Lockerbie bomber allowed to drop appeal

A British court will allow convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi to drop an appeal, taking him a step closer to being released.
Police and investigators inspect the remains of the flight deck of Pan Am Flight 103 in a field in Lockerbie, Scotland, on Dec. 22, 1988. ((Associated Press))

A British court will allow convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi to drop an appeal, taking him a step closer to being released.

The three judges of Scotland's Court of Appeal granted the request by terminally ill al-Megrahi, 57, to drop his appeal on Tuesday.

But Arthur Hamilton, Scotland's most senior judge, said though the court agreed to the withdrawal request, there are still legal hurdles before the case could be completely dropped.

The court will meet in three weeks to finalize the closing of the appeal process, which depends on Scotland dropping its own appeal of al-Megrahi's sentence.

Al-Megrahi requested that his appeal of his conviction as Scottish officials consider his request for an early release from prison and transfer to his native Libya before the start of Ramadan on Friday.

People with pending legal appeals cannot be transferred to another country under British law.

Court must hear government appeal

The Scottish court will hear the appeal of the government on Sept. 8, which argues the bomber's 27-year minimum sentence is too lenient.

Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi heads into a Libyan court in 1992. ((Jockel Fink/Associated Press))
Hamilton urged state prosecutors to decide "without undue delay" whether to continue with their appeal.

The Scottish government's decision on the fate of al-Megrahi is expected to be made within the next two weeks, according to the Justice Ministry.

Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill met with cabinet colleagues Tuesday morning in Aberdeen and reportedly discussed the case. But government officials said no decision about al-Megrahi's fate had been reached at the meeting.

MacAskill could release al-Megrahi, who is suffering from advanced prostate cancer, on compassionate grounds. He could have him transferred to a Libyan prison or continue to hold him in a Scottish jail.

The Scottish government is under renewed pressure from the U.S. government and victims' relatives not to grant clemency to al-Megrahi, the only person convicted in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which exploded over the Scottish town of Lockerbie on Dec. 21, 1988.

Maintained innocence

All 259 people on board the London-to-New York flight were killed, including two Canadians. Most of the victims were American.

Eleven people on the ground were killed when the plane's fuel-laden wing section fell on a residential area and exploded.

The former Libyan secret service agent was convicted of putting an explosives-laden suitcase on a plane in Malta, which was transferred to the doomed flight in London via Frankfurt. He is serving a life sentence.

Al-Megrahi has maintained his innocence and was allowed to appeal his conviction in 2007 following a Scottish judicial panel ruling that he may have suffered a "miscarriage of justice" in his 2001 trial.

Al-Megrahi's lawyers argued that British and American officials ignored witness statements and interfered with evidence suggesting the bombing was an Iranian-financed plot carried out by Palestinians.

With files from The Associated Press