Lockerbie bomber ‘very, very sick,’ brother says
By Thomas Erdbrink and Karla Adam,
TRIPOLI, Libya — The Libyan man convicted of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, is near death and barely conscious, his brother said Monday, echoing statements by the country’s new leaders that Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi should not be extradited for the 1988 terrorist attack that killed 270 people.
Since rebel forces gained full control over the Libyan capital, Tripoli, last week, American and European politicians have called for Megrahi to be returned to a foreign prison. A Scottish court released him in 2009 after Libya said he had received a diagnosis of terminal prostate cancer and had only months to live.
“He is very, very sick,” his brother Abdel Nasser al-Megrahi told reporters outside Abdel Basset’s house in one of Tripoli’s wealthy neighborhoods.
Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond also on Monday dismissed calls that Megrahi be extradited to the United States or returned to prison in Britain, saying instead he should be allowed to die in peace. Salmond said Scotland had “no interest” in seeking the extradition of Megrahi — who technically remains a Scottish prisoner — because he has adhered to his release conditions.
Megrahi was convicted of the bombing in 2001 but was freed from a Scottish prison on compassionate grounds in August 2009 after doctors estimated that he had three months to live. In July, when the rebels were slowly advancing toward the capital on three fronts, he appeared sitting in a wheelchair at a rally supporting Moammar Gaddafi’s now-ousted government.
His brother said that the family had been in contact with Scottish authorities on a regular basis and that they knew that Megrahi is critically ill. “They are still responsible for my brother,” he said, insisting that Scotland should send medication and aid for Megrahi to keep him alive. Scotland has never demanded his return to prison.
“My brother cannot speak, and when he does, he asks for his mother,” Abdel Nasser al-Megrahi said. He added that his family has faith in the new government, which is made up of rebel leaders and dissidents. “Most of them are former officials in the Gaddafi regime,” he said. “They all know Megrahi and will not extradite him to any country.”
The attack took place on Dec. 21, 1988, when a bomb exploded on a plane flying from London to New York, killing all 259 onboard and 11 on the ground. Megrahi was convicted in a Scottish court set up in the Netherlands and was sentenced to serve a minimum of 27 years of a life sentence.
Megrahi’s early release outraged many of the victims’ family members and friends. Last week, New York’s two senators, Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats, asked Libya’s transitional government to hold Megrahi fully accountable for the Pan Am bombing.
On Sunday, the justice minister for the rebels’ Transitional National Council, Mohammed al-Alagi, told journalists in Tripoli that the request had “no meaning” because Megrahi had already been tried and convicted.
Megrahi’s brother agreed. “This is not a Gaddafi case, but a Libyan one,” he said. “Nothing has changed.”
Salmond, who heads Scotland’s semiautonomous government, told the BBC on Monday that “most people with common humanity would say that it’s now time to draw a line under his aspect in the affair and allow this man to die in peace.”
“He’s suffering from the medical condition that was prescribed two years ago and he has not breached any of his [release] conditions,” Salmond said, adding: “Whatever the U.K. foreign secretary or the deputy prime minister or American senators or lawyers have to say in the matter is neither here nor there.” The Scottish authority near Glasgow overseeing Megrahi’s parole confirmed that it had recently been in contact with his family.
“Over the course of the weekend, there has been contact through Mr Al-Megrahi’s family. There is no evidence of a breach of his [release] conditions, and his medical condition is consistent with someone suffering from terminal prostate cancer,” the Scottish government and East Renfrewshire Council said in a joint statement. Under the terms of his release, Megrahi has to check in with the East Renfrewshire Council on a regular basis by telephone or videolink. He also must submit monthly medical reports and inform his supervising officer if he changes address or if he wishes to leave the country.
Last week on a visit to Scotland, Nick Clegg, Britain’s deputy prime minister, said that he would like to see Megrahi “behind bars.” Prime Minister David Cameron has previously called the release a “mistake.”
The decision to free Megrahi in 2009 generated a flurry of criticism from victims’ relatives and critics who said the decision was linked to Britain’s oil-related interests in Libya.
An investigation earlier this year concluded that while Britain’s former Labor government took steps to facilitate Megrahi’s release, it did not apply pressure on the Scottish authorities whose decision it was to release him.
John Bolton, the United S.S.’s former ambassador to the United Nations, told the BBC that if Megrahi was extradited it would be “a signal of how serious the rebel government is for good relations with the United States and the West.”
Adam, a special correspondent, reported from London.