RELIEF was how most ordinary Libyans greeted the news of the death of convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi.
“How can we be sad at his death?” said Ala Kurka, a 35-year-old fruit-seller at a stall close to Megrahi’s luxurious villa in Tripoli’s upmarket Hai Damascu neighbourhood. “He dragged the country back ten years.”
Megrahi’s innocence or otherwise for his role in the Lockerbie bombing remains a subject of speculation among Libyans. What is not in question is that Lockerbie, and the powerful sanctions that followed, became a totemic symbol of all that was wrong with Muammar Gaddafi’s oppressive dictatorship.
Trade sanctions saw ordinary Libyans impoverished and many were unable to travel. Those that did came back with stories of an outside world that regarded their country as a terror state. “People used to see us as Gaddafi,” said Araf Mohamed, a local fast food seller. “But you can see for yourself, Libyans are not with Gaddafi.”
Megrahi was in the eyes of the people unequivocally part of the old regime – from the massive, palatial villa surrounded by a high wall where he lived to the televised pictures of his return to Libya in 2010, to be feted by the Gaddafi family, to his position as a member of the security services.
Megrahi’s family protest his innocence. In a tearful phone call with The Scotsman, Salem Nasser, his brother, insisted yesterday there had been a miscarriage of justice. “I cannot talk right now, now is not the time,” he said.
A group of male family members were gathered outside Megrahi’s villa, keeping journalists away. “I am sorry, but we want privacy,” said Megrahi’s nephew, Abdul Salem. “He is an innocent man.”
His death is also an uneasy reminder of the debate now raging in Libya over who did what under the old regime.
Perhaps inevitably, the bulk of Libya’s current administration is run by the same people as before, the exception being the security services, but the lack of transparency by the ruling National Transitional Council, which holds its meetings behind closed doors, has become a source of friction.