20 May 2012

Lockerbie bomber al-Megrahi dies

Reports say that Libyan intelligence officer Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, the man convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie plane bombing has died of cancer at the age of 60.

News agencies are reporting that al Megrahi died at 1100 GMT on Sunday in hospital in Libya.

The Scottish government, who are responsible for monitoring his health, published this statement and said they regarded the reports to be reliable and confirmed his death.

In 2001, Megrahi was convicted, by a panel of three Scottish judges sitting in a special court in the Netherlands, of 270 counts of murder for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, on 21 December 1988 and was sentenced to life imprisonment.

The bombing of the American plane, travelling from London to New York four days before Christmas, killed all 259 people on board.

al-Megrahi continually protested his innocence

Eleven residents of the Dumfries and Galloway town also died after the plane crashed down on their homes in Britain’s biggest terrorist atrocity.

His co-accused, Lamin Fhimah, was found not guilty and was acquitted.

Freed on health grounds

Despite claims that he could not have worked alone, and the lingering suspicion by some that he was innocent, Megrahi was the only man ever convicted over the terrorist attack.

Megrahi was freed on compassionate grounds by the Scottish government in August 2009 following doctors reports he had terminal prostate cancer and was expected to have around three months to live.

On his return to Libya, al-Megrahi was initially hospitalized but was allowed to leave, taking up residence in a villa in Tripoli.

In an interview with Channel 4 in November, he said: “The facts (about the Lockerbie bombing) will become clear one day and hopefully in the near future. In a few months from now, you will see new facts that will be announced,” he said.

“The West exaggerated my name. Please leave me alone. I only have a few more days, weeks or months.”

Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was killed in the bombing, said the reported death was a “very sad event”.

First Minister Alex Salmond said his death did not “close the book” on the Lockerbie case:

“The Lockerbie case remains a live investigation, and Scotland’s criminal justice authorities have made clear that they will rigorously pursue any new lines of inquiry. Scotland’s senior law officer the Lord Advocate recently visited Libya, and we have been offered the co-operation of the new Libyan authorities. It has always been the Crown’s position that Mr Megrahi did not act alone but with others.

“It is open for relatives of Mr Megrahi to apply to the Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission to seek a further appeal. And the best, indeed the only, place for guilt or innocence to be determined is in a court of law.

“Mr Megrahi’s death ends one chapter of the Lockerbie case, but it does not close the book.

 Timeline: Abdul Basset al-Megrahi

Protested innocence

Dr Swire, a member of the Justice for Megrahi (JFM) group, believes there is evidence yet to be released that will prove Megrahi’s innocence.

“I met him last time face-to-face in Tripoli in December last year, when he was very sick and in a lot of pain.

“But he still wanted to talk to me about how information which he and his defence team have accumulated could be passed to me after his death.

“And I think that’s a fairly amazing thing for a man who knows he’s dying to do.

David Ben-Ayreah, a spokesman for the victims of Lockerbie families, said: “I was told seven days ago by very good sources in Tripoli that he was slipping in and out of quite deep comas, that the secondary tumours had affected his abdomen and lower chest, and that he had had three blood transfusions.

“His death is to be deeply regretted.

“As someone who attended the trial I have never taken the view that Megrahi was guilty.

“Megrahi is the 271st victim of Lockerbie.”

Who is to blame?

Speaking to Channel 4 News, international editor Lindsay Hilsum said: “He (Megrahi) was convicted by the court but what the court said was that he was not acting alone.

“There are still two men alive who know – one of them is Moussa Koussa.

“Moussa Koussa was one of the main spy chiefs for Gadaffi and a secret CIA report named him as at least partially responsible for Lockerbie.

“There is another man -Abdullah al Senuissi – he is Gadaffi’s brother-in-law, he’s from the same tribe as Megrahi and he was the head of external intelligence at the time and he is belived to have recruited Megrahi to the service.”

A former colonel in Gaddafi’s army, Senuissi was one of several Libyan officials who were convicted, in absentia, in a French court in 1999, over the bombing of a French airliner. The plane came down in Niger the previous year, killing all 170 people on board.

He was arrested in West Africa in March.