Lockerbie bomber home in Libya
Megrahi, the only person found guilty of the 1988 bombing which killed 270 people, has been released by Scotland on compassionate grounds, amid US anger.Tripoli – The terminally ill Libyan convicted over the 1988 Lockerbie bombing arrived home from Scotland on Thursday after being freed on compassionate grounds despite US anger over the decision.
Hundreds of young people waving Libyan and Scottish flags greeted the aircraft carrying Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi as it landed in Tripoli amid heavy security and to the sound of patriotic music.
Loudspeakers pumped out patriotic songs ahead of a celebration later in the heart of the Libyan capital that Megrahi was expected to attend, said a source in the delegation that accompanied him from Scotland.
Megrahi, the only person found guilty of blowing up a US Boeing 747 airliner and killing 270 people, said earlier he was "very relieved" to be freed but described his original conviction as a "disgrace."
US President Barack Obama called his release a "mistake" and said Megrahi should be placed under house arrest in Libya.
"We have been in contact with the Scottish government, indicating that we objected to this and we thought it was a mistake," Obama said. Many of the victims on Pan Am Flight 103 were American.
The president added that "we're now in contact with the Libyan government and want to make sure that if, in fact, this transfer has taken place, that he's not welcomed back in some way, but instead, should be under house arrest."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington was "deeply disappointed" at the decision, while Attorney General Eric Holder repudiated the legal basis of the Scottish decision.
"There is simply no justification for releasing this convicted terrorist whose actions took the lives of 270 individuals, including 189 Americans," he said.
The Cairo-based Arab League welcomed Megrahi's release, the official Egyptian MENA news agency reported.
Four hours before his arrival home, dressed in white from head to toe and covering his face with a scarf, the 57-year-old walked unaided up the steps of a Libyan jet sent from Tripoli to collect him.
His release from a prison near Glasgow came barely an hour after Scotland's justice minister announced that Megrahi was being freed because he has advanced prostate cancer and was expected to die in less than three months.
"Scotland will forever remember the crime that has been perpetrated against our people and those from many other lands," Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said, defending his decision.
"Our justice system demands that judgment be imposed but compassion be available. Our beliefs dictate that justice be served, but mercy be shown."
In a statement issued by his lawyers after his departure, Megrahi said he was "obviously very relieved to be leaving my prison cell at last" but described his 2001 conviction as "nothing short of a disgrace."
"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," he said.
Megrahi's wife Aisha said in Tripoli she was "very, very happy" at his release, which comes just in time for the start of the Islamic holy fasting month of Ramadan.
"I am overjoyed; it is indescribable. It is a great moment which we have been waiting for nine years. The house is full to bursting; everyone who loves Abdelbaset is with us," she told AFP by telephone.
The bombing of Flight 103, which blew up over the Scottish town of Lockerbie on 21 December 1988, was the worst terrorist attack committed in Britain.
Megrahi was convicted in 2001 after a trial held under Scots law at a special court in the Netherlands.
Many US relatives of Lockerbie victims were very angry.
Susan Cohen, who lost her daughter Theodora, called the decision "appalling."
"You want to feel sorry for anyone, please feel sorry for me, feel sorry for my poor daughter, her body falling a mile through the air," Cohen told CNN. "This is 270 people dead; this is a convicted mass murderer and terrorist."
The Scottish decision comes amid thawing relations between Libya and Britain, which were arch-enemies in the 1980s and 1990s.
Libya has the largest proven oil reserves of any country in Africa, much of it still untapped, and British firms including BP and Shell have signed major exploration deals in the country in recent years.
Megrahi and co-accused Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah were handed over by Libya for trial after years of diplomatic wrangling. They were originally indicted in 1991 for the attack following an investigation by British and US police.
Megrahi was chief of security for Libyan Arab Airlines in Malta at the time of the attack. But US detectives claimed his airline work was a cover for a role with the Libyan Secret Service.
He has long protested his innocence. His first appeal failed in 2002 and he launched a second appeal in Scotland in April.
Then, his lawyer Margaret Scott argued that the initial trial convicted him on "wholly circumstantial evidence" and said there had been a "miscarriage of justice."
AFP / Expatica