A leading human rights group on Monday urged the United States and Libya to explain the legal basis for the surprise extradition of a former Libyan intelligence officer accused of making the bomb that blows up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
US authorities announced in December that they had arrested Abu Agila Mohammad Mas'ud Kheir Al-Marimi, accused of being the source of the bomb that crashed the flight to New York days before. Christmas in 1988. The attack killed 259 people in the air and 11 on the ground.
Mas'ud's arrest and extradition raised questions about the legal basis for how he was arrested, just months after his release from a Libyan prison, and sent to the United States. US officials said his transfer was legal and described it as the culmination of years of cooperation with Libyan authorities.
Libya and the United States do not have a standing extradition agreement, so there was no obligation to hand over Mas'ud. Libyan officials told The Associated Press in December that militias loyal to the Tripoli-based national unity government were behind his detention and surrender to the United States.
Human Rights Watch said Mas'ud's saga raised rights concerns. "It appears that no Libyan court ordered or reviewed Mas'ud's transfer to the United States and he was given no opportunity to appeal, raising serious concerns about the legality of his transfer. procedure," said Hanan Salah, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at HRW.
Mas'ud was arrested at his home in the Abu Salim neighbourhood of Tripoli, which is controlled by a network of militias allied to Tripoli-based Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dbeibah. The Libyan public prosecutor challenged this decision and opened an investigation.
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 United States. He did not provide hard evidence for any of his allegations.
The rights group also called on the United States to hold a fair trial and allow the suspect to challenge his extradition. He also urged the Libyan authorities to investigate and hold accountable those responsible for Mas'ud's "violent abduction from his home ".
Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie less than an hour after taking off from London on December 21, 1988. Of those killed on the flight, 190 were US citizens.
A breakthrough in the decades-long investigation came in 2017 when the US Department of Justice received a copy of an interview that Mas'ud, a former explosives expert with Libya's intelligence services, had given to the law enforcement agencies in the North African country in 2012 while in custody following the decades-long collapse of Muammar Gaddafi's regime.
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 Dbeibah's government and a rival government based in eastern Libya and led by Prime Minister Fathi Bachagha.