

Dornstein said he was able to track down Mas'ud to a jail in Libya where is serving a 10-plus year sentence on bomb-making charges for booby-trapping cars of people opposed to Gadhafi. But Dornstein has, so far, not been able to confront him.

"I wish I had come face to face to him," Dornstein told The Associated Press.

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