Lockerbie Bomber Al-Megrahi Dies in Libya

World | May 20, 2012, Sunday // 16:06|  views

Muammer Gaddafi's son Seif al-Islam holds hands with freed Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the sole Libyan convicted over the 1988 Pan Am jetliner bombing, aboard the Libyan presidential plane that brought him back in Tripoli on August 20, 2009. P

Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence officer who convicted in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, died Sunday.

The 60-year-old al-Megrahi, responsible for one of the most barbaric international terrorism acts of the regime of former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, has died nearly three years after he was released from a Scottish prison to the outrage of the relatives of the attack's 270 victims.

Scotland released Mr. Megrahi on Aug. 20, 2009, on compassionate grounds to let him return home to die after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. At the time, doctors predicted he had only three months to live.

Anger over the release was further stoked by the hero's welcome he received on his arrival in Libya - and by subsequent allegations that London had sought his release to preserve business interests in the oil-rich North African nation, strongly denied by the British and Scottish governments.

After his release, the Lockerbie bomber kept a strict silence, living in the family villa surrounded by high walls in a posh Tripoli neighborhood, mostly bedridden or taking a few steps with a cane. Libyan authorities sealed him off from public access.

His son, Khaled al-Megrahi, confirmed that he died in Tripoli in a telephone interview as cited by several international news agencies.

To the end, Megrahi insisted he had nothing to do with the bombing, which killed 270 people, most of them Americans.

"I am an innocent man," Mr. Megrahi said in his last interview, published in several British papers in December 2012. "I am about to die and I ask now to be left in peace with my family."

International media point out that the fall of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in August and his death two months later has so far done nothing to dispel the mysteries that surround the case even after Megrahi's conviction. The USA and UK contended that he did not act alone and carried out the bombing at the behest of Libyan intelligence.

After Gadhafi's fall, Britain asked Libya's new rulers to help fully investigate but they put off any probe for the forseeable future and rejected Western pressure to jail or return Megrahi.

At his trial, he was described as the "airport security" chief for Libyan intelligence, and witnesses reported him negotiating deals to buy equipment for Libya's secret service and military.

But he became a central figure in both Libya's falling out with the West and then its re-emergence from the cold.

To Libyans, he was a folk hero, an innocent scapegoat used by the West to turn their country into a pariah. The regime presented his handover to Scotland in 1999 as a necessary sacrifice to restore Libya's relations with the world.

In the months ahead of his release, Tripoli put enormous pressure on Britain, warning that if the ailing Megrahi died in a Scottish prison, all British commercial activity in Libya would be cut off and a wave of demonstrations would erupt outside British embassies, according to leaked US diplomatic memos. The Libyans even implied "that the welfare of UK diplomats and citizens in Libya would be at risk," the memos say.

But in the eyes of many Americans and Europeans, he was the foot-soldier carrying out orders from Gadhafi's regime. Tony Blair, Britain's prime minister at the time of the conviction, said the verdict "confirms our long-standing suspicion that Libya instigated the Lockerbie bombing."

The bombing that blew up Pan Am Flight 103 on Dec. 21, 1988, over Lockerbie, Scotland was one of the deadliest terror attacks in modern history. The flight was heading to New York from London's Heathrow airport and many of the victims were American college students flying home to for Christmas.

Gadhafi handed over Megrahi and a second suspect to Scottish authorities after years of punishing UN sanctions. Four years later, in 2003, Gadhafi acknowledged responsibility, though not guilt, for the Lockerbie bombing and paid compensation of about USD 2.7 B to the Lockerbie victims' families. He also pledged to dismantle all weapons of mass destruction and joined the US-led war on terror.

The regime maintained it handed Megrahi over and paid compensation only to win the lifting of sanctions. The steps won Gadhafi quick rewards, with Western powers resuming diplomatic contacts and signing lucrative business deals.

In 2001, a Scottish court, set up in the neutral ground of a military base in the Netherlands, convicted Megrahi of planting the bomb but acquitted his co-defendant, Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, a Libyan Arab Airlines official, of all charges. Megrahi ended up serving eight years of a life sentence.

The prosecution's case was built around a tiny fragment of circuit board discovered among the airline wreckage that investigators determined was part of the timer of the bomb, hidden in a suitcase. Investigators said the suitcase was loaded onto a flight from Malta, booked through to Pan Am 103 via Frankfurt.

An executive from a Swiss company testified that he had sold timers of the same make to Libya. Investigators found that Mr. Megrahi traveled to Malta on a false passport a day before the suitcase was checked in and left the following day.

Key to convicting Megrahi was the testimony of a Malta shopkeeper who identified him as having bought a man's shirt in his store. Scraps of the garment were found wrapped around the timing device.

However, a Scottish judicial body that carried out a major review of the evidence cast doubt on the shopowner's ID of Megrahi and said there was evidence the shirt was purchased on a day when Megrahi was not in Malta.

Megrahi's lawyers also claimed that British and U.S. authorities tampered with evidence, disregarded witness statements and steered investigators away from suggestions the bombing was an Iranian-financed plot carried out by Palestinians to avenge the shooting down of a civilian Iranian airliner by a US warship, in which some 290 people were killed, several months before the Lockerbie bombing. The judicial body, however, discounted theories of intentional misdirection.

Megrahi had appealed his conviction, but had to drop the appeal to be eligible for compassionate release. Megrahi is survived by his wife, Aisha, and five children.

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Tags: Megrahi, Al-Megrahi, Lockerbie, Lockerbie bombing, Muammar Gaddafi, Libya, Tripoli, terrorism, terrorist attack, terrorists, UK, Scotland, USA, Great Britain, Britain


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