Scottish Government Releases Lockerbie Bomber

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The only man ever convicted in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, is being released from prison. The Scottish government says terminally-ill Abdel Baset al-Megrahi will be allowed to return to his home country of Libya on compassionate grounds. All 259 people aboard the flight were killed as well as 11 on the ground

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.

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Lockerbie Bomber Freed On Compassionate Grounds

Abdel Baset al-Megrahi i

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

itoggle caption Crown Office/AP
Abdel Baset al-Megrahi

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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