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Families of local victims react to arrest of alleged Pan Am Flight 103 bombmaker

By Lisa Rozner

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    NEW YORK (WCBS) — An arrest was made Sunday more than three decades after an international terrorist attack that killed 270 people.

Pan Am Flight 103 was bombed back in 1988 as it headed for John F. Kennedy International Airport from Europe. The man accused of making the bomb is now in U.S. custody.

Nearly 200 of the victims were American, and dozens were from the Tri-State Area.

Some of the loved ones told CBS2 the news brought them a sense of peace.

For decades, devastation has haunted the families of 259 people on board Flight 103 — a New York-bound flight from London on Dec. 21, 1988. There were 190 Americans on board and 11 people were killed on the ground after the plane exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland.

On Sunday, snow fell on the memorial that honors 35 Syracuse University students that were killed. One of them was 20-year-old Rick Monetti of South Jersey. His sister said he was returning from studying abroad in London.

“He just had a way about him, whether it was a smile or joke, a kind word. People always felt better about themselves after being around him,” Kara Weipz said.

Nearly 34 years after his loss, she learned from the Department of Justice that the man suspected of making the bomb that was on the plane was in U.S. custody and will face two criminal counts in Washington.

Abu Agila Masud is the third Libyan intelligence official charged in the U.S. in connection with the attack. He would be the first to appear in an American courtroom for prosecution.

The capture of Masud, who was charged nearly two years ago, marked a long-awaited milestone in the decades-long investigation.

“This is a testament of the families who have been fighting,” Weipz said, “and I feel for those who aren’t here today to see this moment.”

“It was pretty surreal to hear that we have him in custody,” said Stephanie Bernstein, whose husband, Michael Bernstein, of Jericho on Long Island, was on the flight. “I also hope that we will be able to obtain additional information from Masud. Our government has always assured us that this was an open investigation.”

Michael Bernstein was returning from a trip for his job with the Department of Justice, arranging to deport a Nazi living illegally in the U.S.

“My oldest grandchild is named after him so, and now we’ll be able to say to him that a very bad person did something to kill your grandpa and a lot of other people and our government brought him to justice,” Stephanie Bernstein said.

Court documents described Masud as an expert bombmaker who joined Libya’s external security organization intelligence service in the 1970s and took part in a number of operations outside Libya, reaching the rank of colonel.

Scottish and UK officials vow to continue to pursue the investigation with the U.S.

The mother of Nicole Boulanger is hopeful. Her daughter was a Syracuse musical theater student.

“For me, it’s my first thought in the morning and it’s my last thought at night,” Jeannine Boulanger said. “Justice won’t come during this life. I hope it will come in another life.”

The 1988 bombing remains the deadliest terror attack on British soil. In 2001, another man was convicted of bombing the flight and sent to prison in Scotland. He died from cancer.

Syracuse University released a statement that says, in part, “Today’s news is a significant milestone in a decades-long process to bring those responsible for this despicable act to justice.”

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