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The Lockerbie bombing and God’s justice

We can thank God that an evildoer will stand trial for his crime


Stephanie Bernstein, widow of Pan Am 103 victim Michael Stuart Bernstein, speaks to the press outside the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C., Dec. 12. Associated Press/Photo by Andrew Harnik

The Lockerbie bombing and God’s justice
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God’s justice doesn’t sleep forever. On Dec. 21, 1988, a Libyan-planted bomb blasted Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. It killed 270 people, including 190 Americans and passengers from 21 other countries, plus 11 people crushed on the ground. Thirty-five passengers were Syracuse University students returning from study in Europe.

It was the deadliest terror attack aimed at the United States until 9/11.

But just days ago, on Dec. 12, former Libyan intelligence operative Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi (Mas’ud), age 71, appeared in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on federal charges of destroying the aircraft. Families of Mas’ud’s victims were in the courtroom to confront him for the first time.

Flight 103 was destroyed at 31,000 feet just 38 minutes after takeoff from London-Heathrow Airport heading to New York. Many passengers were Christmas travelers laden with gifts for family.

“While it has been nearly 34 years since the tragic bombing of Pan Am 103, the FBI and our partners throughout the U.S. government have never forgotten the Americans harmed and we will never rest until those responsible are brought to justice,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray.

“To those who would seek to harm Americans 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 Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

“We never forget an act of terrorism against American citizens,” said U.S. Attorney Matthew Graves for the District of Columbia.

These officials rightly understand their vocation to pursue justice unrelentingly across decades for their nation’s cause. Every government is charged with jealously protecting its people from terror and mayhem. Mass murderers, especially terrorists like Mas’ud who acted out of political motives targeting the state, should be passionately hunted, apprehended, and prosecuted.

“We never forget an act of terrorism against American citizens.”

Mas’ud, an explosives expert, worked from 1973 to 2011 for Libya’s External Security Organization. He built a suitcase bomb with a timer and delivered it to other Libyan agents for Flight 103. According to the U.S. Justice Department, about three months later Mas’ud met Libyan dictator Muamar Qaddafi, who thanked him “for carrying out a great national duty against the Americans, and Qaddafi added that the operation was a total success.”

After Qaddafi’s 2011 overthrow and death, Mas’ud told Libyan officials about his Lockerbie role. But he was only recently and mysteriously procured by U.S. agents, with perhaps tacit approval from Libyan officials. Kudos to that operation.

In 1999, Qaddafi, seeking relief from Western sanctions, gave Scotland two Libyan agents to prosecute for the Lockerbie bombing. One was acquitted and the other served 10 years for his crime before his release due to cancer, from which he later died in Libya. Afraid of the United States after the 2003 Iraq invasion, Qaddafi accepted responsibility for the bombing and paid compensation to the victims’ families.

As a young colonel, Qaddafi overthrew Libya’s king in 1969 and was dictator until his own overthrow in 2011, ruling over a vicious “Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya” built around his personality cult. He became increasingly deranged and flamboyant. He supported terror groups and hosted terror camps for diverse anti-Western groups, including Palestinians, the IRA, and Soviet-aligned communists. He jailed, tortured, and killed thousands of Libyans, including overseas dissidents. He shopped for teenage girls, and boys, at Libyan schools, had them abducted, and repeatedly raped them after gynecological exams (to avoid disease).

Hundreds were subjected to his “rape rooms.” Some later served as female personal body guards called “nuns of the revolution” and were forced to cheer while watching executions. Sometimes Qaddafi killed his rape victims, storing bodies as trophies for occasional review. Other rape victims were passed along to his son or other regime officials.

Qaddafi was a monster, and his support for international terrorism and his pro-Soviet alignment brought him conflict with the United States. In 1981, the United States expelled Libyan diplomats because Libya was believed to be plotting to assassinate U.S. diplomats. U.S. aircraft over the contested Gulf of Sidra shot down two Libyan aircraft after being fired upon. In 1986, Libya bombed a Berlin discotheque, killing two American soldiers and injuring 150 others. In response, the U.S. bombed targets in Libya. In early 1989, U.S. fighter aircraft shot down two Libyan fighter aircraft after a dogfight.

The 2011 Libyan revolution overthrew Qaddafi, who was captured, beaten, and shot as he exclaimed, “God forbids this” and “Do you know right from wrong?” His many victims, including the 270 killed at Lockerbie, must have wondered the same.

Qaddafi has since faced divine justice. His agent, Mas’ud, will now face earthly justice, for which we thank God.


Mark Tooley

Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy and editor of IRD’s foreign policy and national security journal, Providence. Prior to joining the IRD in 1994, Mark worked eight years for the Central Intelligence Agency. A lifelong United Methodist, he has been active in United Methodist renewal since 1988. He is the author of Taking Back The United Methodist Church, Methodism and Politics in the 20th Century, and The Peace That Almost Was: The Forgotten Story of the 1861 Washington Peace Conference and the Final Attempt to Avert the Civil War. He attends a United Methodist church in Alexandria, Va.


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