Convicted Lockerbie Bomber al-Megrahi Dies After Cancer Battle

Posted May 20th, 2012 at 3:05 pm (UTC-5)
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A former Libyan intelligence officer convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing has died of cancer in Tripoli, nearly three years after Scottish authorities released him from prison.

Abdel Baset al-Megrahi died at his home Sunday at the age of 60. He was the only man convicted of the Pan Am flight 103 attack that destroyed a U.S. passenger jet over the Scottish town of Lockerbie, killing 270 people, 11 of them on the ground.

Al-Megrahi was found guilty of involvement in the bombing in 2001, two years after then-Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi handed him over to face trial.

Al-Megrahi served eight years of a life sentence in a Scottish prison before authorities released him in 2009 on compassionate grounds, citing his struggle with prostate cancer. Doctors at the time said he had only three months to live.

His release triggered outrage from many families of the victims of the bombing. The U.S. government also criticized his release.

British Prime Minister David Cameron says he believes al-Megrahi should never have been freed. Speaking from the NATO summit in Chicago, Mr. Cameron said the Libyan's death is an occasion to remember the 270 people who were killed in what he called “an appalling terrorist act.”

Prosecutors said al-Megrahi was part of a conspiracy to carry out the bombing on the orders of Libyan intelligence. A key part of their case was testimony from a Maltese shopkeeper who said he sold al-Megrahi a shirt that was wrapped around the bomb that brought down the plane.

Al-Megrahi denied buying the shirt or having a role in the attack.

In his final interview to British newspapers last December, he said “I am an innocent man” and asked to be left alone to die in peace with his family. He also predicted that new evidence will clear his name.

Some British relatives of the Lockerbie victims expressed regret at al-Megrahi's death, saying they believe that he was innocent. Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was killed in the attack, said Sunday there was evidence of a break-in at London's Heathrow airport just before Pan Am flight 103 took off for New York. He criticized British authorities for not investigating a possible connection between the break-in and the bombing.

Other victims' relatives have accused British authorities of releasing the former Libyan intelligence agent as part of a deal with Gadhafi to ensure British access to Libyan oil. Britain has denies the charge.

Most of the passengers on the Pan Am flight were Americans, including 35 Syracuse University students who were returning home for the holidays on December 21, 1988. In a statement emailed to VOA on Sunday, Syracuse University said it continues to remember its “students and all who were lost in the tragedy” and the “grief and sense of loss that all of their families and friends still bear.”