Thursday, August 20, 2009

LOCKERBIE BOMBER RETURNS TO LIBYA !

Lockerbie bomber boards plane home

The Lockerbie bomber has left Scotland on board a plane bound for Libya after being freed from prison on compassionate grounds.

Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, 57, was jailed in 2001 for the atrocity which claimed 270 lives in 1988.

The decision to release Megrahi, who has terminal prostate cancer, was made by the Scottish Government.

The White House said it "deeply regretted" the decision and some of the US victims' families reacted angrily.

A police convoy left Greenock Prison, where Megrahi was serving his sentence, more than an hour after the announcement of his release was made.

Megrahi left Greenock prison in a police convoy
Megrahi was released from Greenock Prison

He was taken to Glasgow Airport to board the Afriqiyah Airways Airbus plane bound for Tripoli, which took off shortly before 1530 BST.

The government said it had consulted widely before Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill made his decision on applications for Megrahi's compassionate release or his transfer to a Libyan jail. He told a media conference on Thursday that he had rejected the application for a prisoner transfer.

However, after taking medical advice it was expected that three months was a "reasonable estimate" of the time Megrahi had left to live.

He ruled out the option of the Libyan being allowed to live in Scotland on security grounds.

And Mr MacAskill stressed that he accepted the conviction and sentence which had been handed to Megrahi.

"Mr al-Megrahi did not show his victims any comfort or compassion. They were not allowed to return to the bosom of their families to see out their lives, let alone their dying days. No compassion was shown by him to them," he said.

"But that alone is not a reason for us to deny compassion to him and his family in his final days."

Fiona Trott
BBC News correspondent, in Lockerbie

After the Scottish justice secretary made his announcement, life continued as normal in rain-soaked Lockerbie.

People were surprised by the decision he made - the real question was whether they had a strong opinion about it.

When the bombing happened 21 years ago, this town was full of army personnel and the emergency services and local people who helped that night became heroes.

But it happened a generation ago, and, while some American victims' families say his release is incomprehensible, people here in Lockerbie say they don't see things in black and white.

Two families were wiped out here, but the immediate families of the other victims no longer stay in Lockerbie. Some say it's right Megrahi has been released because he is very ill.

Does the decision bring everything to a close? People here say no.

Even though they have put the event in the past, tourists from across the world still come here.

For them, Lockerbie will always be known as the place where PAN AM flight 103 came down.

Mr MacAskill continued: "Our justice system demands that judgement be imposed, but compassion be available.

"For these reasons and these reasons alone, it is my decision that Mr Mr Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi, convicted in 2001 for the Lockerbie bombing, now terminally ill with prostate cancer, be released on compassionate grounds and be allowed to return to Libya to die."

Mr MacAskill had been under intense pressure from the US government to keep Megrahi behind bars, with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying his release would be "absolutely wrong".

"Compassion and mercy are about upholding the beliefs the we seek to live by, remaining true to our values as a people - no matter the severity of the provocation or the atrocity perpetrated," he added.

Some 189 Americans were among those who died in the airliner explosion.

Reacting to the decision, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement: "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."

The families of American victims of the Lockerbie bombing reacted angrily to the news.

Kara Weipz, of Mt Laurel, New Jersey, who lost her 20-year-old brother Richard Monetti, said: "I don't understand how the Scots can show compassion. It is an utter insult and utterly disgusting.

Lockerbie scene
The bombing claimed 270 lives

"It is horrible. I don't show compassion for someone who showed no remorse."

New York state resident Paul Halsch, whose 31-year-old wife was killed, said of Mr MacAskill's decision: "I'm totally against it. He murdered 270 people.

"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."

However, British relatives' spokesman Dr Jim Swire, who lost his daughter Flora in the atrocity, said he believed Megrahi had "nothing to do with" the bombing.

"I don't believe for a moment that this man was involved in the way that he was found to have been involved," he said.

"I feel despondent that the west and Scotland didn't have the guts to allow this man's second appeal to continue because I am convinced had they done so it would have overturned the verdict against him.

"It's a blow to those of us who seek the truth but it is not an ending. I think it is a splitting of the ways."

Megrahi was convicted of murder in January 2001 at a trial held under Scottish law in the Netherlands.

A first appeal against that verdict was rejected the following year.

However, in 2007 the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission granted him a second appeal.

It subsequently emerged he was suffering from terminal cancer but a bid to have him granted bail was refused.

His second appeal got under way this year but shortly afterwards applications were made for both his transfer to a Libyan jail and release on compassionate grounds.

Earlier this week the High Court in Edinburgh allowed Megrahi's application to drop his second appeal.

LOCATIONS WHICH SHAPED MEGRAHI'S TRIAL
Map

1. Tripoli, capital of Libya. Megrahi was born here on 1 April 1952, and worked - according to the FBI - for Libyan intelligence services.

2. Malta. Megrahi's day job, as security chief for Libyan Arab Airlines, took him to their office on the island. From there he would travel to Zurich. The bomb began its journey here in December 1988.

3. Zurich, Switzerland. The bomb's timing device was made and purchased here.

4. Frankfurt, Germany. On arrival, a suitcase later found to have contained the bomb was transferred from an Air Malta jet to a flight bound for London Heathrow.

5. London's Heathrow Airport. Pan Am flight PA 103 took off from Heathrow at 1825 GMT on Wednesday, 21 December 1988.

6. Lockerbie, Scotland. The bomb on Flight PA 103 exploded above the Scottish village at 1902 GMT.

7. Camp Zeist, Netherlands. Here, in a landmark trial, Scottish judges convicted Megrahi in 2001.

8. HMP Barlinnie. Megrahi served the first part of his sentence in this Scottish prison.

9. HMP Greenock. Megrahi was transferred from Barlinnie to Greenock in 2005.

BBC NEWS REPORT.

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