Washington’s detention of Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi, who has been blamed for building the bomb which blew up Pan American Flight 103 over Lockerbie in Scotland 34 years ago, could provide closure to relatives of the 270 victims and help end the national trauma inflicted on the US.
Before al-Qaeda’s 2001 attack on New York and Washington, the Lockerbie bombing, in late 1988, was the most devastating terrorist strike inflicted on the US.
The attack was the result of 18 years of enmity between the US and Libyan leader Col Muammar Gadafy, who seized power in 1969. An Arab nationalist and anti-imperialist, Gadafy backed Palestinian resistance against Israeli occupation, opposed Western influence in the Middle East, and adopted the causes of revolutionaries in Africa and Latin America as well as that of the Provisional IRA.
During the October 1973 war waged by Egypt and Syria on Israel, Gadafy was a prime mover of the Arab embargo on oil exports to countries supporting Israel. The embargo lasted until March 1974 and transformed the relationship between producers and consumers by boosting the price from $3 to $12 a barrel and launching long-term price hikes.
Abdel Baset Ali Al-Megrahi was imprisoned for life, but was released early as he was suffering from terminal cancer and died in 2012
Relations between Libya and the US deteriorated rapidly. Libya was proclaimed a state sponsor of terrorism, diplomatic relations were severed, and Libyan and US warplanes clashed off the Libyan coast. On April 5th, 1986, Libyan agents bombed a Berlin nightclub frequented by members of the US military. Two US soldiers and a Turkish woman were killed, and more than 200 people were injured.
On April 14th, the US struck Libyan airfields and army bases, killing 30 officers and, reportedly, Gadafy’s six-year-old adopted daughter. He responded with the Lockerbie bombing. Mas’ud has, allegedly, confessed to Libyan jailers his involvement in the Berlin and Lockerbie attacks. While he remained at large, the US and Britain identified two Lockerbie bombing suspects – Abdel Baset Ali al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah – by tracing pieces of the device to a shop in Valletta, Malta, patronised by Megrahi.
In 2000, Libya extradited the accused to the Netherlands for trial by Scottish judges. Al-Megrahi was imprisoned for life, but was released early as he was suffering from terminal cancer and died in 2012; Fhimah was acquitted of all charges.
The trial, the 2003 US war on Iraq that made Gadafy renounce weapons of mass destruction, and the payment of $1.5 billion in compensation to families and victims of the Lockerbie and Berlin attacks and families led to his reconciliation with the West. Gadafy did not, however, drop his support for the Palestinians or cut contacts with various insurgent groups.
In 2007, Libya served on the UN Security Council and in 2009 Gadafy addressed the General Assembly.
Rapprochement ended during the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings, when Gadafy cracked down on protests, prompting the Western military intervention that led to his capture and murder by rebels.