Thursday marks 35 years since a transatlantic flight from Germany to the United States, which included stops in London and New York City, was destroyed by a bomb over a Scottish town that killed everyone on board.
Pan Am Flight 103 was en route from London to New York when it exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, on Dec. 21, 1988, killing all 259 people on the plane and another 11 people on the ground in what was called afterward the deadliest terror attack on British soil.
More than 100 of the victims of the attack were Americans, including 35 students who were studying at the time through the Syracuse University Division of International Programs Abroad.
What was first believed to be a horrific accident soon turned out to be the result of a bomb planted by a terrorist in a radio-cassette recorder inside a suitcase in the forward cargo hold of the Boeing 747 aircraft, which was named Clipper Maid of the Seas.
Last December, the Justice Department announced that Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi had been taken into U.S. custody and would face charges for his alleged role in the Lockerbie bombing.
Mas’ud was a longtime operative for Libyan intelligence, including service as an expert in building explosive devices from approximately 1973 to 2011, according to the Justice Department. In the winter of 1988, he was allegedly directed by a Libyan intelligence official to fly to Malta with a bomb disguised in a suitcase that would later explode on board Pan Am Flight 103.
According to the Justice Department, Mas’ud set a timer so that the bomb would explode aboard the flight the next day, and he took the device to the airport, where he handed it off to a co-conspirator who placed the bomb on a conveyor belt that led to the plane.
In January, when Mas’ud was set to face arraignment, it was reported that Mas’ud’s family members had trouble securing a defense attorney. The arraignment was thus pushed back to Feb. 8 and U.S. Magistrate Judge Moxila Upadhyaya reportedly appointed federal public defender Whitney Minter to represent him.
At the February arraignment, Mas’ud pleaded not guilty to two charges of destruction of an aircraft that resulted in death and one charge of destruction of a vehicle used in foreign commerce by an explosive that resulted in death. So far, no date for a trial has been set.
While Mas’ud is now the third Libyan intelligence official charged in the U.S. in connection with the Lockerbie bombing, he would be the first to stand trial in an American courtroom. The Justice Department originally announced charges against Mas’ud in 2020 on the 32nd anniversary of the bombing.
Only former Libyan intelligence officer Abdelbaset al-Megrahi has been convicted in the bombing to date, being charged for his role in the attack in 2001. He failed to appeal his conviction afterward but was released from prison in 2009 after it was determined he was terminally ill with cancer. He died in 2012 in Libya, having maintained his innocence for the rest of his life.
But a breakthrough in the investigation in 2017 led investigators to Mas’ud, who in an interview with Libyan law enforcement after the collapse of the regime of the country’s leader, Col. Muammar Qaddafi, admitted to building the bomb in the Pan Am attack.
U.S. officials say Mas’ud admitted during the interview that the attack was ordered by Libyan intelligence and that he and others who participated were personally thanked by Qaddafi for their roles.
Fox News’ Michael Lee contributed to this article.