Lockerbie bombing: 2 suspects emerge, but questioning them will be difficult
Only man ever convicted in bombing, Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, died in 2012
A quarter-century after one of the worst terror attacks in British history, prosecutors say they have identified two new Libyan suspects in the bombing of a Pan Am jet over Lockerbie, Scotland, and want U.S. and Scottish investigators to interview them in Tripoli.
Given Libya's instability, that may be a remote prospect.
Scotland's Crown Office said Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland and U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch had agreed there's "a proper basis in law in Scotland and the United States to entitle Scottish and U.S. investigators to treat two Libyans as suspects" in the bombing of Flight 103.
It said Scotland and the U.S. were asking Libyan authorities to help Scottish detectives and FBI officers interview the suspects. The office said the Libyans are suspected of involvement with Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the only person convicted in the attack.
A bomb shattered the New York-bound Boeing 747 as it flew over Scotland on Dec. 21, 1988, killing all 259 people aboard and 11 on the ground. Many of the victims were American college students flying home for Christmas.
The complex and unfinished Lockerbie investigation is tied up with Libya's relationship with the West. In 1988, dictator Moammar Gadhafi's Libya was a pariah state accused by Western governments of sponsoring terrorism.
In 1999, Gadhafi handed over al-Megrahi and a second suspect — later acquitted — to Scottish authorities after years of punishing U.N. sanctions. In 2003, Gadhafi acknowledged responsibility, though not guilt, for the Lockerbie bombing and paid compensation of about $2.7 billion US to the victims' families. He also pledged to dismantle all weapons of mass destruction and joined the U.S.-led fight against terrorism.
After Gadhafi was overthrown and killed in 2011, Britain asked Libya's new rulers to help fully investigate. But the country has since been wracked by chaos and political violence, stalling efforts to collect evidence and interview suspects.
The U.S. Department of Justice remains committed to pursuing justice for the bombing victims, 189 of whom were American, a department spokesman said.
British officials previously asked to interview Abdullah al-Senoussi, Gadhafi's former spymaster, about the bombing.
A long investigation by documentary filmmaker Ken Dornstein, whose brother died in the attack, identified another Libyan, Abu Agila Mas'ud, as the possible bombmaker. He hasn't been named by U.S. or Scottish officials as a suspect.
Both were imprisoned in Libya after the 2011 fall of Gadhafi, and al-Senoussi has been sentenced to death. The crimes they've been charged with in Libya are unrelated to the bombing.
Families not unanimous on al-Megrahi's guilt
Dornstein said it's heartening to know the Scottish and U.S. governments are pursing the bombing suspects, a task he acknowledged isn't easy given the state of affairs in Libya.
"I feel like I pushed it as far as I could as a filmmaker and now it's up to governments to do the actual administration of justice," Dornstein said. "I'd be really gratified to know that this project could potentially lead to the first new charges in the case in some 25 years."
Prosecutors believe Flight 103 was brought down by a bomb in a suitcase loaded onto a flight from Malta and then booked through to Pan Am 103 via Frankfurt.
Al-Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence officer, was convicted in 2001 of planting the bomb and sentenced to 27 years in prison. But investigators have always believed others were involved, and critics question the reliability of the evidence used to convict him.
Al-Megrahi's conviction was largely based on the testimony of a Maltese shopkeeper who identified him as having bought a shirt, scraps of which were wrapped around a timing device discovered in the airliner's wreckage.
Al-Megrahi denied any involvement. He was freed from a Scottish jail in 2009 on compassionate grounds, because he had cancer, to the outrage of many victims' families. He died in Libya in 2012.
Some families of Lockerbie victims remain skeptical al-Megrahi was involved.
Jim Swire, whose daughter was killed in the bombing, said he believes al-Megrahi was wrongly convicted "so to try to bolt two more names on top of that is a very difficult situation."