Paul Abbate
Deputy Director
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Ceremony Marking the 33rd Anniversary of the Bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington, Virginia
December 21, 2021

Justice as a Relay Race: Continuing to Fight for the Victims of Pan Am Flight 103

Thank you all. It is a privilege to join you here this afternoon.

Arlington Cemetery is, of course, one of our nation’s most sacred and solemn grounds.

As the world changes and turns, these rolling green hills and rows of white markers stand as an unbroken, unchanging constant.

Once a year, every year, there is a tradition that carries on. We all noticed the wreaths that were laid at each headstone this past weekend. Some of the wreaths were laid by families of the service members and veterans who rest here. And two weekends ago, those families spent time by themselves at the gravesites while laying their wreaths.

Then, this past Saturday, the area was filled with volunteers carrying wreaths and laying them at each headstone. As they lay the wreath, the volunteers say the name of each veteran out loud. Saying each name aloud is a way of expressing remembrance of each and every individual hero who served and sacrificed. This enduring tradition ensures that no one who has been laid to rest here will ever be forgotten.

Likewise, that’s why it is so critically important that we say the names of every individual lost in Lockerbie on this day in 1988 and remember them for eternity.

It’s essential that we read those names aloud every year, because it’s one thing to talk about this horrific act as one of the worst terrorist attacks in history. And it’s another thing entirely to remember each life lost, and each family member and loved one affected by those losses.

That makes it real. And it makes it personal.

The FBI, driven by the lives and the memories of those we honor and remember here today, has never stopped taking what happened on December 21, 1988, personally.

Since that dark evening in Scotland 33 years ago, FBI personnel have traveled to at least 16 countries in furtherance of this investigation. Hundreds and hundreds of individuals have been interviewed. Thousands of leads have been pursued and covered. Countless hours have been spent reviewing volumes and volumes of evidence.

When the Libyan government fell, the opportunity to find new evidence presented itself, and investigative efforts led to the U.S. bringing charges last year against the man who built the bomb that brought the plane down.

This is a most important reflection of our absolute commitment to seeking and obtaining justice and supporting the prosecution team in their work to obtain custody and prosecute this subject and others ultimately here in the United States.

And we will never stop our work until every individual responsible for this evil act is held accountable under our law.

One of our colleagues has described it this way:

“These cases are not sprints or marathons, but are more like relay races. Every person who is a part of this kind of case knows they owe it to the victims and the families who loved them to run as hard as they can until they hand off the baton.”

The investigation of Pan Am 103 is a race we’re still running, and we will never, ever stop until justice is attained fully and completely.

We are grateful and thankful to all the dedicated FBI personnel who’ve carried the baton, and who continue to run the race.

For the FBI, this has involved far more than just investigating the bombing.

As many of you know, the decades-long walk alongside you, the relentless quest for justice, has changed who we are as an organization and how we serve people.

Working with you has driven a profound change in the way we help and support victims of crime and terrorism.

At the time of the bombing, helping federal crime victims in any way at all was a relatively new concept.

When the first two suspects in this case were put on trial 20 years ago, the head of DOJ’s Office for Victims of Crime, Kathryn Turman, was tasked with creating a plan to support the victims’ families during that trial. That plan changed how our government relates to victims of terrorism and other federal crimes.

The next year, in 2001, Director Mueller asked Kathryn to lead a new victim assistance office at the FBI. That office eventually became what is now our Victim Services Division, which Kathryn led until her retirement last year.

And as she noted, “So much of what we ended up doing for 9/11 families and others has come from lessons learned from the Pan Am 103 families.”

So, I want to thank you for what you’ve done in this regard to move the Bureau forward.

The support, assistance, comfort, and transparency we’ve worked to more fully provide to victims and families is guided by you, always.

For 33 years, you’ve shown us what commitment and perseverance look like. You’ve pushed for improvements in aviation security, and for our government to understand the lasting damage and danger of terrorism. You’ve changed the way our government treats victims of terrorism and their loved ones. You’ve stood by other families who have lost loved ones to terrorism, and, most importantly, you’ve stood together in the face of unimaginable heartbreak and loss.

We are here today—in this place our nation set aside for remembering those we’ve lost—to thank you for your endless strength and support.

And to let you know that the FBI will never forget you or your loved ones—the real people behind the names—nor ever give up working tirelessly to achieve justice for each and every soul, and for each of you.

Thank you and God bless you all.