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Lockerbie Bomber Freed On Compassionate Grounds

Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, seen in an undated photo, was convicted in 2001 of taking part in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 on Dec. 21, 1988. The now 57-year-old Libyan has terminal prostate cancer. Crown Office/AP hide caption

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Crown Office/AP

Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, seen in an undated photo, was convicted in 2001 of taking part in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 on Dec. 21, 1988. The now 57-year-old Libyan has terminal prostate cancer.

Crown Office/AP

Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the only person convicted in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, was released from a Scottish prison on compassionate grounds to die in his native Libya, Scotland's justice minister said Thursday.

The decision to release the former Libyan intelligence agent, who is terminally ill with prostate cancer, came over the strong objection of the White House and many of the families of victims on the doomed flight. The Boeing 747 — which was carrying mostly American passengers to New York — blew up as it flew over Lockerbie, Scotland. All 259 people aboard and 11 on the ground died.

Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said Thursday that significant deterioration in Megrahi's health had led to the decision. He said he is conscious that there are "deeply held feelings and that many may disagree" with the decision to release the convicted terrorist.

MacAskill said he decided to grant Megrahi's request after doctors examined the prisoner Aug. 3 and determined that he had about three months to live.

"He may die sooner, he may live longer. I can only base my decision on the medical evidence before me," the justice secretary said at a news conference. "Megrahi now faces a sentence imposed by a higher power. It is terminal, final and irreversible. He is going to die."

Megrahi, 57, was convicted in 2001 of the murder of all 270 people and had served eight years of his life sentence.

He was taken from Greenock Prison to the airport in a police van Thursday for a flight from Glasgow, Scotland, to Libya.

The White House said it "deeply regrets" the decision to free Megrahi. Earlier, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had phoned MacAskill urging him not to release Megrahi, and seven U.S. senators wrote a letter with a similar message.

"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," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said. "On this day, we extend our deepest sympathies to the families who live every day with the loss of their loved ones."

The former Libyan intelligence officer was sentenced to serve a minimum of 27 years in a Scottish prison for Britain's deadliest terrorist attack. But a 2007 review of his case found grounds for an appeal of his conviction, and many in Britain believe he is not guilty.

Based on the investigation, Megrahi launched a new appeal earlier this year but later withdrew it.

From NPR and wire reports

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