Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi released on compassionate grounds

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Memorial of Pan Am Flight 103, at Dryfesdale Cemetery
Image: StaraBlazkova.

Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the only individual convicted in connection with the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988, has been released by Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, on compassionate grounds.

Megrahi is suffering from terminal prostate cancer and will be allowed to return to his home country of Libya.

270 people were killed when, on December 21, 1988, the Pan-Am flight from London's Heathrow Airport to New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport was destroyed by a bomb whilst in flight over southern Scotland.

A police convoy escorted Megrahi from his former prison home in HMP Greenock to Glasgow Airport, where he boarded an Afriqiyah Airways flight to Tripoli. He was told he could not remain in Scotland on security grounds.

In announcing the release on compassionate grounds, Justice Secretary MacAskill stated, "Al-Megrahi now faces a sentence imposed by a higher power. It is one that no court in any jurisdiction could revoke or overrule. It is terminal, final and irrevocable. He is going to die".

Cquote1.svg The UK families are united in believing that the full independent enquiry for which we have been asking since 1989 should now take place Cquote2.svg

—Jean Berkley, UK Families Flight 103

The conviction remains controversial. Last year then-president of US group Victims of Pan Am Flight 103 told Wikinews that the vast majority were satisfied in Megrahi's guilt. UK Families Flight 103 painted a very different picture to Wikinews of the opinions in Britain: "UK Families have different views about Megrahi's guilt or innocence. Certainly some, including my husband and I, believe that we are not in a position to make a judgment about whether he was involved in some way or not," said group coordinator Jean Berkley, whose son was killed. "Much of the evidence at the trial was circumstantial and confusing and it is a fact that the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, after considering the matter for three years, came to the conclusion that there were grounds for appeal. The UK families are united in believing that the full independent inquiry for which we have been asking since 1989 should now take place, to deal with the many unanswered questions and enable the evidence which would have emerged from the now abandoned appeal to be made public." This is in sharp contrast to The Daily Telegraph, which earlier reported that the majority of British families felt Megrahi was innocent.

The United States government had been strongly opposed to any possible release. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had previously called the possibility "absolutely wrong". MacAskill sought to justify the decision by commenting that "Compassion and mercy are about upholding the beliefs th[at] we seek to live by, remaining true to our values as a people - no matter the severity of the provocation or the atrocity perpetrated."

Megrahi issued a statement shortly before leaving HMP Greenock in which he maintained his innocence. "The remaining days of my life are being lived under the shadow of the wrongness of my conviction. I have been faced with an appalling choice: to risk dying in prison in the hope that my name is cleared posthumously or to return home still carrying the weight of the guilty verdict, which will never now be lifted. The choice which I made is a matter of sorrow, disappointment and anger, which I fear I will never overcome," said Megrahi.

Cquote1.svg I want him returned from Scotland the same way my wife Lorraine was and that would be in a box Cquote2.svg

—US victim

Robert Gibbs, press secretary for the White House, said "The United States deeply regrets the decision by the Scottish Executive to release Abdel Basset Mohamed al-Megrahi. As we have expressed repeatedly to officials of the government of the United Kingdom and to Scottish authorities, we continue to believe that Megrahi should serve out his sentence in Scotland." Many US victims have also reacted with anger.

Many US victims' families have reacted with anger. One relative commented that "This might sound crude or blunt, but I want him returned from Scotland the same way my wife Lorraine was and that would be in a box." Dr. Jim Swire, a UK victim, disagreed, saying Megrahi had "nothing to do with" the disaster and calling the earlier dropping of the appeal "a blow to those of us who seek the truth."

Megrahi's plane was greeted by crowds in Tripoli waving both Libyan and Scottish flags. Seif al-Islam, son of Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, held his hand as he exited the aircraft amid heavy security. Loudspeakers broadcast patriotic music and it is reported that celebrations are ongoing in Tripoli.


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