US senators damn Britain over Lockerbie bomber
The British government strong-armed Scotland into freeing the Lockerbie bomber to safeguard oil deals and arms sales with Libya, US senators alleged Tuesday in a damning report.
Libyan national Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi is the only person ever convicted over the 1988 attack in which 270 people, most of them Americans, perished when Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over the Scottish town of Lockerbie.
Scottish authorities, who have power over their own judicial affairs, released Megrahi, 58, on compassionate grounds in August 2009 after doctors said he was suffering from terminal cancer and had three months to live.
His release and subsequent return like a hero to Tripoli drew a furious response from many in America, especially from some families of the 190 American victims who expressed their bewilderment at the decision.
The fact Megrahi is still alive more than 16 months later fuels accusations the decision was in some way linked to British trade dealings with Libya, a notion fleshed out on Tuesday by US senators in their new report.
Titled "Justice Undone: The Release of the Lockerbie Bomber," their probe found that Britain was influenced by its commercial and economic interests and pressured the Scottish government in Edinburgh to free Megrahi.
The document, obtained by AFP, concluded that political pressure and "commercial warfare" by the government of Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi played a major role in the decision.
The report into the circumstances surrounding the decision to free the Lockerbie bomber was commissioned by four Democratic senators including Senator Robert Menendez, one of the most outspoken critics of his release.
It accused senior officials in the governments of British Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown of surreptitiously pressuring Scottish authorities to release Megrahi to protect British business interests in Libya.
"The UK knew that in order to maintain trade relations with Libya, it had to accede to Libya's political demands," the report said.
Chief among London's concerns was a 900-million-dollar BP oil deal that Libya had threatened to cut off and a 165-million-dollar arms deal signed the same month al-Megrahi was freed, the report alleged.
The outraged authors of the 50-page report noted that 16 months after his release, Megrahi remains alive, reportedly in comfort in a luxury villa in Tripoli.
The report came on the 22nd anniversary of the bombing, the worst ever terror attack on or over British soil. The British and Scottish governments have repeatedly denied any foul play over Megrahi's release.
© 2010 AFP