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Lockerbie bombing suspect makes first court appearance in DC federal court

By Devan Cole and Holmes Lybrand, CNN

A Libyan man accused of being involved in making the bomb that destroyed Pan Am flight 103 over the town of Lockerbie in Scotland in December 1988 made an initial court appearance Monday in a federal court in Washington, DC, where he was formally charged in connection with the terrorist attack.

Though Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi was informed by US Magistrate Judge Robin Meriweather of the three criminal counts he’s been charged with by the government and read his rights, he did not enter a plea, citing the need to retain counsel before proceeding in the case.

The court scheduled a pre-trial detention hearing on December 27 to give Mas’ud time to retain counsel.

The charges brought against Mas’ud include “destruction of aircraft resulting in death,” which carries with it the death penalty, life in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, or a combination of the prison term and the fine. Federal prosecutors said they do not plan to pursue the death penalty in the case because the punishment was not constitutionally available the year the crime was committed.

Mas’ud, with a white beard and dressed in a long prison jumpsuit, walked slowly, almost limping, to the defense table before putting in his headphones to hear an interpreter. He spoke very little, but did tell the judge he “took some medication and I have some flu,” the interpreter said.

“Today’s action is another crucial step in delivering justice for the victims of the senseless terrorist attack on Pan Am Flight 103,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said in a statement on Monday. “Let this be a reminder that the men and women of the Department of Justice will never forget the loss of innocent lives or waver in our commitment to holding terrorists accountable — no matter how long it takes.”

Stephanie Bernstein, whose husband was killed in the attack, told reporters outside the courthouse following the hearing that it’s “fitting that we are coming up on the 34th anniversary of the bombing and that we, at last, have the man responsible for making the bomb.”

Bernstein’s husband, Michael Stuart Bernstein, was the assistant deputy director of the DOJ’s Criminal Division’s Office of Special Investigations, which was charged with prosecuting Nazis.

“It’s a tremendous amount of satisfaction,” she said of being at the court for Mas’ud’s initial appearance. “He is the first person responsible for the death of my husband to actually be tried on US soil.”

Authorities in the US and Scotland announced Sunday that Mas’ud was in US custody. The US charged Mas’ud for his alleged involvement in the bombing two years ago, a spokesman for the UK Crown Office and Prosecutor Fiscal Service previously told CNN.

Mas’ud had been in custody in Libya for unrelated crimes when he was charged by the Justice Department two years ago.

The chief legal officer of the Scottish government will meet with US prosecutors in Washington “next week” regarding the Lockerbie investigation, they said in a statement Monday.

“I am going to Washington, DC, next week where I will have meetings with US prosecutors and attend commemorative events to mark the anniversary of the tragedy,” Scottish Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain said in the statement. “Ongoing engagement here and in the US between law enforcement authorities, and with families who lost loved ones, is an important feature of this case.”

The attack killed 270 people as the bomb detonated over the Scottish town as it flew from London to New York, and it remains the deadliest terrorist attack to have taken place in the United Kingdom.

Abdelbeset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi was accused along with Al Amin Khalifah Fhimah of placing explosives in a portable cassette and radio player that was inside a suitcase on the plane. Megrahi was sentenced in 2001 to 27 years in prison, but was released from prison after being diagnosed with cancer. He died in 2012. Fhimah was acquitted.

This story has been updated with additional developments.

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CNN’s Gabby Gretener and Evan Perez contributed to this report.

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