The US has charged a “third conspirator” in connection with the Lockerbie bombing, on the 32nd anniversary of the atrocity, US Attorney General William Barr has announced.
The bombing of Pan Am flight 103, travelling from London to New York on December 21 1988, killed 270 people in Britain’s largest terrorist attack.
Former Libyan intelligence officer Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who was found guilty in 2001 of mass murder and jailed for life with a minimum term of 27 years, was the only person convicted of the attack, with another suspect acquitted.
Mr Barr told a press conference a “third conspirator” was identified along with two Libyan intelligence agents during the investigation in 1991 but at the time investigators could not “identify or locate” this person.
The US alleges that he was the bombmaker and has charged him with terrorism-related crimes.
Mr Barr said: “Masud remains in Libyan custody. We intend to work closely with our Scottish counterparts to use every feasible and appropriate means to ensure that he answers for his part in the Lockerbie bombing.
“It is our hope that the Libyan authorities will allow Masud to be tried for this crime in the United States and will provide the support and witnesses necessary to us to bring him to justice.”
Mr Barr said he is “optimistic” that Libyan authorities will hand Masud over to them.
He said: “Let there be no mistake, no amount of time or distance will stop the US and our Scottish partners from pursuing justice in this case.”
Scotland’s Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC said: “For 32 years the families of the 270 people murdered in this atrocity have shown extraordinary and enduring dignity in the face of the loss they suffered on the terrible night of 21 December 1988. Today, our thoughts are with them once again.
“Scottish prosecutors and police have had a long-established and strong working relationship with US law enforcement agencies throughout this investigation.
“This relationship will continue to be important as the investigation progresses with the shared goal of bringing all those who committed this atrocity to justice.
“Scottish prosecutors will continue to work with US colleagues but we will not comment in detail on today’s announcement given that the Scottish criminal investigation is ongoing and there is an appeal before the court in relation to this crime.”
The father of one of the victims of the Lockerbie bombing criticised the US Department of Justice for making the announcement on the anniversary of the attack.
Rev John Mosey, the father of 19-year-old victim Helga Mosey, said he considered the “timing and particularly the choice of this specific day, which is special to many of us, to be bizarre, disrespectful, insensitive and extremely ill considered”.
He added: “Why exactly, when the Attorney General is about to leave office, has he waited 32 years to bring charges?”
A panel of five appeal judges in Edinburgh is currently deliberating whether to acquit Megrahi over the Lockerbie bombing after the conclusion of the third appeal against his conviction last month.
Police Scotland Chief Constable, Iain Livingstone, said: “This announcement by the US Department of Justice is a significant development for the families of the victims, and my thoughts remain with them, particularly today, the 32nd anniversary of the bombing.
“Since 1988, policing in Scotland has been committed to carrying out the largest terrorist investigation ever undertaken in this country.
“Police Scotland will continue to work closely on this investigation, under the direction of the Crown Office, with our American law enforcement colleagues and other international partners.
“As judicial proceedings continue in Scotland, it would be inappropriate to comment further.”
Lawyer Aamer Anwar, who represents the family of Megrahi, said: “No new information was presented today by AG Barr and it appears to be a desperate attempt to resurrect a Lockerbie case, whilst we await the decision of the appeal court over the miscarriage of justice appeal of the late Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “On the anniversary of the terrible events of 21 December 1988 in Lockerbie, our thoughts and sympathies remain with the victims and relatives affected by the atrocity.
“There is a live criminal investigation being led by the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service. The Scottish Government does not comment on criminal investigations.”