22 Aug 2009

Britain, US angered over Lockerbie bomber welcome

7:43 am on 22 August 2009

Britain and the United States have condemned the welcome given in Libya to the Lockerbie bomber freed from prison in the UK on compassionate grounds.

Hundreds of Libyans gathered at the airport in Tripoli to celebrate the return of Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, cheering and waving national flags as his car sped out of the airport. Victims' relatives said they had understood there would be no hero's welcome.

Megrahi, 57, who has terminal cancer, is the only person convicted of the 1988 bombing that killed 270 people. He lost an appeal in 2002, though a review board ruled in 2007 that there might have been a miscarriage of justice.

The former Libyan agent was released from prison compassionate grounds on Thursday, on the order of Scotland's justice minister.

US President Barack Obama told reporters at the White House that the welcome was "highly objectionable."

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Libya would face new scrutiny, the BBC reports. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has yet to comment on Megrahi, who has not been seen in public since returning.

In a statement issued by his lawyer after his departure, Megrahi said he was innocent of the bombing, but also thanked the people of Scotland for setting him free.

"To those victims' relatives who can bear to hear me say this: They continue to have my sincere sympathy for the unimaginable loss that they have suffered," he said. "Those who bear me ill will, I do not return that to you.

"This horrible ordeal is not ended by my return to Libya. It may never end for me until I die. Perhaps the only liberation for me will be death."

Relatives of many of the 189 American victims of the attack thought Megrahi should have served his full life sentence in prison.

The United States had campaigned to keep Megrahi in prison and US President Barack Obama described his release as a mistake.

However, the families of many of the Britons killed have questioned the quality of the evidence used to convict him.

Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was killed in the attack, has come to believe that Megrahi was wrongly convicted of the bombing, and says the Scottish administration has made the right decision.