The FBI is stepping up efforts to apprehend two Libyans charged in the bombing of a Pan American World Airways jetliner more than six years ago and is prepared to devote additional agents to the international hunt in anticipation of new leads, FBI officials said Thursday.
Signaling U.S. impatience with sporadic reports that Libya may hand over the accused men if trade sanctions are removed, the FBI said it is offering a record $4-million reward for information leading to their capture.
The agency said it also is placing Abdel Basset Ali Megrahi, 42, and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, 39, on the FBI's Most Wanted List and distributing new photographs and information about them worldwide.
Government sources said that FBI officials may be paving the way for a U.S. seizure overseas under anti-terrorist statutes, similar to the 1987 capture in the Mediterranean region of Lebanese national Fawaz Younis, who hijacked a Jordanian airliner in 1985 with two Americans among its passengers. Younis was convicted in a U.S. court and is serving a 30-year prison sentence.
Robert Bryant, assistant director for national security at the FBI, declined comment on the possible kidnaping of the Libyans. But he said, "We'll follow them to the ends of the world to bring them to court. We'll never quit on this case."
According to a 1991 federal grand jury indictment, the two men used a bomb concealed in luggage to destroy Pan Am Flight 103 while it was en route from London to New York on Dec. 21, 1988, killing 259 passengers and crew members and 11 people on the ground at Lockerbie, Scotland.
Megrahi, who was chief of the Libyan intelligence service's airline security section, and Fhimah, who held a cover job as station manager for Libyan Arab Airlines in Malta, allegedly planted the bomb in Frankfurt, Germany. The Libyan airline's offices are used as a front for Libyan intelligence and terrorist operations, according to the State Department.
In the past two to three years, associates of Libyan strongman Moammar Kadafi occasionally have suggested that Megrahi and Fhimah might be handed over to authorities in the United States or Scotland if U.N. sanctions against Libya are lifted.
At least two prominent Washington lawyers--Plato Cacheris and former U.S. Sen. John Culver (D-Iowa)--made separate trips to Libya at the request of officials there to discuss representing the accused men. But nothing ever resulted from the discussions.
Bryant said the FBI believes the men are in Libya, although there are periodic reports that they have traveled outside the country.
"We want to make sure the citizens of Libya and North Africa are aware of what these men are accused of," he said. "We want them to know we're not giving up, that we want these people back and that there is a reward for information."