SCOTLAND'S former justice secretary has said a man in US custody on suspicion of building the bomb that downed Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988 – killing 270 people – was “always high on the list” of suspects.

US officials said on Sunday that Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi had been detained.

But the father of one of the victims said he wants to see the suspect tried before a UN court as opposed to one in the US or Scotland.

Speaking to the BBC, Kenny MacAskill – who as justice secretary opted to release Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds in 2009 after he was convicted of the bombing – said Mas’ud was always a person of interest in the investigation.

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“Mas’ud’s involvement has always been suspected, he was always high on the list and was one of the original suspects wanted by the authorities at the outset,” he told Good Morning Scotland on Monday.

“The only surprise is that he’s now been apprehended, they’ve been looking for him for a while, Gaddafi would never release him. When Gaddafi was toppled, those warlord factions might have hated each other but they equally both hated the USA so they were never prepared to release him, so how the USA have managed to spring him I don’t know.”

It is not clear how Mas’ud was apprehended by US officials.

In 2020, Mas’ud was charged by the US Attorney General William Barr with being the third person involved in the terrorist attack.

At the time, he was said to be in Libyan custody and Mr Barr said US authorities would work “arm in arm” with their Scottish counterparts.

Mr Barr said: “Let there be no mistake, no amount of time or distance will stop the US and our Scottish partners from pursuing justice in this case.”

Meanwhile, Dr Jim Swire told the same programme that the US or Scotland should not be tasked with trying Mas’ud, stating he would like to see a UN court set up.

Citing comments made by former South African president Nelson Mandela in 1997, Dr Swire – who lost his daughter Flora in the 1988 attack – said: “I can’t help remembering the words of Nelson Mandela, who told us in Edinburgh in 1997, ‘no one country should complainant, prosecutor and judge’.

“There are so many loose ends that hang from this dreadful case, largely emanating form America, that I think we should remember what Mandela said to the world and to us then and seek a court that is free of being beholden to any nation directly involved in the atrocity itself.”

He added: “I think it should not take place in America. I think now, in view of what we now know about how Scotland handled the case, it should not take place in Scotland.

“The obvious way forward it seems to me is to resort to the United Nations and invite them to provide a court with appropriate facilities to try this man and hopefully to review all the evidence that was used against the unfortunate Megrahi.”

Any trial, Dr Swire added, should also re-assess evidence in the case against al-Megrahi, who was released in 2009 after being diagnosed with terminal cancer and died in Libya in 2012.

A second suspect, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, stood trial with al-Megrahi but was acquitted.

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The former justice secretary also said he did not regret releasing al-Megrahi, saying: “I released Abdelbaset al-Megrahi because he adhered to the laws and guidance that we have in Scotland for people who do face a terminal illness and that’s something I stand by.

“People, no matter how culpable, are entitled, I think, to die. Their family haven’t committed any offence and they should be able to die with their family, but equally.

"Megrahi was never viewed as the bomber but he wasn’t viewed as some innocent abroad if I could put it that way. He had a role, he was no innocent who just happened to find himself in Malta.”

The former justice secretary said the attack was a “team effort” and not something that was carried out by one man.