October 16, 2015 / 10:43 AM / 4 years ago

Tripoli confirms new Lockerbie suspects include Gaddafi spy chief

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Tripoli’s government on Friday named the two new Libyan suspects in the Lockerbie bombing investigation as Abdullah al-Senussi, the former spy chief of ousted leader Muammar Gaddafi, and a second man, Mohammed Abu Ejaila.

Abdullah al-Senussi , ex-spy chief in Muammar Gaddafi's government, sits behind bars during a hearing at a courtroom in Tripoli May 25, 2014. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny

Senussi is currently being held in a jail in Tripoli after he was sentenced for his role in the deaths of protesters during the 2011 uprising against Gaddafi.

No details were immediately available on the second suspect in the 1988 airline bombing that killed 270 people. But one person familiar with the case said Ejaila may also be known as Mohammed Abouajela Masud, a known bomb maker.

Jamal Zubia, director of the media office of the Tripoli government, sent a message to journalists confirming the names but saying the Libyan attorney general’s office had not been officially informed about the two suspects.

Scottish and U.S. investigators said on Thursday they had identified two new Libyan suspects in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 which was blown up over the Scottish town of Lockerbie on Dec. 21, 1988, en route from London to New York.

Scottish and U.S. authorities said they had informed Libya they wanted to send investigators to the North African country where rival governments and their armed backers are battling for control, four years after the revolt that ousted Gaddafi.

In July, a Libyan court sentenced Gaddafi’s most prominent son, Saif al-Islam, and eight others including Senussi to death over war crimes including killings of protesters in 2011. They were sentenced to die by firing squad, though rights activists questioned the trial proceedings.

In 2001, Libyan Abdel Basset al-Megrahi was jailed for life and remains the only person to have been convicted over the bombing.

A second Libyan accused of involvement, Lamin Fhima, was tried with Megrahi before a panel of Scottish judges sitting at a special court in the Netherlands but was found not guilty.

A Scottish Crown Office spokesman did not name the two new suspects, but said they are now suspected of being involved with Megrahi in carrying out the attack.

Masud, the bomb maker, was named in the original charge sheet against Megrahi, according to a person familiar with the case.

“The Lord Advocate (Scotland’s chief prosecutor) and the U.S. Attorney General are seeking the assistance of the Libyan judicial authorities for Scottish police officers and the FBI to interview the two named suspects in Tripoli,” the spokesman said.

In 2003, former Libyan leader Gaddafi accepted his country’s responsibility for the bombing and paid compensation to the victims’ families, but he did not admit personally ordering the attack.

Megrahi, who protested his innocence, died in Libya in 2012. He was released three years earlier by Scotland’s government on compassionate grounds after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. His family and some relatives of the Scottish victims believe he was wrongly convicted.

In December, Scotland’s prosecutor said no new evidence had emerged to cast doubt on Megrahi’s conviction but attempts to track down accomplices had been hampered by the violence in Libya since Gaddafi’s fall.

Emergency service workers are seen next to the wreckage of Pan Am flight 103, in a farmer's field east of Lockerbie, Scotland in this December 23, 1988 file photograph. REUTERS/Greg Bos/Files

Sending investigators to Libya may be complicated. Most diplomats and foreign staff left the capital last year and closed their embassies after an armed faction called Libya Dawn took over the capital and set up its own government.

The North African state has slipped steadily into chaos since the uprising, and now two rival factions have their own governments and parliaments, each backed by loose alliances of former rebels, tribal militias and ex-Gaddafi soldiers.

The United Nations is trying to broker a peace agreement and form a unity government to end the crisis that has allowed Islamist militants and people smugglers to gain ground in the security vacuum.

Additional reporting by Kate Holton in London; Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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