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Morning news brief

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

On December 21, 1988, a bomb brought down Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Now nearly 34 years later, the Libyan man suspected of making that bomb is in U.S. custody.

ROB SCHMITZ, HOST:

It's hard to understate how shocking the Lockerbie bombing was at the time. Two-hundred-and-seventy people from 21 countries were killed, 190 of them Americans.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas joins us now. Ryan, tell us more about the suspect and who he is.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Well, the suspect is Abu Agila Mohammad Mas'ud Kheir Al-Marimi. He'd been held in a detention facility in Libya. And officials say he was handed over to an FBI team on Sunday, and they then flew him back to the U.S. to face charges. Now, he faces two charges. He was charged two years ago by the Justice Department. There are two counts that he faces, though - destruction of an aircraft resulting in death and destruction of a vehicle by means of an explosive resulting in death.

MARTÍNEZ: And what is his role alleged to be?

LUCAS: Well, according to American prosecutors, Mas'ud was an officer in the Libyan intelligence service and was a bomb-making expert. And prosecutors say that he played a critical role in this Lockerbie affair. They say he prepared the bomb that was used. In this instance, investigators say the bomb was hidden in a cassette player that was placed in a suitcase. Now, prosecutors say that Mas'ud delivered the suitcase with the bomb to two Libyan operatives. Mas'ud allegedly set the timer on their orders for the following day. And then those operatives took the suitcase, and they're the ones who managed to get it on the plane.

MARTÍNEZ: And tell us about the two other men that have faced charges.

LUCAS: Well, these two men - one is Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi; the other is Lamen Khalifa Fhimah - they were identified early in the investigation, and they were charged. They eventually faced trial in a special Scottish court that was set up in the Netherlands. Megrahi was convicted; Fhimah was acquitted. But American and Scottish investigators didn't stop there. They kept working this case. And they caught a break with the uprising that toppled Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 because Mas'ud was detained and questioned by the new Libyan authorities after Gaddafi's fall, and he allegedly confessed to them his role in the Lockerbie bombing. The Libyans provided a transcript of Mas'ud's confession in that interview to the FBI, and that was critical to Mas'ud eventually being charged two years ago here in the U.S.

MARTÍNEZ: And now he's in custody and going to face justice here in the U.S. And I can imagine that this is a huge step for the families of the victims.

LUCAS: Absolutely, absolutely. This is the culmination of a decadeslong investigation and hunt for everyone responsible for this bombing. One of the victims of the attack was Richard Monetti. He was a student at Syracuse University. He and 34 other Syracuse students who were studying abroad were returning home for the holidays on Pan Am Flight 103. Monetti's sister, Kara Weipz, spoke to Weekend All Things Considered about Mas'ud's arrest. Here's a bit of what she had to say.

KARA WEIPZ: 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.

LUCAS: And she also said that this is another step toward ascertaining the truth about the bombing and, ultimately, of course, holding everyone responsible.

MARTÍNEZ: So, Ryan, what are the next steps here?

LUCAS: Well, Mas'ud will now face the U.S. criminal justice system. There are legal questions, of course, surrounding the confession that he made in Libyan custody. We'll see how that all plays out in the weeks and months to come. But for now, I'm told that Mas'ud could make his initial appearance in federal court here in Washington, D.C., as soon as today.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. That's NPR's Ryan Lucas. Ryan, thanks.

LUCAS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTÍNEZ: For the first time in its 241-year history, Los Angeles' mayor is a Black woman. Karen Bass was sworn in on Sunday by Vice President Kamala Harris.

SCHMITZ: Her first order of business? The city's homelessness crisis.

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KAREN BASS: I will start my first day as mayor at the city's emergency operation centers, where my first act as mayor will be to declare a state of emergency on homelessness.

(CHEERING)

SCHMITZ: She'll also deal with a scandal-ridden city council as she tries to push her agenda through.

MARTÍNEZ: Benjamin Oreskes is a metro reporter with the LA Times. Benjamin, so Mayor Bass wants to start with a state of emergency on homelessness. Who's on board, and what will that do?

BENJAMIN ORESKES: Thanks for having me. The question of who's on board, she has - it's sort of answered by who was at her inauguration. Almost every member of the city council - save one, and we're going to talk about him in a minute - was there and was excited to be there and excited to be working with her on this issue. A state of emergency has a sort of political and practical dimension. The practical one is that it gives her a lot more power, flexibility and freedom to deploy resources, staff and money in various different directions to address this crisis that voters, you know, indicated in any number of ways was the most important in the city. The political part of this is that it, again, tells people this is the most important thing on my plate, and it's all I'm going to be thinking about. So conveying an urgency to Angelinos, who are very angry about the state of their streets.

MARTÍNEZ: And, Benjamin, catch us up on the politics part of Los Angeles because there's a lot of dysfunction happening around the city council, and the last few days have been especially terrible.

