US Senate panel to hold Lockerbie hearing Wednesday

27th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

A key US Senate panel will hold a long-awaited hearing Wednesday on the controversial release of the Lockerbie bomber, the lawmaker scheduled to chair the session announced Monday.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee "will focus on the circumstances surrounding the terrorist's release, including possible influence of commercial interests," according to the office of Democratic Senator Robert Menendez.

In August 2009, Scotland's devolved government released Libyan Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi -- the only man convicted in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing -- on compassionate grounds after he was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer and was thought to have just three months to live.

But Megrahi, convicted over the downing of the Pan Am jumbo jet which killed 270 people, most of them US nationals, is still alive in Libya, sparking fury among Americans who believe he should never have been released.

The committee aimed to examine claims that oil giant BP played a part in securing Megrahi's release in a bid to safeguard a 900-million-dollar (700-million-euro) exploration deal with Libya.

BP and the British government deny this and the Scottish government has refused to send ministers to Washington to appear before the hearing.

And "BP representatives were invited to testify to help clarify the company's involvement in al-Megrahi's release, but so far have declined several invitations and failed to offer a useful witness," said Menendez's office.

Lawmakers were set to hear from a top official in the US State Department's European affairs bureau, a senior US Justice Department official, as well as two cancer experts.

© 2010 AFP

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