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August 21, 2009

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Victims' families enraged as Lockerbie bomber sent home

SCOTLAND freed the terminally ill Lockerbie bomber on compassionate grounds yesterday, letting him go home to Libya to die and rejecting American pleas to show no mercy to the man responsible for the 1988 attack that killed 270 people.

As the White House declared it "deeply regrets" the Scottish decision and US family members of Lockerbie victims expressed outrage, Abdel Baset al-Megrahi left Greenock Prison and flew out of Glasgow International Airport on a Libyan Airbus plane.

"I think it's appalling, disgusting and so sickening I can hardly find words to describe it," said Susan Cohen of Cape May Court House, New Jersey, whose 20-year-old daughter, Theodora, died in the attack. "This isn't about compassionate release. This is part of 'give Gadhafi what he wants so we can have the oil.'"

Some men in Scotland made obscene gestures as al-Megrahi's prison van drove by toward the airport.

Al-Megrahi, who had served only eight years of his life sentence, was recently given only months to live after being diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer.

Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said that although al-Megrahi had not shown compassion to his victims - many of whom were American college students flying home to New York for Christmas - he was motivated by Scottish values to show mercy.

"Some hurts can never heal; some scars can never fade," MacAskill said. "Those who have been bereaved cannot be expected to forget, let alone forgive ... However, Mr al-Megrahi now faces a sentence imposed by a higher power."

Al-Megrahi, 57, was convicted in 2001 of taking part in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 on December 21, 1988. He was sentenced to life in prison. The airliner exploded over Scotland, and all 259 people aboard and 11 on the ground died when it crashed into the town of Lockerbie.

The former Libyan intelligence officer was sentenced to serve a minimum of 27 years in a Scottish prison for Britain's deadliest terrorist attack. But a 2007 review of his case found grounds for an appeal of his conviction, and many in Britain believe he is innocent.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said yesterday that the United States disagreed with the decision to free al-Megrahi.

"We continue to believe that al-Megrahi should serve out his sentence in Scotland," Gibbs said.

"On this day, we extend our deepest sympathies to the families who live every day with the loss of their loved ones."

Said Kara Weipz, of Mount Laurel, New Jersey, whose 20-year-old brother was on board Pan Am Flight 103, "It's horrible. I don't show compassion for someone who showed no remorse."

MacAskill said he ruled out sending the bomber back to Libya under a prisoner-transfer agreement, saying the US victims had been given assurances that al-Megrahi would serve out his sentence in Scotland.

But he said that as a prisoner given less than three months to live by doctors, al-Megrahi was eligible for compassionate release.


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