Scotland defends Lockerbie bomber release, a year on

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The Scottish politician who made the hotly disputed decision to free the Lockerbie bomber a year ago due to his terminal cancer defended the move Thursday, saying: "It was a decision I had to make."

Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill released Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds on August 20, 2009, saying he was seriously ill with prostate cancer and probably only had three months to live.

But Megrahi is still alive in his homeland of Libya, prompting fury among some relatives of the 270 people who died when Pan Am Flight 103 blew up over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in December 1988.

"It was a decision I didn't choose to make, it was a decision I had to make. It was my responsibility and accordingly I followed the rules and laws of Scotland," MacAskill said.

"I acted appropriately and I stand by the decision."

MacAskill added: "He has lived longer, but what is undeniable, and what is irrefutable, is that Mr Al Megrahi is terminally ill with prostate cancer."

The Scottish government, which is based in Edinburgh and has devolved powers from London, has faced heavy criticism over the decision to free Megrahi, the only man ever convicted over the worst such attack in British history.

The US Senate's Foreign Relations Committee is set to hold a hearing on the affair in the coming weeks although several potential witnesses from Britain have declined to appear.

Many of the people killed in the bombing, which happened four days before Christmas, were from the United States.

MacAskill also said in his latest comments that he would meet individual senators who have voiced criticism over his handling of the case, although Scottish ministers have repeatedly refused to give evidence in Washington.

"If US senators come across and they seek a meeting with me, I'll be more than happy to try and provide it. I did meet with congressmen back in February, indeed the door is always open," he said.

© 2010 AFP

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