ORESKES: They are. The one member of the city council who didn't show up to her inauguration was Kevin de Leon. Kevin was caught on a tape that was recorded last year, and he's on it with two members of the city council and a labor leader, and they're making crude racist remarks. It's in the context of redistricting. They're talking about that process. But he says - and they all say - some not-so-nice things about their colleagues, some racist comments about one of their colleague's sons. And two of the members sort of hid - one resigned, one just sort of stayed out of the way. He's now termed out. But Kevin has dug his heels in. He hasn't, though, showed up for city council meetings. He did, though, for the first time in months on Friday. What also then occurred is that he went to a holiday party, and protesters who have been dogging him for much longer since this tape came out got in his face, and he was fed up and sort of attacked one of these protesters. It was a brawl of sorts.

All of this takes place under the backdrop of a city where we have a member of the city council who was indicted. We have multiple former members who were indicted. And just a broader sense from Angelinos that the bodies of government in this city are not working for them. It's what propelled the candidacy of Karen Bass' opponent, Rick Caruso, and it's also what - a lot of the healing that Karen Bass has talked about needing to do.

MARTÍNEZ: And so how is the new mayor talking about how she'll try to heal some of those divides?

ORESKES: Well, she is someone whose biography is about bringing people together. This is a community activist, starts after the civil unrest in 1992, starts a nonprofit called Community Coalition. She then joins the state assembly and then on to Congress. You know, she has been all about meeting with people, listening to their problems and trying, again, to bring people together. And I think you saw during her inauguration a real sense, a real relief even, from other elected officials about her ascendance and a desire to work with her to get things done.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Benjamin Oreskes from the LA Times. Benjamin, thanks.

ORESKES: Thank you.

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MARTÍNEZ: A $1.6 billion lawsuit against Fox News has now roped in the head honcho.

SCHMITZ: Rupert Murdoch, the 91-year-old owner of parent company Fox Corp., will take an oath and answer questions in private this week about Fox's response to the 2020 presidential election. Dominion Voting Systems accuses the network of defamation by spreading falsehoods that it somehow tried to deny then-President Donald Trump a reelection.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's David Folkenflik is covering the lawsuit. What do Dominion's attorneys want to find out from Rupert Murdoch?

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: So, look; the Fox defense is that they were covering newsworthy allegations by the then-sitting president of the United States and his attorneys. What Dominion is arguing is that there was a conspiracy, essentially, an orchestrated effort from the bottom of Fox News to the top, which includes Rupert Murdoch over all of it, to win back Trump voters and Fox viewers from some of its coverage. Rupert Murdoch had told Donald Trump after Fox News called Arizona for Joe Biden that he wouldn't reverse it, and so did others throughout the network.

That means that Dominion is going to argue it can show that Rupert Murdoch and others there knowingly allowed Fox News hosts and guests to lie, to defame Dominion, to claim somehow that Dominion Voting Systems was involved in funneling Trump votes over to Biden, which is not true and which they knew not to be true. And the fact that Murdoch refused to reverse it is evidence of that. The fact that reporters at Fox News and at The Wall Street Journal were debunking those lies in real time is evidence of that. And they're going to claim that the kind of material that has so far come to light, that's going to be evidence as well. So that's part of Dominion's effort to prove its defamation by saying this was all knowingly allowed, even though they knew it wasn't true.

MARTÍNEZ: So how damaging could this lawsuit be for Fox News and the rest of the Murdoch media empire?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, the lawsuit's for $1.6 billion. That's a lot of money.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah.

FOLKENFLIK: The Murdochs can afford it. It's a publicly traded company, but it would still hurt. Even if it's in the hundreds of millions, it would still hurt. I think that what also could be more damaging in some ways is reputationally. You know, if this actually goes to trial in April, as currently scheduled, you could see a lot of these depositions, the details, coming to light, a lot of the evidence coming to light, indicating, to be honest, how cynical many of the figures on Fox were in inviting on guests to make these claims, knowing that they were false and peddling them anyway. And it would also possibly alienate their core viewership, which so much hungered for Trump to win reelection.

MARTÍNEZ: David, you've covered Rupert Murdoch for a long time, and it's actually been a long time since Murdoch was in a situation like this over a scandal at one of his news outlets. What happened the last time?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, you've got to think back a decade, 2011, 2012. Murdoch's London tabloid, the Sunday News of the World, which had been the source of a lot of his fortunes and propelled his expansion globally, had become embroiled in this enormous hacking scandal of hundreds of British royals, celebrities but also veterans and victims, including a 13-year-old murdered girl. And he mumbled in his testimony. He professed to not be able to remember hardly anything he was being asked about - about the operations of his companies, about his interactions with top executives there, about his interactions with prominent British politicians. And he managed to sort of shuffle his way out of it, even as he said, listen; I'm firmly in charge. I'm the man to fix what's wrong.

A decade later, he can probably claim he's a little bit more removed than ever. But he's had these interactions with top stars. He's had these interactions more specifically with former President Trump at the time. And those are going to be things he's going to have to face in front of Dominion's lawyers.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's David Folkenflik. David, thanks.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.
A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.