Friday, August 21, 2009

Libyans Celebrate the Return of Recently Released Political Prisoner Abdel Basset al-Megrahi

Friday, August 21, 2009
07:51 Mecca time, 04:51 GMT

Libyans celebrate al-Megrahi return

Al-Megrahi landed in Tripoli hours after being released from a Scottish prison

A Libyan man jailed for the 1988 Pan Am Flight 103 bombing over the Scottish town of Lockerbie has been greeted by scenes of celebration on his return to Libya.

Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, a former intelligence agent, landed in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, on Thursday, hours after being freed from prison on the orders of Scotland's justice minister.

Kenny MacAskill made the decision to release the 57-year-old Libyan, who is dying of prostate cancer, on compassionate grounds. He had served eight years of a minimum 27-year sentence.

"It is my decision that Mr al-Megrahi ... be released on compassionate grounds and be returned to Libya to die," MacAskill said.

Warm welcome

Al Jazeera's Amr El-Kahky, reporting from Tripoli, said al-Megrahi received a warm welcome on his return home.

"Thousands of men, many of whom are teenagers, are holding up Libyan flags and banners welcoming al-Megrahi, happy to know that he's finally come home," he said.

"He was taken away in a car and it looks like his health is not so good because ... the celebration at a main square in the capital will proceed without al-Megrahi's presence."

The decision to release al-Megrahi was criticised by the US government and some victims' families who believe the Libyan, who was convicted of killing 270 people in the bombing, should remain behind bars.

Barack Obama, the US president, described the release as a "mistake" and said that al-Megrahi should be placed under house arrest on his return.

But MacAskill told reporters: "He [al-Megrahi] is a dying man; he is terminally ill. My decision is that he returns home to die."


Al-Megrahi, who has always protested his innocence, was released from Greenock prison in Scotland and escorted by a police convoy to Prestwick airport in Glasgow on Thursday afternoon.

In a statement following his release, al-Megrahi said: "I am obviously very relieved to be leaving my prison cell at last and returning to Libya, my homeland.

"The remaining days of my life are being lived under the shadow of the wrongness of my conviction.

"I have been faced with an appalling choice: to risk dying in prison in the hope that my name is cleared posthumously or to return home still carrying the weight of the guilty verdict, which will never now be lifted.

"The choice which I made is a matter of sorrow, disappointment and anger, which I fear I will never overcome."

Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera's senior political analyst, said political motivations may have influenced the decision to release al-Megrahi.

"There's an understanding that with Libya now head of the African Union, and with it becoming the head of the UN General Assembly and a leading oil exporter, the idea of normalising relations with Libya in this kind of way is important and necessary.

"When it comes to national pride, Libya will do what it has to do, the US will say what it has to say, and I think in 48 hours a lot of us are going to forget about this."


MacAskill said the decision was made because Scottish law required that "justice be served, but mercy be shown".

Omar Turbi, an expert in US-Libyan relations, said that the release could also pose a dilemma for the Libyan authorities, given that in 2001 it accepted responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing.

"Will they move forward in their history and time, thinking, 'Okay, we want the world to think that we took revenge over America's [military] bombing of Tripoli in 1986, or shall we really take this stigma out of the world's view of us and clear it once and for all?'," he said.

"Libya is going to live with this stigma forever if it does not take a proactive step to clear its name."

Appeal dropped

Al-Megrahi was freed days after he dropped his second appeal against conviction, a condition necessary for the early release application to be considered.

The former agent lost an appeal in 2002 and last year failed to secure his release on the grounds that he was dying.

His lawyers began an appeal in May this year at a court in Edinburgh, saying the case against him was flawed.

The attack on December 21 1988 killed all 259 people on board and 11 on the ground.

Four years after al-Megrahi's conviction in 2001, Libya admitted responsibility and paid about $2.7bn in compensation to the families of those killed.

The move prompted the lifting of international sanctions against Libya and led to a restoration in diplomatic ties between Tripoli and the West.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Thursday, August 20, 2009
20:45 Mecca time, 17:45 GMT

Al-Megrahi statement in full

Despite his conviction, questions remain over whether al-Megrahi was responsible

Upon leaving HM Prison Greenock en route back to Libya, Abdel Baset al-Megrahi issued the following statement through his lawyers:

I am obviously very relieved to be leaving my prison cell at last and returning to Libya, my homeland. I would like to first of all take the opportunity to extend my gratitude to the many people of Scotland, and elsewhere, who have sent me their good wishes.

I bear no ill will to the people of Scotland; indeed, it is one of my regrets that I have been unable to experience any meaningful aspect of Scottish life, or to see your country. To the staff in HM Prison Greenock, and before that at HM Prison Barlinnie, I wish to express thanks for the kindness that they were able to show me.

