Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security Council, wrote in a e-mail, “Megrahi’s death concludes an unfortunate chapter following his release from prison in 2009 on medical grounds — a move we strongly opposed. As we have long said, we want to see justice for the victims of the Lockerbie bombing and their families. We will continue working with our new partners in Libya toward a full accounting of Qadhafi’s horrific acts.”
Mr. Megrahi was serving a life sentence in a Scottish prison in 2008 when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. In August 2009, he was released under a Scottish law that allows terminally ill prisoners to die at home. When he was freed, Mr. Megrahi was expected to live three months.
That Mr. Megrahi died in his native country — and not in a Scottish prison cell — was a shocking end to the life of a man considered a terrorist by the U.S. government and whom the FBI once placed on its “most wanted” list.
During the late 1980s, Mr. Megrahi technically was serving as chief of security for the state-owned Libyan Arab Airlines. In reality, however, the job was his cover as a clandestine officer in the Jamahiriya Security Organization, Libya’s intelligence branch.
His work with the airline took him around the world, including to Switzerland and the Mediterranean island nation of Malta. It also helped him gain intimate knowledge of airport security — and its weaknesses.
On Dec. 21, 1988, a bronze hard-shell Samsonite suitcase was loaded onto an Air Malta plane bound for Frankfurt. From Germany, the suitcase was transferred onto a flight to London. Upon arrival, the bag was placed inside the forward cargo bay of a Boeing 747 jumbo jet.
Bound for New York, Pan Am Flight 103 held 189 Americans, including a group of Syracuse University college students returning home for the holidays from a semester abroad.
The jet was cruising at 31,000 feet at 7:03 p.m. when a bomb hidden inside the Samsonite bag exploded. All 259 aboard died, and 11 people on the ground were killed when flaming chunks of the plane plummeted into the bucolic village of Lockerbie.
The spectacular act of terrorism led to a manhunt in which an international team of investigators pursued leads in 50 countries and interviewed 14,000 people.
Georgetown University terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman said in an interview in April that it was “at the time the largest criminal investigation in the history of the FBI.”
At first, Mr. Megrahi escaped suspicion. Hoffman said a critical factor in linking Mr. Megrahi to the bombing was the fact that the plane had been delayed before takeoff. Had Pan Am 103 left on time, the plane would have gone down somewhere over the Atlantic, Hoffman said, making the recovery of crucial evidence a nearly impossible task.