22 Aug 2009

Lockerbie bomber arrives home to Libya

5:57 am on 22 August 2009

A former Libyan agent jailed for life for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing arrived home on Thursday after Scottish authorities released him.

Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, who has terminal cancer and is believed to have less than three months to live, was released on compassionate grounds on the order of Scotland's justice minister.

Megrahi, 57, 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.

A second appeal was withdrawn this week, opening the way for his release on compassionate grounds.

Hundreds of young Libyans gathered at the airport in Tripoli to welcome 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.

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.

"We have been in contact with the Scottish government indicating that we objected to it," he said.

"We are now in contact with the Libyan government, and want to make sure that if in fact this transfer has taken place, he is not welcomed back in some way but instead should be under house arrest."

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.