Suspect in bombing of Pan Am flight that killed 16 from Michigan over Lockerbie in custody

A key suspect in 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 people, including 16 passengers from Michigan, is in U.S. custody, officials confirmed Sunday.

“The United States has taken custody of alleged Pan Am flight 103 bombmaker Abu Agila Mohammad Masud," a Justice Department spokesman said.

The deadly crash, which occurred four days before Christmas 33 years ago, killed a cross section of Michiganders, from students and toddlers to auto executives and the heir to a famed automotive and banking dynasty in Detroit. A majority of those onboard were Americans. U.S. investigators, together with survivors of the victims, have pushed ever since the catastrophe to gain evidence leading to arrests.

The day after the Dec. 21, 1988, bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, police officers look at the wreckage of the Boeing 747.
The day after the Dec. 21, 1988, bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, police officers look at the wreckage of the Boeing 747.

According to court documents, the terrorist act had been ordered by Libyan intelligence officials directed by former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who died in 2011 when his regime was overthrown. Gadhafi is said to have thanked Masud for his role in blowing up the airliner.

The suspect is expected to make an initial court appearance in Washington, D.C. He is to face charges leveled two years ago, when federal prosecutors charged him with destruction of an aircraft resulting in death, and with using an explosive to destroy a vehicle of interstate commerce. Masud, a former Libyan intelligence officer, is suspected of helping to make the bomb. It exploded aboard a Boeing 747 as the airliner flew over the small Scottish town of Lockerbie en route from London to New York.

This December 1988 file photo shows wrecked houses and a deep gash in the ground in the village of Lockerbie, Scotland, that was caused by the crash of Pan Am Flight 103. In 1988, 270 people were killed when a terrorist bomb exploded aboard a Pam Am Boeing 747 over Lockerbie, Scotland, sending wreckage crashing to the ground. The 30th anniversary of the bombing was being marked Dec. 21, 2018, with services in Scotland and the United States.
This December 1988 file photo shows wrecked houses and a deep gash in the ground in the village of Lockerbie, Scotland, that was caused by the crash of Pan Am Flight 103. In 1988, 270 people were killed when a terrorist bomb exploded aboard a Pam Am Boeing 747 over Lockerbie, Scotland, sending wreckage crashing to the ground. The 30th anniversary of the bombing was being marked Dec. 21, 2018, with services in Scotland and the United States.

At the time the charges were announced, then-Attorney General William Barr, who helped lead the initial investigation during his first stint as attorney general, said a "breakthrough" in the case came in 2016, when federal investigators learned that Masud, a long-suspected co-conspirator, had been arrested and interrogated by Libyan authorities in 2012 after the collapse of the Moammar Gadhafi regime.

A copy of the interview and other evidence was provided to U.S. authorities, allegedly linking Masud to the assembly of the explosive. According to court documents, the operation had been ordered by Libyan intelligence officials, and Gadhafi thanked Masud for "the successful attack on the United States." U.S. officials also believe Masud was involved in the 1986 bombing of the LaBelle Discotheque in Berlin, West Germany, which killed two American service members and a Turkish woman.

More:’88 Lockerbie bombing: 16 Michigan victims remembered, new charges unveiled

As one of the longest-running terrorism cases moves forward, these Michigan victims, as recalled in Detroit Free Press reporting at the time, remain in memory:

  • LAWRENCE BENNETT, 41, of Lima Township was a chemist for Warner-Lambert Co. in Ann Arbor.

  • DIANE BOATMON-FULLER, 35, was a former Detroit schoolteacher. She was raised in Detroit, worked in the city, then moved to Los Angeles and then London to pursue a career as a playwright, family told the Detroit Free Press following her death. She was enjoying some success and had booked a flight home as a surprise visit for the holidays.

  • CHARLES T. FISHER IV, 34, of the famous Detroit Fisher family, did not get his 35th birthday celebrations in Grosse Pointe Farms as planned when flying home for the holidays. He was an assistant bank vice president in the London office of New York-based Citicorp at the time of his death. His family is perhaps best known for the art-deco Fisher Building in the city along with their success in the automotive industry. The first Charles T. Fisher, served as the president of Fisher Body Co. and a vice president of General Motors, while the second and third headed up the National Bank of Detroit, later renamed NBD Bancorp.

  • JAMES FULLER, 50, of Bloomfield Hills was vice-president in charge of Volkswagen United States. He was flying home from a meeting at the company headquarters in West Germany.

  • ARMY SPEC. 4 KENNETH J. GIBSON, 20, of Romulus was ending a tour as a mortarman with the Berlin Brigade in West Germany.

  • PAMELA HERBERT, 19, of Battle Creek was a junior at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine.

  • KHALID JAAFAR, 21, of Dearborn was a college student. He had been born in Lebanon and his family, which had immigrated, for years fought claims published by national news organizations that anonymous sources said he may have unwittingly carried the bomb aboard as a drug courier for the Drug Enforcement Administration. Two years after the bombing, the FBI said they found no evidence of this and the DEA disavowed any ties. His family and community members had insisted he was traveling home from visiting childhood friends from Lebanon in Frankfurt.

  • GREGORY KOSMOWSKI, 40, of Milford was vice-president of marketing and development at Lucas Industries Inc. in Troy.

  • LOU MARENGO, 33, of Rochester was marketing director for Volkswagen United States. He was flying home from a meeting at the company headquarters in West Germany.

  • GARIMA RATTAN, 29, of Warren, her 3-year-old daughter, Suruchi, and her 2-year-old son, Anmol.

  • ARMY SGT. MARY SMITH, 34, of Kalamazoo.

  • ARVA (TONY) THOMAS, 17, of Detroit had been attending school in West Germany, where a brother in the Army was stationed. He was a former church choir director and talented high school basketball player.

  • AIR FORCE SGT. LAWANNA THOMAS 21, of Southfield, and her 2-month-old son, Jonathan. Her parents waited at an airport gate for her, only to have her not arrive.

Darcie Moran is a breaking news reporter and podcaster for the Detroit Free Press. Contact Moran: dmoran@freepress.com. Bill Laitner is a Free Press staff writer. USA Today contributed.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Suspect in bombing of Pan Am flight that killed 16 from Michigan in custody