World

Lockerbie bomber to be freed: media

A former Libyan intelligence agent convicted of the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am passenger jet over Lockerbie, Scotland, will be released from prison as early as next week on compassionate grounds, according to British media reports.
Police and investigators inspect the remains of the flight deck of Pan Am 103 in a field in Lockerbie, Scotland, on Dec. 22, 1988. ((Associated Press))

A former Libyan intelligence agent convicted of the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am passenger jet over Lockerbie, Scotland, will be released from prison as early as next week on compassionate grounds, according to British media reports.

Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, who is terminally ill with prostate cancer, is the only person convicted of the airplane bombing that killed 270 people. Al-Megrahi received a life sentence for the attack in 2001 and is in a Scottish jail.

Britain's Sky News television quoted sources saying Scotland Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill will announce the release next week.

Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi heads into a Libyan court in 1992. ((Jockel Fink/Associated Press))

Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over the Scottish town of Lockerbie on Dec. 21, 1988. The attack killed all 259 people, including two Canadians, aboard the London-to-New York flight. Eleven people in the town were also killed when the plane's fuel-laden wing section fell onto a residential area and exploded.

The attack drove relations between Libya and the West to the breaking point, but Libya's decision to hand over al-Megrahi, accept "general responsibility" for the attack and pay compensation to the victims' families has helped mend ties.

Al-Megrahi has always maintained his innocence. He was allowed to appeal his conviction for a second time in 2007 after a Scottish judicial panel said it found evidence al-Megrahi may have suffered a "miscarriage of justice."

Scapegoat allegations

His lawyers argue that during the investigation, British and American officials ignored witness statements and interfered with evidence suggesting the bombing was an Iranian-financed plot carried out by Palestinians.

They contend Tehran hatched the plot as revenge for the shooting down of a civilian Iranian jet by the U.S. military several months earlier.

At the time, Iran offered a $10-million reward for anyone who could avenge the attack. There was much speculation a Syrian-based Palestinian group took up the offer and carried out the Lockerbie bombing.

But the investigation veered away from the Palestinians and shifted to Libya, leading some to speculate it was politically motivated because Washington needed the support of Syria and Iran during Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

In 2003, the Libyan government agreed to pay $270 million US in compensation to families of the Lockerbie victims under a deal that paved the way for the lifting of UN sanctions against Moammar Gadhafi's administration.

Still, Libyan authorities have never formally admitted guilt.

With files from The Associated Press