Scottish Government Releases Lockerbie Bomber
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The only man ever convicted in the Lockerbie bombing, the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland in 1988, is being released. The Scottish government says the terminally ill man, Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, will be allowed to return to his home country of Libya on what are described as compassionate grounds.
Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill made the announcement.
Mr. KENNY MacASKILL (Justice Minister, Scotland): It is my decision that Mr. Abdel Basset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, convicted in 2001 for the Lockerbie bombing, now terminally ill with prostate cancer, be released on compassionate grounds and allowed to return to Libya to die.
INSKEEP: In all, 270 people were killed in the crash. NPR's Rob Gifford is in Lockerbie, Scotland, and joins us now.
And Rob, I understand you're at a spot that has quite some significance to people in Lockerbie.
ROB GIFFORD: That's right, Steve. I'm standing in the cemetery just outside Lockerbie, beside the memorial where all 270 names are inscribed. And there has been a steady flow of people coming into the graveyard here all day. And it's a very moving place, and of course a very emotional day for many people here, as it is for families in the United States.
INSKEEP: Well, who was this man? Who is this man, Abdel Basset al-Megrahi? And what was his role in putting those names on that memorial?
GIFFORD: He was a Libyan intelligence agent, and he was convicted in 2001 under rather unusual circumstances. A Scottish court was convened in The Hague, in the Netherlands, and it convicted him, but that, of course, was 13 years after the actual crime was committed. There was some doubt, it should be said, about his conviction, about whether he was the man for responsible.
He then was serving his life sentence in a Scottish jail. He has terminal prostate cancer now, and it is on those compassionate grounds, that he has cancer and only a few months left to live, that the announcement has just come that he's being allowed to return to Libya.
INSKEEP: Although this must have been a difficult decision for Scottish authorities. The bitter irony can't be overlooked here, that the people on board that plane weren't allowed to fly home.
GIFFORD: Absolutely. And Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish justice secretary who's just made this announcement, was clearly rather uncomfortable as he made the announcement, actually. And it is very difficult. He said, I simply cannot square that circle. But he did say we followed due process, and the mercy and compassion that Scottish people show is not in balance with the crime that was committed, and it is not reliant on the emotion and the lack of compassion that Megrahi himself showed.
INSKEEP: Are you getting a sense of compassion as you talk with people who come and go from the memorial there in Lockerbie, Scotland today?
GIFFORD: Well, many people very much the opposite. They say he should rot in jail. Actually, I've spoken to several people who say that - until he dies. Some people, though, have said they just want an end to it. Some people have said that they don't think he was the man and he was made a scapegoat. So you've got the whole range of emotions here in Lockerbie.
And the thing about this decision is, I think, it was always going to upset someone. It was never going to please everyone. And in some ways there's still something of an unsatisfactory feeling about it to everyone here, that it has not been able to completely give closure to the incident.
INSKEEP: Rob, thanks very much.
GIFFORD: Thank you, Steve.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Rob Gifford. He is Lockerbie, Scotland today. A Scottish official has said that the only man ever convicted in the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing will be allowed to return home to die in peace.
This is NPR News.