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Lockerbie bomber Megrahi: conspiracy theories persist

The release of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbasit al-Megrahi, the Libyan agent convicted in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, has rekindled conspiracy theories that he was innocent. Investigators say they can only scratch their heads.

By Staff writer / August 24, 2010

In this Aug. 2009 file photo, Libyans surround the convoy of Abdelbasat al-Megrahi, who was found guilty of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, as they hold posters showing his image and Scottish flags upon his arrival at an airport in Tripoli, Libya.

Amr Nabil/AP/File



Last week Abdelbasat al-Megrahi, the convicted murderer of 270 people in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie Scotland, celebrated the first anniversary of his release on "compassionate" grounds by the Scottish government at his lavish home near Tripoli.

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Mr. Megrahi was said to have terminal cancer and three months to live at the time of his release by Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, and the anniversary brought a flurry of press coverage about his involvement in one of the worst terrorist attacks in history.

The fact that the former Libyan intelligence agent has now lived nine months longer than doctors predicted has rekindled conspiracy theories of Megrahi's innocence. The thinking goes that "compassion" for Megrahi was merely a pretext to release a man secretly known to be innocent without having to make embarrassing admissions of error.

But to Richard Marquise, the lead FBI investigator into the bombing, the public doubts expressed about Megrahi, who was convicted by a tribunal of three Scottish judges in 2001, are puzzling and frustrating. In his 31 years at the FBI, Mr. Marquise said he's rarely seen a "stronger circumstantial case" than the one against Megrahi, who was also caught repeatedly lying to investigators and reporters. "There's nobody else that I'm aware of anywhere in the world that has such evidence pointing to their guilt," he says.

Another Libyan agent tried along with Megrahi was acquitted. Megrahi was found guilty of planting the explosive device in a suitcase that was placed on an Air Malta flight originating in that country and tagged for transfer to the Pan Am flight. Investigators believe it was on the orders of Libyan intelligence.

Marquise says that "there were other people that we strongly believed were involved in terms of the planning process and ordering process.... Megrahi was the guy who was assigned to get it done. We think at least six were probably involved if you only had to make an intelligence case, but in terms of making a criminal case, we didn't have strong enough evidence."

Libya later said it was responsible for the bombing and promised to pay out to $2.7 billion to the families of the victims. Recently, Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi said that the country accepted guilt to get out from under UN sanctions, and had not been truthful when it said it was responsible.