Questions about the potential extradition of former Libyan spy chief Abdullah al-Senussi have been circulating after U.S. authorities earlier this month announced Abu Agila Mohammad Mas'ud Kheir Al-Marimi, accused of making a bomb that killed 259 people aboard a Pan Am flight and 11 on the ground in Scotland, was in their custody.
The potential extradition of al-Senussi, currently serving time in Tripoli for his involvement in crimes committed under the Gaddafi regime, could lead to a trial for his alleged involvement in the Lockerbie bombing. This would mark a significant turning point in the long-standing investigation into the 1988 terrorist attack.
Al-Senussi's family has appealed to Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah to release him.
"This is the final warning to the Libyan government: If Abdullah al-Senussi and his comrades are not freed, all viable resources in the south will be put to a halt," al-Senussi's son told local news on Monday.
Al-Senussi, who is also the brother-in-law of late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, hails from al-Magarha, a tribe renowned for its ties with the former regime and its influence in southern Libya.
During a recent interview with Al Arabiya, a pan-Arab news channel, Dbeibah denied any intention of extraditing al-Senussi to the U.S.
"All of these are fabrications and media exaggeration," he said.
Political analyst Ibrahim Belgasem told VOA said that “Libyan law does not allow the extradition of Libyan citizens for trial in a foreign country,” adding that Libyan citizens “feel very sensitive about this case as they suffered years of sanctions and were isolated from the world.”
1988 Pan Am Flight 103
The Lockerbie attack goes back to Dec. 21, 1988, when Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up by a blomb resulting in the deaths of 270 people, including 11 residents of the town of Lockerbie, Scotland. Most of the victims were Americans.
The attack remains one of the deadliest in modern history.
- In 1991, the U.S. and the U.K. blamed Libya for the bombing and requested the surrender of two Libyan suspects: Abdelbaset al-Megrahi and Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah.
- In 1992, after Libya refused to extradite suspects al-Megrahi and Fhimah, the United Nations imposed an air travel and arms embargo on the country. This embargo was later broadened to include an asset freeze and a ban on the export of certain goods to Libya.
- In 1999, the Libyan government agreed to transfer the two suspects to the Netherlands for trial, following negotiations led by Nelson Mandela and the Saudi government with the U.S. and U.K.
- In 2001, al-Megrahi was found guilty while Fhimah was acquitted and returned home.
- In 2008, Libya reached an agreement with the U.S. to establish a process for resolving claims by American citizens and companies against the Libyan government, thanks in part to the Libyan Claims Resolution Act (LCRA), a bill sponsored by then-Senator Joe Biden.
The LCRA was passed following the settlement reached between the Libyan government and the families of the victims, which included a payment of $2.7 billion.
Al-Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence officer, was the sole individual to be convicted in connection with the Lockerbie bombing. Despite maintaining his innocence, he was sentenced to 27 years in prison and ultimately served only seven before being released on compassionate grounds due to terminal illness. He died in Libya in 2012.
- In 2020, U.S. Attorney General William Barr announced new charges against a former Libyan intelligence operative, Abu Agela Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi, for his role in building the bomb that killed 270 people.
Earlier this month, U.S. law enforcement officials confirmed Al-Marimi was in custody for his alleged role in Pan Am Flight 103.
"The United States lawfully took custody of Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi and brought him to the United States where he faces charges for his alleged involvement in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103," the White House said in a statement on Dec. 14.
Libya has no extradition agreement with the U.S. and details about the handover remain unknown.
“Today, all of us at the Justice Department reaffirm that no amount of time or distance will stand in the way of our efforts to honor the victims of the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing and to pursue justice on their behalf,” U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in a statement after the transfer of Al-Marimi.
It took the Libyan government three days to admit its role in the extradtion, causing hundreds of Libyans, including Al-Marimi's family, to protest condemning the prime minister.
Abdulmonem Al-Marimi, nephew and spokesperson of Masud’s family told The Associated Press that "everyone knows that this thing must be done according to Libyan laws, but unfortunately the government handed him over, bypassing all Libyan laws.”
"Our demand is from the Attorney General that we hope that he will take measures regarding the Prime Minister [Abdul Hamid Dbeibah], who admitted and said that he's the ones who extradited him,”Al-Marimi added.
Al-Senussi's potential extradition
If the possibility of extraditing al-Senussi to Washington arises, "there is concern that his supporters, who hold significant sway in sensitive areas of Libya such as the oil fields and water resources in the south, could cause unrest in the country," Belgasem said.
This concern is supported by the fact that al-Senussi's family has twice disrupted the water supply for over 2 million people in the city of Tripoli, once over the kidnapping of al-Senussi's daughter and the other when the family attempted to secure his release.
Political analyst Salah Al-Bakoush, however, told VOA that might not happen this time around and if it did, "General Khalifa Haftar controls the south, so the U.S. could push him not to allow al-Sanussi's family to create any trouble in that region."
Al-Bakoush also said al-Senussi's extradition to Washington is "highly unlikely" at least until the public outrage over the extradition of Al-Marimi subsides.
Some of the information in this report came from The Associated Press.