Lockerbie bombing convict dies in Libya

Agence France-Presse
The late Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi was the only person convicted over the "1988 Lockerbie bombing" or the attack on Pan Am flight 103 that killed 270 people

TRIPOLI, Libya – Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi, the only person convicted over the 1988 Lockerbie bombing which killed 270 people, died on Sunday, May 21, almost 3 years after being freed from jail on compassionate grounds.

“He died an hour ago,” his brother Abdelhakim al-Megrahi told AFP, putting the time of death at shortly after 1 pm (1100 GMT).

Megrahi, 60, suffered from prostate cancer and was hospitalized for a few days in April before being sent back home to be with his family.

On April 16, Abdelhakim had said his brother’s days “were numbered.”

A Scottish court in 2001 convicted the Libyan of the attack on Pan Am flight 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie but he was released on compassionate grounds in 2009 after doctors said he had only three months to live.

Megrahi had always maintained his innocence and his brother Abdelhakim defended him on Sunday, saying he was the “scapegoat” of Muammar el-Qaddafi’s regime.

“He has died and has left us with the feeling of injustice,” he told AFP. “Everyone knows that the Kadhafi regime blamed its mistakes on others.”

Another brother, Mohammad al-Megrahi, too insisted Abdelbaset was innocent.

“All the darkness of the universe will never cover the flame of the candle which is the truth,” he said, speaking outside the family home where relatives had gathered to receive condolences.

“Within the last decade more than 10 babies have been born in this family with the name of Abdelbaset Megrahi. One day these Abdelbaset babies will get an apology from the world.”

Megrahi’s funeral was due to take place on Monday afternoon, Libya’s Lana news agency quoted one of his sisters as saying.

The convict had been greeted as a hero on his return to Qaddafi’s Libya, after having served eight years of a minimum 27-year sentence for his role in the Lockerbie bombing.

The fact that he survived much longer than the doctors had estimated provoked indignation in Britain and the United States.

On the second anniversary of the release of the former Libyan intelligence agent on August 20, 2009, the Scottish government insisted its decision to free him had been vindicated.

But British Prime Minister David Cameron criticised the release as a “terrible mistake,” and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said he would like to see him “back in jail behind bars.”

On Sunday, Cameron said Megrahi’s death was a day to remember “the 270 people who lost their lives in what was an appalling terrorist act.”

Cameron added: “I’ve always been clear he should never have been released from prison.”

He also dismissed calls for an inquiry into his conviction.

“There was a proper process, a proper court proceeding and all the rest of it. We have to give people the chance to mourn those that were lost. I’m very clear that the court case was properly done and properly dealt with.”

Most of those killed in the bombing of the Boeing 747 jet headed from London to New York were Americans. All 259 passengers and crew were killed, along with 11 people on the ground.

Libya’s ruling National Transitional Council declined to comment on the news of Megrahi’s death.

But the father of one of the victims of the Lockerbie bombing, who has long believed Megrahi was innocent, said it was a sad day.

“It is a sad time, I think. I have been satisfied for some years that this man was nothing to do with the murder of my daughter,” Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was killed in the attack, told BBC TV.

“I think Scotland has a big question to answer as to why his verdict hasn’t long since been reviewed.”

Swire said Megrahi had been in great pain when he visited him in Tripoli in December, and that he thought it would be their last meeting.

“He was in a lot of pain, and his demise now has at least relieved his pain for him,” Swire said.

“So from now on perhaps we can concentrate on trying to find out who did murder my daughter and all those other people.”

Swire, a member of the Justice for Megrahi (JFM) group, said he was confident that the guilty verdict passed on Megrahi by a Scottish court sitting in The Netherlands in 2001 would be overturned.

In December, Megrahi told several British newspapers in what was billed as a “final interview” that a book being written by investigative journalist John Ashton would clear his name.

“I am an innocent man,” he told the papers, including The Times and the Daily Mail.

“I am about to die and I ask now to be left in peace with my family,” he said.

Megrahi insisted he had “never seen” a Maltese shopkeeper whose testimony and identification proved central to the original guilty verdict, and argued that US agencies “led the way” in securing his conviction. – Agence France-Presse

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