Why Lockerbie bomber is likely to be released
The Libyan intelligence agent convicted in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 drew closer to release from a British jail on Tuesday when a procedural hurdle was removed.
This week, Britain came within a whisker of releasing on "compassionate" grounds an ailing Libyan intelligence agent who was convicted for planting the bomb that killed 270 people on Pam Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The British press reported that the release was headed off by furious US lobbying. Until 9/11, the bombing – which killed 180 Americans – was the deadliest terror attack on US civilians. But speculation is still strong that Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the quietly spoken agent sentenced to life in prison for Britain's deadliest ever terror attack, could be headed home soon to spend his last days with his family. Mr. Megrahi is reported to be diagnosed with cancer.
On Tuesday, a Scottish court allowed Megrahi to drop an ongoing appeal, something that was an obstacle to his possible early release. Now, most British observers expect he'll soon be sent home, where he is expected to receive a hero's welcome.
The debate over releasing Megrahi has reopened old wounds for the families of victims and created a rare cross-Atlantic spat, with the Obama Administration staunchly opposed to either a release of Megrahi or his transfer to Libyan custody, something Scotland Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill is also considering.
But while British courts release terminally-ill convicted murderers far more frequently than American ones, many in Britain are now speculating that other considerations are at play. Some believe he was unjustly imprisoned, and "compassionate release" is a dodge to avoid owning up to the error. Others say it's simply a question of money.
"One person whose shoes I would not want to be in is Kenny MacAskill. This really is a nasty can of worms," says George Joffe, a Libya expert at the Center of International Studies at England's Cambridge University.
Some are pointing to the heated competition by Western governments and firms to exploit Libya's relatively untapped oil and gas resources. Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi has in recent years renounced ties to international terrorism and terminated what he said was a nuclear weapons program to bring his country in from the cold. Mr. Qaddafi allowed for Megrahi to be extradited to stand trial after years of stonewalling in 1999 to get out from under United Nation's sanctions. Megrahi was sentenced by a panel of Scottish judges at an extraordinary trial in Holland in 2001.
Now, the British energy giant BP is among international firms vying to scour 21,000 square miles of desert and coastline for untapped oil in a country which already possesses 42 billion barrels of proven oil reserves – one of Africa's largest.
The oil race is on