Human rights group questions Lockerbie suspect’s extradition

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A leading rights group has urged the US and Libya to explain the legal basis of the surprise extradition of a former Libyan intelligence officer accused of making the bomb that exploded on Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

US authorities announced in December that they had arrested Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi over allegations that he was behind the bomb which brought down the New York-bound flight just days before Christmas in 1988.

The attack killed 259 people in the air and 11 on the ground.

Mas’ud’s arrest and extradition has raised questions about the legal basis of how he was picked up, just months after his release from a Libyan prison, and sent to the US.

American officials have said his transfer was lawful and described it as a culmination of years of co-operation with Libyan authorities.

National Archives papers released
The wrecked nose section of Pan Am Flight 103 in a field at Lockerbie in Scotland (PA)

Libyan officials told the Associated Press in December that militias loyal to the Tripoli-based Government of National Unity were behind his detention and handover to the US.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report that Mas’ud’s saga has raised rights concerns.

“It appears that no Libyan court ordered or reviewed Mas’ud’s transfer to the US, and he had no chance to appeal, raising serious due process concerns,” said Hanan Salah, associate Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

When asked for comment on the HRW report, the US Department of Justice referred to its December statement that Mas’ud was wanted by the international police agency Interpol to face the charges.

Mas’ud was picked up from his home in Tripoli’s Abu Salim district, which is controlled by a network of militias allied with Tripoli-based Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah.

Libya’s public prosecutor’s office has challenged the move and opened an investigation.

Mr Dbeibah acknowledged his government’s role in the extradition, calling Mas’ud a “terrorist”.

The prime minister, however, did not explain the legality of his arrest or transfer to the US. He did not provide hard evidence for any of his allegations.

The rights group also called for the US to hold a fair trial and allow the suspect to challenge his extradition.

And it urged Libyan authorities to investigate and hold accountable those responsible for “violently seizing Mas’ud from his home”.

Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie less than an hour after take-off from London on December 21 1988. Of those killed on the flight, 190 were American citizens.

30th anniversary of Lockerbie bomb
Tributes left in the Memorial Garden at Dryfesdale Cemetery in Lockerbie in 2018 to mark the 30th anniversary of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 (Jane Barlow/PA)

Libya has been torn by civil war since a Nato-backed uprising toppled and killed Gaddafi in 2011. The North African country is divided between Mr Dbeibah’s government and a rival government based in eastern Libya headed by Prime Minister Fathi Bashagha.

Human Rights Watch said Libya’s detention facilities were mired in abuses – including torture and intimidation – to extract confessions during Mas’ud’s years in Libyan prisons.

It called on the US to ensure that “no coerced confessions, including confessions made under torture, are used as part of the prosecution”.

Mas’ud is the third Libyan intelligence official charged in the US in connection with the Lockerbie attack but the first to appear in an American courtroom.

US officials have not explained how he was taken into their custody.

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