On Dec. 21, 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 was destroyed, in the blink of an eye, shortly after takeoff, when a bomb in the forward cargo area exploded. The flight was at 31,000 feet over Scotland having taken off from London-Heathrow heading to John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. That terrorist act and the crash are often associated with the beautiful Scottish town in which the aircraft crashed, Lockerbie.
Citizens from 21 countries were killed. The victims included people from America, United Kingdom, Argentina, Belgium, Bolivia, Canada, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Philippines, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Trinidad and Tobago.
Among the 190 Americans lost were 35 Syracuse University students returning home to the United States for the holidays after a semester studying abroad. Of the 43 victims from the UK, eleven residents of Lockerbie, Scotland were also killed on the ground as debris from the aircraft destroyed an entire city block of homes. The attack was planned and executed by Libyan intelligence operatives. At the time it was the largest international terrorist attack in both the United States and the United Kingdom.
Scottish and American law enforcement jointly undertook an investigation which has been called unprecedented in scope. It led to criminal charges filed in both countries charging two Libyan intelligence operatives – Abdel Baset Ali al-Megrahi (Megrahi) and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah (Fhimah) – for their roles in the bombing. They were tried in a Scottish court sitting in The Netherlands. Fhimah was acquitted. Megrahi was found guilty.
The reverberations of that event are still being felt today more than 30 years on.
In December, Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi (Mas’ud), 71, of Tunisia and Libya, made an initial appearance in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on federal charges, stemming from the bombing.
The United States and Scotland say their partnership will continue throughout the prosecution of Mas’ud.
“Nearly 34 years ago, 270 people, including 190 Americans, were tragically killed in the terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. Since then, American and Scottish law enforcement have worked tirelessly to identify, find, and bring to justice the perpetrators of this horrific attack. Those relentless efforts over the past three decades led to the indictment and arrest of a former Libyan intelligence operative for his alleged role in building the bomb used in the attack,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “The defendant is currently in U.S. custody and is facing charges in the United States. This is an important step forward in our mission to honor the victims and pursue justice on behalf of their loved ones.”
The U. S. Justice Department and Scottish authorities worked for more than three decades to continue to find additional perpetrators. Mas’ud’s appearance in court is a message to those who would seek to harm innocents anywhere in the world. “Know that we will find you however far you run and we will hold you accountable however how long it takes,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.
Acting Assistant Director in Charge Michael H. Glasheen of the FBI Washington Field Office added, “Thank you to the families of the victims for showing us your perseverance and strength for decades. The U.S. government will also persevere in our quest to bring justice, on your behalf, for those we so tragically lost.”
In 2019 my husband and I took a holiday in Scotland and one of our stops was at Lockerbie’s Dryfesdale Cemetery Garden of Remembrance and Memorial to the victims of this event (see image). And while another small piece of justice is about to occur, all of us who were around in the aviation industry back in 1988 will forever remember Lockerbie.