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The sister of a Lockerbie bombing victim reacts to alleged bomb maker in U.S. custody

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to begin the program with the news that the man accused of making the bomb that destroyed Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 is now in U.S. custody. This comes almost 34 years to the day after the terrorist attack that killed 270 people - all the passengers and crew on the plane and several people on the ground - when the aircraft fell from the sky. Abu Agila Mohammad Mas'ud Kheir Al-Marimi is a former Libyan intelligence operative who was accused of making the explosive. He's the third person charged in the case, but he will be the first to be prosecuted in the U.S. on charges that were first made public in 2020.

Although family and friends of the many victims have accomplished a number of things since the attack so many years ago, this latest missing piece of accountability is a long time coming. We wanted to talk more about that, so we've called one family member, Kara Monetti Weipz. Her brother, Richard Monetti, was killed in the bombing. He was just 20 years old and was one of 35 students from Syracuse University who were returning home for the holidays after a semester studying abroad. Kara Monetti Weipz, thanks so much for talking with us.

KARA MONETTI WEIPZ: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: And I do want to start by saying I am so sorry for your loss. I mean, I know it's been years, but this - I mean, it had to have been a shock, or maybe was it a shock to have this news? It's seemingly out of the blue.

MONETTI WEIPZ: Not so seemingly out of the blue as it's something that we've been working for. It's something that - there have been a small group of us who have been meeting regularly since charges were announced with members of the Department of Justice, the FBI, the State Department. You know, we've been up to date as to what's been taking place. Did I expect it today? No, absolutely not. But at the same time, it is something that we have been actively engaged with our government officials on.

MARTIN: So you are the president of the Victims of Pan Am Flight 103 group. I understand this is your second term as president. And your family has been very involved with this group from the beginning. As I understand it, one of the reasons that this group was formed was to uncover the truth about the bombing. Does this make you feel like you're getting closer to that?

MONETTI WEIPZ: Definitely, yes. This is another step in that direction. This is another step towards holding all of those who were responsible for this terrorist act accountable.

MARTIN: Is it important to you that this man will be tried in the United States? I want to mention that there have been two other individuals connected with the attack, but both of them were tried elsewhere. And one of them actually was released early from his prison sentence because he had a terminal cancer. He has since died. But does it matter to you that this person is going to be tried in the United States?

MONETTI WEIPZ: This was paramount to us that he be tried in the United States. This means so much to the families, so much to my family, so much to me to know that justice is going to be served in our country under our laws. The fact that he is in the U.S. custody right now is incredible.

MARTIN: I mean, it had been reported that he had been kidnapped by a militia group in Libya. So there is some question about how the U.S. obtained custody of him. And it does seem likely that if he has effective counsel - and he's entitled to that under U.S. laws - questions will be raised about exactly how he came into U.S. custody. Are you OK with that?

MONETTI WEIPZ: I have full confidence in our prosecution team and our government officials that if we have custody of him, that it was done without question. It was done a proper approach. I cannot imagine that they would have gone to this point and attained custody of him to have some type of technicality wipe it away.

MARTIN: Do you anticipate you or other members of your group attending the trial, if that's possible? And...

MONETTI WEIPZ: Absolutely.

MARTIN: Are you ready for that?

MONETTI WEIPZ: I haven't gotten there yet. I - you know, I would not permit myself personally to look that far in advance. This was one step, and this was a huge step. And if we got to this step, then you could think about the next step. So this was the first step, and we're here.

MARTIN: I can totally understand that. Do you mind if I ask, can you tell me a little bit about your brother? Is that OK?

MONETTI WEIPZ: Absolutely.

MARTIN: I would love to know more about him.

MONETTI WEIPZ: He - you know, he was a journalism and political science major at Syracuse. He was a normal kid. He had this way about him, though. He wasn't the center of attention. He wasn't the best and the brightest, but he was - just had a way about him. He had a charisma about him that people wanted to be around him. And people left being around him feeling better about themselves. He could look at himself and admit his faults, his strengths, his weakness - you know, his weaknesses. And he had a great sense of adventure and stepping out of his comfort zone, hence studying abroad.

MARTIN: You were a sophomore in high school when your brother was killed, and you spoke at a memorial service in 2007. You said, look, it isn't just the victims who lost their lives that day, but the friends, the family members. You lost your lives as you knew them, too. And do you mind if I ask, like, how do you think the loss of your brother at that stage and in this way - how do you think it affected your family going forward?

MONETTI WEIPZ: I don't think you have enough time for me to answer that question completely. I guess the short answer is that you appreciate things and the frailty of things a lot more. You realize that when you walk away from someone, you never know what's going to happen. You know, you obviously always have that hole and that piece that's missing. I'm currently away. My son is graduating college tomorrow.

MARTIN: Oh, wow.

MONETTI WEIPZ: And I said at the last meeting that I went to with our officials that my parents have known their oldest grandson longer than they knew their own son.

MARTIN: Wow.

MONETTI WEIPZ: And my youngest son was in the meeting with me, and he's the same age I was when this happened. He's a sophomore in high school.

MARTIN: Well, thanks for sharing that. Does it - I think - you don't know what the outcome of this trial is going to be, I mean, the fact is. But does it - is it meaningful that it's happening at all, the fact that the government did not give up on bringing these individuals to account for what they did? Does that in itself provide some sense of - I don't know what word to use - relief or...

MONETTI WEIPZ: Peace.

MARTIN: Peace. Peace. Does it? Does it?

MONETTI WEIPZ: I think it does. To me, this is something the families have fought for for over three decades, for almost 34 years. And is it over? No, but this is a huge step, and it shows the determination of the family members. But it also shows the determination of our government. I mean, think about it. Six administrations - we have kept this on the forefront of six administrations. I mean, that's - and it goes to show we don't forget. Our government doesn't forget, and they hold people accountable. And it sends a very strong message.

MARTIN: That was Kara Monetti Weipz. She is the sister of Richard Monetti, who is among those killed on Pan Am Flight 103. And she's the president of Victims of Pan Am Flight 103, Inc. Kara Weipz, thank you so much for speaking with us on this very, I don't know, consequential and meaningful day.

MONETTI WEIPZ: Oh, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.