For those who assisted in my medical and nursing care; who tried to make my time here as comfortable as possible, I am of course grateful. My legal team has worked tirelessly on my behalf; I wish to thank Advocates Margaret Scott QC, Jamie Gilchrist QC, Shelagh McCall and Martin Richardson together with the team at Taylor & Kelly, for all of their gallant efforts in my bid to clear my name. I know they share, in no small measure, my disappointment about the abandonment of my appeal.

Many people, including the relatives of those who died in, and over, Lockerbie, are, I know, upset that my appeal has come to an end; that nothing more can be done about the circumstances surrounding the Lockerbie bombing. I share their frustration. I had most to gain and nothing to lose about the whole truth coming out - until my diagnosis of cancer.

To those victims’ relatives who can bear to hear me say this: they continue to have my sincere sympathy for the unimaginable loss that they have suffered. To those who bear me ill will, I do not return that to you.

And, lastly, I must turn to my conviction and imprisonment. To be incarcerated in a far off land, completely alien to my way of life and culture has been not only been a shock but also a most profound dislocation for me personally and for my whole family.

I have had many burdens to overcome during my incarceration. I had to sit through a trial which I had been persuaded to attend on the basis that it would have been scrupulously fair. In my second, most recent, appeal I disputed such a description.

I had to endure a verdict being issued at the conclusion of that trial which is now characterised by my lawyers, and the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, as unreasonable. To me, and to other right thinking people back at home in Libya, and in the international community, it is nothing short of a disgrace.

As a result of my surrender, and that judgment of the court, I had to spend over 10 years in prison. I cannot find words in my language or yours that give proper expression to the desolation I have felt. This horrible ordeal is not ended by my return to Libya.

It may never end for me until I die. Perhaps the only liberation for me will be death. And I say in the clearest possible terms, which I hope every person in every land will hear: all of this I have had to endure for something that I did not do.

The remaining days of my life are being lived under the shadow of the wrongness of my conviction. I have been faced with an appalling choice: to risk dying in prison in the hope that my name is cleared posthumously or to return home still carrying the weight of the guilty verdict, which will never now be lifted. The choice which I made is a matter of sorrow, disappointment and anger, which I fear I will never overcome.

I say goodbye to Scotland and shall not return. My time here has been very unhappy and I do not leave a piece of myself. But to the country's people I offer my gratitude and best wishes.

Source: Al Jazeera

Thursday, August 20, 2009
12:37 Mecca time, 09:37 GMT

Profile: Abdel Basset al-Megrahi

Abdel Basset al-Megrahi was sentenced to life imprisonment in Scotland

Abdel Basset al-Megrahi was convicted in 2001 of planting a bomb on Pan Am Flight 103, which exploded over the Scottish town of Lockerbie on December 21, 1988.

All 259 people on board were killed along with 11 others on the ground.

Al-Megrahi, 57, who was convicted by a panel of Scottish judges at Camp Zeist, a special court set up in the Netherlands in 2001.

However, he has always protested his innocence.

He has insisted he was an airline executive, but prosecutors at his trial described him as an intelligence officer for the Libyan Intelligence Services, which the court accepted.

'Most Wanted' list

Al-Megrahi was charged after he was identified by a Maltese shopkeeper as the man who bought clothes that were found in the suitcase carrying the bomb planted on the aircraft.

Scorched clothes found at the site in Scotland had been traced back to a shop in Malta.

It is believed that the bomb, wrapped in the garments, was placed in a suitcase, checked into a flight from Malta's Luqa airport and then transferred to the Pan Am flight in London.

In the 1990s, al-Megrahi was added to the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list, with offers of $4 million for his arrest.

Special court

Al-Megrahi was eventually handed over by the Libyan authorities under a UN-brokered deal, where he was held and then tried at the special court in the Netherlands.

At the trial, three judges found him guilty and sentenced him to a minimum of 27 years in jail.

Al-Megrahi was imprisoned in Scotland, spending the first part of his sentence in Barlinnie prison in Glasgow, before being moved in 2005 to Greenock.

Despite the guilty verdict, many believed that those really responsible for the Lockerbie disaster had escaped justice.

An appeal made in 2002 over al-Megrahi's conviction was unanimously rejected by a court of five judges.

But a judicial review of his case two years ago raised serious questions about the evidence used to convict him, including the reliability of the evidence given by Tony Gauci, the Maltese shopkeeper.

It was suggested that Gauci may have seen a photo of al-Megrahi in a magazine days before picking him out of a line-up.

US education

Al-Megrahi was born in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, in 1952. Fluent in Arabic and with a strong command of English, he studied in the US and spent some time in Britain during the 1970s.

He married in the 1980s, becoming the father of five children who grew up in the Libyan capital.

Last year, while in detention, al-Megrahi was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer, which his lawyer said was incurable.

This led Libya, which spent years lobbying for his release, to push British authorities to grant him compassionate release.

Al-Megrahi dropped his second appeal in August 2009, in a bid to help clear the way for a prison transfer or compassionate release in order to allow him to return to his homeland.

But many have criticised the move, saying questions about wrongful conviction will now never be brought to light.

Source: Agencies

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