Eleven years after being convicted of planting a bomb on Pan Am Flight 103, which exploded over the Scottish town of Lockerbie on December 21, 1988, Abdel Basset al-Megrahi has died in the Libyan city of Tripoli, his brother has said.
Megrahi was found guilty of killing all 259 people on board the flight, along with 11 other victims on the ground, by a special court set up in The Netherlands in 2001.
He served eight years of a 27-year-prison sentence, but was released on compassionate grounds in 2009, and allowed to return to Libya after doctors said that he had terminal cancer and only, at the time, three months left to live.
During the Libyan revolution in 2011, his brother Abdel Nasser told reporters outside the family home in a residential district of Tripoli that Megrahi was “in and out of a coma”.
Amid the lack of law and order after the revolt which brought armed fighters onto the streets, his family claimed that his medicine had been looted and there was a dearth of available doctors.
The fact that he survived so long after his release from prison in the UK provoked indignation in Britain and the United States, where most of the victims were from.
Susan Cohen, whose daughter Theodora died on board Flight 103, told the Press Association she hoped Megrahi died “a painful, horrible death”.
“He died with his family around him,” said the 74-year-old from New Jersey. “My daughter died a horrible death when she was 20 years old with her full life ahead of her. You call that justice?
“I feel no pity for Megrahi, I believe he should have died a lot sooner. He should have been tried in the States and given the death penalty. Watching him be released from prison was very painful for me.”
On the second anniversary of the release of the former Libyan intelligence agent, who always maintained his innocence, the Scottish government insisted its decision to free him had been vindicated.
But David Cameron, the British prime minister, criticised the release as a “terrible mistake”.
“I’ve always been clear he should never have been released from prison,” Cameron said on Sunday. “Today is a day to remember the 270 people who lost their lives in what was an appalling terrorist act. Our thoughts should be with them and their families for the suffering they’ve had.”
Magrahi insisted he was an airline executive, while prosecutors at his trial described him as a Libyan intelligence officer, which the court accepted.
‘Most Wanted’ list
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 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, Megrahi was added to the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted Fugitives” list, with offers of $4m for his arrest.
|Details emerge over Megrahi death
Megrahi was eventually handed over by the Libyan authorities under a UN-negotiated deal, where he was held and then tried at a special court in The Netherlands.
At the trial, three judges found him guilty and sentenced him to a minimum of 27 years in jail.
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 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 Megrahi in a magazine days before picking him out of a line-up.
Megrahi was born in Tripoli in 1952. 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.
In 2008, while in detention, 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.
Megrahi dropped his second appeal in August 2009, in a bid to help clear the way for either a prison transfer or compassionate release – in order to allow him to return to his homeland.
But many criticised the move, saying questions about a possible wrongful conviction would never be brought to light.