Megrahi death: Libya does its best to ignore funeral of ‘national hero’
A BROWN earth plot, marked with four concrete breeze blocks is now the final resting place of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, his death marking a chapter in Libya’s history that its people cannot put behind them.
The only man ever convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing was buried yesterday, as required by Muslim custom, the day after his death from prostate cancer in his Tripoli villa.
The stigma that ordinary Libyans attach to the man – a result of his involvement with Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi’s security services – meant barely 100 mourners attended a simple funeral service in a dusty, wind-swept graveyard in the Tripoli suburb of Janzour.
By Islamic custom, there were no women in attendance, and his sons led a procession of mourners across the cemetery to a plot carved out of the earth into which his body, clad in a white shroud, was placed.
“He was innocent, he did not do those crimes,” insisted his cousin, Dr Mohamed Rashed, 52 “I hope the truth will be revealed.”
He said Megrahi had insisted into his last days, lying almost rigid in his sick bed, that he had no part in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which crashed in flames in Lockerbie in 1988 with the loss of 270 lives.
“We would sit with him and he always said he is innocent. We asked him, ‘Do you wish for the truth to come out?’ and he said, ‘Yes I do’.”
No state officials were present at the funeral, and the family were happy not to attract more publicity. In today’s Libya, people do not want to draw attention to previous associations with the security services of the late Col Gaddafi.
Dr Rashed declined to say what role if any his brother had had in the security services, insisting: “He was just an ordinary man. He had no interest in politics. He was a kind man, a good man. And he was religious, he would fast for Ramadan.”
Another cousin, Ashur al-Zuwam, said when he returned to Libya, after being freed on compassionate grounds by Scottish ministers in August 2009, Megrahi had been to see his mother to insist he was innocent. Under Libyan custom, a son will confess his sins to his mother. “He went to his mother and said, ‘Mother, if I am guilty of this, then you should not forgive me’. I am sure of his innocence.”
Mohammed Bukharis, a neighbour, said: “Brother al-Megrahi is honoured and respected by all Libyans because of the suffering and pain he went through following his unjust conviction. Many view him as a national hero because he took the blame for a crime that could have seen the whole country punished. There was never any resentment against the Megrahi family when Gaddafi disappeared. On the contrary, all have been honoured.”
Among those attending the funeral were relatives from Sebha, Megrahi’s hometown in the south of Libya, which is home to the Megarha, the tribe to which he belonged. The rest of the country, however, ignored his death, which was not covered by any of the country’s three main television channels.
Yesterday, Mohammed Harizi, spokesman for Libya’s ruling National Tranistional Council, said: “No official attended the funeral. It was a private family matter.”
Few Libyans will shed a tear for the death of a man who was certainly a member of Col Gaddafi’s hated security services.
While the official media of the time gave a distorted account of the Lockerbie investigation, ordinary Libyans felt the effect of the resulting sanctions and international isolation that followed – a legacy that will haunt the memory of Megrahi for many years.
Despite the death of the only man ever convicted for the Lockerbie bombing, the National Transitional Council has pledged to investigate the affair.
However, doubts have been raised about the strength of this commitment, after the interior ministry dramatically announced this year that UK police investigating both Lockerbie and the killing of WPC Yvonne Fletcher would not be allowed to visit Libya, a step that even the former Gaddafi regime did not insist upon.
One man who does have the answers, and who is very much alive, is Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the late dictator’s heir designate, former playboy, and the man who ostentatiously greeted Megrahi on the steps of the aeroplane when he arrived to a state-engineered hero’s welcome from the UK in August 2009.
Saif IS in custody in Zintan, 90 miles south-west of Tripoli, with the right to try him for war crimes being disputed by both Libya and the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Having apparently acted as a go-between to persuade the Scottish Government to release Megrahi, reportedly suggesting it would help with future oil contracts, Saif may be able to reveal whether he was guilty of one of the world’s worst terrorist crimes.
Megrahi, who many considered a cog in a brutal machine, is now gone, but as Scottish police officers await permission to visit Libya, there is much still to be unearthed.
“He was smiling before he died,” said his brother Mohammed. “He died in his home and his country, an innocent man.”
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