Lockerbie bomb accused closer to freedom
Dying Libyan withdraws appeal
EDINBURGH: A former Libyan agent jailed for the murder of 270 people in the 1988 Lockerbie airliner bombing has asked to end his second appeal against his conviction, his lawyer said yesterday.
Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, 57, who is dying of prostate cancer, must drop his appeal to be considered for repatriation under a prisoner transfer agreement (PTA) signed by Britain and Libya.
Unconfirmed media reports this week said Scottish ministers were planning to release Megrahi on compassionate grounds, a move strongly opposed by the US government and many US relatives of those killed in the attack on the Pan Am plane.
“His condition has taken a significant turn for the worse in recent weeks,” Megrahi’s lawyer, Tony Kelly, said. “He applied to the High Court of Justiciary to abandon his appeal.”
Megrahi, who lost his first appeal in 2002, made a separate application to the Scottish authorities in July to be released due to his severe illness, Kelly added.
The court in Edinburgh will meet on Tuesday to consider the request to drop the appeal, a spokeswoman said.
A Scottish government spokeswoman said Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill would make the final decision on whether to release Megrahi, either under the PTA or due to illness.
“We are considering the two applications before us,” she said. A decision was expected soon. A spokeswoman for Prime Minister Gordon Brown had no comment.
Megrahi was convicted under Scottish law at a trial in the Netherlands of blowing up a Boeing 747 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie as it flew from London to New York.
He was sentenced to 27 years in prison. The bomb killed all 259 people on board, including 189 Americans, and 11 on the ground.
The US State Department said Megrahi should spend the rest of his life in jail, a view shared by many American relatives of those killed.
However, some the families of many British victims say they are not convinced by the case against Megrahi and say he should be released while a fuller picture of the case is established.
Christine Grahame, a member of the Scottish Parliament who believes Megrahi is innocent, said unidentified Scottish officials had been “exerting undue pressure” on the Libyan to drop his appeal to keep details of the case secret.
“They appear to have been successful,” she said in a statement that called for a public inquiry into the case. “Some serious scrutiny will be required to determine exactly why Mr Megrahi is now dropping his appeal and examination of what pressure he has come under.”
Analysts say the decision on whether to release Megrahi is as much political as legal or medical.
“There is certainly politics at play,” Oliver Miles, a former British ambassador to Libya said. “It is tangled up with all these complicated interests and political shenanigans between the three capitals concerned.”
Libya has been making progress towards shedding its pariah status and being accepted by the West and the release would mark an important milestone.
Muammar Gaddafi will next month mark the 40th anniversary of the revolution that brought him to power in Libya and British oil and gas companies hope to explore Libya’s rich energy reserves.– Reuters
BOMBER: Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi.