On December 21, 1988, at about 7 pm, air traffic controllers lost contact with Pan Am Flight 103 as it departed London’s Heathrow Airport heading to New York’s JFK. Moments later the plane crashed into the town of Lockerbie, Scotland. The 259 people on the plane died and another 11 residents of Lockerbie died on the ground after being struck by debris. 190 of the victims were Americans.
Investigators quickly responded and found that a bomb on the plane had caused the disaster. A bomb hidden in a suitcase and placed in the cargo hold exploded and ripped a 20 inch hole in the fuselage of the plane. The uncontrolled decompression of the plane caused massive pressure on the frame. The fuselage began breaking apart and pieces of the plane began coming off. By the time the aircraft crashed, there were over 10,000 different pieces of the plane spread over a 770 square mile area.
Investigators were able to identify the suitcase that the bomb was hidden in. Meticulous work identified some components of the bomb as having a Libyan origin. They also identified some of the clothing in the suitcase and tracked it as being sold from a specific shop on Malta. The shop owner stated that the clothing had been sold to a Libyan man.
After a three-year investigation by Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary and the US FBI, indictments for murder were issued on 13 November 1991 against Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer and the head of security for Libyan Arab Airlines, and Lamin Khalifah Fhimah, a manager in Luqa Airport in Malta. After years of sanctions against Libya, Moammar Gaddafi turned the two over to authorities. On January 31, 2001 al-Megrahi was convicted of the bombing but Fhimah was acquitted. Al-Megrahi was sentenced to life imprisonment but was released in 2009.
The case did not end there. Dogged investigators continued their inquiry and in 2015 claimed to have leads on two additional Libyan nationals who were involved in the plot. On 21 December 2020, the United States DOJ announced that Abu Agela Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi, a Libyan national in custody in Libya, had been charged with terrorism-related crimes in connection with the bombing. Investigators believe that he was involved in constructing the bomb. Earlier this month, on December 11, the United States advised they had Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi in custody. A trial date has not yet been set.