US pressures Libya over Lockerbie bomber

United States President Barack Obama said on Thursday that Libya should put cancer-stricken Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi under house arrest and rebuked Scotland for releasing him from jail.

Washington, meanwhile, warned Libya that its warming ties with the US were on the line in its treatment of Megrahi, as furious relatives of victims of the 1988 disaster branded his compassionate release “appalling”.

“We have been in contact with the Scottish government, indicating that we objected to this, and we thought it was a mistake,” Obama said in an interview with a conservative radio host at the White House.

“We’re now in contact with the Libyan government and want to make sure that if, in fact, this transfer has taken place, that he’s not welcomed back in some way, but instead, should be under house arrest.”

State Department spokesperson PJ Crowley said that Libya’s treatment of Megrahi would have a significant diplomatic impact.

“We will be watching very carefully to see what they do upon his return and we have told them that this will be something that will potentially affect our future relations,” Crowley said.

Crowley noted that Libyan leader Moammar Gadaffi, once considered a pariah, was now seeking better relations with Washington.

“If he wants to be seen as a responsible leader in the region and beyond, this will be an opportunity for him to prove it,” he said.

White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs said US diplomats in Tripoli had told the government there on Thursday that Megrahi should be under house arrest and treated as a “convicted mass murderer” who took part in terrorist activity.

The terminally ill Megrahi, the only person ever convicted over the bombing of a US Pan Am jetliner that killed 270 people, earlier headed home after the Scottish government decided he had only weeks to live.

The US expressed anger and regret as Megrahi left jail.

“On this day, we extend our deepest sympathies to the families who live every day with the loss of their loved ones. We recognise the effects of such a loss weigh upon a family forever,” said Gibbs.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who represented relatives of many young victims of the tragedy as a senator from New York, said Washington was “deeply disappointed” and said Megrahi should still be in jail in Scotland.

Attorney General Eric Holder issued a statement repudiating the legal grounding of Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill’s decision to free Megrahi, who was serving a minimum of 27 years in jail.

“There is simply no justification for releasing this convicted terrorist whose actions took the lives of 270 individuals, including 189 Americans,” he said.

“Megrahi did not show and has not shown compassion for innocent human life.”

The release was a bitter blow to American relatives of Lockerbie victims, many of whom were students returning home from Europe for Christmas after student exchange visits.

Susan Cohen, who lost her daughter Theodora, said the Scottish government’s decision was “appalling”.

“You want to feel sorry for anyone, please feel sorry for me, feel sorry for my poor daughter, her body falling a mile through the air,” Cohen told CNN.

“This is 270 people dead, this is a convicted mass murderer and terrorist. I have no doubt about his guilt,” she said, arguing that Britain’s zeal to exploit oil fields in rehabilitated Libya were at the root of the decision.

“Are we so devastatingly weak now? Have we lost all of our moral fibre that you can say that Megrahi can be released from prison for compassionate release?

“Where was his compassion for my daughter?”
Bert Ammerman, who lost his brother in the disaster, asked “where is the compassion for the victims and the families that have to live with this for the rest of our lives?” in an interview aired on Fox 5 television in New York.

MacAskill said Megrahi could return to Libya to die because Scots law required that “justice be served but mercy be shown”.

The bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which blew up over the Scottish town of Lockerbie on December 21 1988, was the worst terrorist attack committed in Britain.

Megrahi was convicted in 2001 after a trial held under Scottish jurisdiction at a special court in the Netherlands.—Sapa-AFP


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