New Anguish in Lockerbie: Residents See More Than in Libyan's Release
Sunday, September 6, 2009
LOCKERBIE, Scotland -- Nestled amid rolling hills dotted with grazing sheep, this small town whose name instantly recalls Britain's worst terrorist attack is trying to move on.
Not that anyone here thought it would be easy. Twenty years after Pan Am Flight 103 exploded 31,000 feet above Lockerbie, residents are still finding debris. A few months ago, a yellow Pan Am life jacket was discovered in the branches of a 40-foot pine tree.
The town's name was hauled back into the headlines last month when Scotland's justice secretary released Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, the former Libyan intelligence agent who is the only person convicted in the 1988 bombing, which killed 270 people. He was freed from a Scottish prison Aug. 20.
"People here don't like to talk about it," said Ian Nicholson, a 40-year-old manager, who, like everyone over a certain age, can recall with amazing lucidity the horrifying details of that night. "This has brought it all back. People are judging us, judging Scotland, for the decision of one man."
The decision to release Megrahi has been met by outrage on both sides of the Atlantic, and widespread speculation that there was more to it than the compassion of the justice secretary continues to swirl.
Although no definitive evidence has been produced, allegations that Megrahi's release was prompted by trade considerations and access to Libyan oil fields are not sitting well with people in this town, once best known for its cheddar cheese.
"I abhor that he is free," said Peter Shields, 67, a retired sales manager who lives a few blocks from where a wing smashed into the ground, leaving a crater 155 feet long. "I think any decent Scot, any decent person would be incensed by this nonsense. There is some jiggery-pokery here, and it stinks to high heaven."
In an interview published Saturday, British Justice Secretary Jack Straw said trade considerations, particularly a deal for oil company BP, played a major role in the decision to include Megrahi in a prisoner transfer agreement between Britain and Libya.
Straw originally sought to exclude Megrahi from any prisoner transfer deal with Libya, but in 2007 he changed his position. He wrote in a letter to his Scottish counterpart that "wider negotiations with the Libyans are reaching a critical stage" and that a blanket agreement was in "the overwhelming interests for the United Kingdom."
The following month, Libya ratified an oil exploration deal with BP worth up to $900 million.
In the interview, Straw told the Daily Telegraph that Libya was a "rogue state."
"We wanted to bring it back into the fold. And yes, that included trade because trade is an essential part of it and subsequently there was the BP deal."