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Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi: The Lockerbie bomber is dead

Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who has died, according to reports. Picture: Getty

Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who has died, according to reports. Picture: Getty

  • by MARTYN MCLAUGHLIN
 

PRESSURE is mounting on the Scottish Government to launch an independent inquiry into the Lockerbie bombing following the death of the only person convicted of the 1988 atrocity.

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Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, who was sentenced to life in prison for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103, died earlier today at his home in Tripoli after succumbing to his long battle with cancer.

Nearly a quarter of a century after Britain’s worst-ever terrorist attack, Megrahi’s death divided opinion just as he had done in life. A relative of one of Lockerbie’s 270 victims said she hoped his passing was “extremely painful and horrible” while another described him as the “271st victim”.

The Justice for Megrahi campaign group demanded an investigation into the Libyan’s 2001 conviction, stating that “Scotland must have the courage to look itself in the mirror”.

But Prime Minister David Cameron said there had been a “proper process” and a “proper court proceeding”. Today, he added, was a day to remember the 270 victims of the “appalling terrorist act”.

First Minister Alex Salmond said it was up to Megrahi’s relatives to apply to the Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission to seek a further appeal, adding that his death “ends one chapter of the Lockerbie case, but it does not close the book”.

However, Mr Salmond expressed hope there would be an end to “some of the conspiracy theories which have attempted to suggest that his illness was somehow manufactured”.

Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland QC said the investigation into Lockerbie would go on, in order to “bring to justice the others involved in this act of state-sponsored terrorism”.

Dumfries and Galloway Police, the investigating force, said it would issue a statement tomorrow.

The bombing of Pan Am flight 103 on its way from London to New York four days before Christmas killed all 259 people on board. Eleven Lockerbie residents also died, as the wreckage of the plane fell on the town.

After protracted international pressure, Megrahi was put on trial under Scots law at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands. He was found guilty 11 years ago of mass murder and was ordered to serve a minimum of 27 years in jail.

Despite claims that he could not have worked alone, and the lingering suspicion by some that he was innocent, Megrahi was the only man ever convicted over the terrorist attack.

He was freed having served nearly eight years of his sentence, after he dropped his second appeal against conviction at the Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh.

Megrahi was released from Greenock prison on 20 August, 2009, on compassionate grounds after being diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer. He was sent home to Tripoli with an estimated three months to live.

In his last interview, in December last year, he said: “I am an innocent man. I am about to die and I ask now to be left in peace with my family.”

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He had previously claimed he would release new information about the atrocity, but little new has emerged.

Megrahi survived for 1,004 days after his release until his family confirmed his death, at the age of 60, at about 11am today. A group of male family members gathered outside Megrahi’s villa to keep journalists away. “I am sorry, but we want privacy,” said his nephew, Abdul Salem. “He is an innocent man.”

The decision by justice secretary Kenny MacAskill to allow Megrahi to return home sparked condemnation from some relatives of victims and politicians.

American families were among the most vocal critics of the decision, along with US president Barack Obama. US secretary of state Hillary Clinton branded the move “absolutely wrong”. Fury in the United States at the decision was compounded by the hero’s welcome Megrahi received in Tripoli on his return.

Mr Cameron has also come under pressure from some US senators to hold an independent inquiry into the decision to free the bomber.

But the move attracted support from some victims’ relatives in Britain, and high profile figures such as Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Mr Cameron said today that Megrahi should never have been released, but emphasised that his conviction was sound.

“This has been thoroughly gone through,” he said. “There was a proper process, a proper court proceeding and all the rest of it. We have to give people the chance to mourn those that were lost. I’m very clear that the court case was properly done and properly dealt with.”

Mr Salmond said the Scottish Government’s first thoughts were with the Lockerbie families. He added that Megrahi’s death “confirms what we have always said about his medical condition”.

He said: “The Lockerbie case remains a live investigation, and Scotland’s criminal justice authorities have made clear that they will rigorously pursue any new lines of inquiry.

“Scotland’s senior law officer, the Lord Advocate, recently visited Libya, and we have been offered the co-operation of the new Libyan authorities. It has always been the Crown’s position that Mr Megrahi did not act alone but with others.”

In the wake of Megrahi’s death, the Justice for Megrahi (JFM) group – whose members include Cardinal Keith O’Brien, journalist Kate Adie, Private Eye editor Ian Hislop, intellectual Noam Chomsky, former MP Tam Dalyell, and Professor Robert Black, QC – said the prosecution case “held water like a sieve” and that the Crown and successive governments had “acted to obstruct any attempts to investigate” Megrahi’s conviction.

In a statement, it said: “Since first coming to power in 2007, the SNP government has actively taken measures which hinder any progress towards lifting the fog that lies over events.

“Some in the legal and political establishments may well be breathing a sigh of relief now that Mr Megrahi has died. This would be a mistake. Many unfortunates who fell foul of outrageous miscarriages of justice in the past have had their names cleared posthumously.

“The campaign seeking to have Mr Megrahi’s conviction quashed will continue unabated not only in his name and that of his family, but, above all, it will carry on in the name of justice.”

Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was killed in the bombing, said Megrahi’s death was a “very sad event”. A member of JFM, he believes there is evidence yet to be released that will prove Megrahi’s innocence.

“Right up to the end he was determined – for his family’s sake, he knew it was too late for him – that the verdict against him should be overturned.”

David Ben-Ayreah, a spokesman for the victims of Lockerbie families, echoed Dr Swire’s belief that he was an innocent man, adding: “Megrahi is the 271st victim of Lockerbie.”

However, some families in the US said they had no sympathy for Megrahi, maintaining he was responsible for the atrocity, even though further questions remained unanswered.

Susan Cohen, 74, whose daughter Theodora, 20, was on board Pan Am flight 103, said: “He died with his family around him. My daughter died a horrible death when she was 20 years old. You call that justice?”

She added: “I detest Megrahi, he was monstrous, and I hope his death was extremely painful and horrible.”

In Lockerbie, Marjory McQueen, a retired councillor who became the public face of the town in the wake of the disaster, said there had been no particular reaction to Megrahi’s death, despite the painful memories of that day 24 years ago.

“Knowing the town, there isn’t going to be any dancing in the streets,” she said. “It doesn’t change a single thing. We are a generation on from 1988 and Lockerbie has moved on.”

 

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