Lockerbie bomber dies, taking bombing mystery to grave

Lockerbie bomber dies, taking bombing mystery to grave

Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the Libyan man convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, is likely to take the mystery that still surrounds Britain's worst terrorist atrocity to his grave, dpa reported.

"Perhaps the only liberation for me will be death," wrote al-Megrahi in a statement accompanying his controversial release from Greenock prison in Scotland in August, 2009.

Al-Megrahi, who died aged 60, in Tripoli Sunday, was freed in 2009 by the Scottish authorities on health grounds. Because of the prostate cancer that afflicted him, he would not have more than three months to live, they said.

But, as it happened, the man who was said to be a former Libyan agent, and who was given a rapturous welcome by former leader Moamer Gaddafi on his return home, continued to live for more than two years to witness the revolution that swept his country.

While for some, his death in the turmoil of the aftermath of the Libyan revolution may bring closure, others will hope for renewed attempt to solve the riddle of Lockerbie.

Al-Megrahi, who was sentenced to life imprisonment by a special Scottish court set up in the Netherlands in 2001, had always contested his innocence.

But with his premature release, he also gave up the right to seek a further appeal against his conviction.

"The remaining days of my life are being lived under the shadow of the wrongness of my conviction," he wrote in 2009.

The atrocity for which he is held responsible, the bombing of a Pan Am passenger plane - en route from Frankfurt via London to New York - over the Scottish town of Lockerbie on December 21, 1988, killed 270 people - in the air and on the ground. Of the victims, 189 were US citizens.

While some of the victims' relatives, led by British doctor Jim Swire, have always said they doubt the Libyan was behind the attack, a number of US senators have repeatedly asked for an investigation into the circumstances of al-Megrahi's release.

Swire believes that the families of the victims have been "pawns in a political scenario that had nothing to do with truth," and alleges that the Scottish authorities deliberately blocked attempts to bring the real killers to court.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, while saying that he believes it was "wrong" of the previous Labour government to free al-Megrahi, has also insisted that any further steps in the case were up to the new government of Libya.

Documents unearthed recently in the abandoned British embassy building in Tripoli showed that the Gaddafi regime threatened Britain with "dire consequences" should al-Megrahi die in Scotland.

A link between al-Megrahi's release and a major oil exploration deal for BP has always been rumoured - but never confirmed.

On January 31, 2001, al-Megrahi was found guilty of murder for what the judges called an "horrendous crime" and sentenced to life, which the judges said should mean at least 27 years. His co-accused, Al-Amin Khalifa Fahima, was found not guilty and returned to Libya.

As al-Megrahi launched his first appeal against conviction, lawyers for the families of the bombing victims struck an unprecedented deal with Libyan officials on the payment of 2.7 billion dollars of compensation to relatives of the victims in Britain and the United States.

The August 2003 deal was followed the next year by a highly symbolic visit to Libya by former British prime minister Tony Blair, who secured an assurance from Gaddafi that Libya would renounce terrorism and abandon nuclear weapons research.

A relaxation of tension with the United States, and other Western nations, followed.

In a highly critical assessment of the 2001 conviction, Scotland's Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) found in 2007 that al-Megrahi could have been the subject of a miscarriage of justice, and that his conviction "may be unsafe."

In a separate development, a Dutch TV documentary uncovered that key evidence relating to the timer for the explosion was not presented to the court.

Tam Dalyell, the veteran British Labour politician who campaigned for al-Megrahi's release, said he believed that the Lockerbie bombing was instigated by Iran as an "act of revenge" for the accidental shooting down in July 1988 of an Iranian airliner by USS Vincennes in which 290 people died.

After al-Megrahi's release on health grounds, and his earlier decision to end his legal fight, Dalyell said: "Lockerbie will be one of those mysteries like the assassination of President Kennedy that will remain unsolved - possibly for ever."

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