Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher recounts his coverage of the Lockerbie bombing over the past 20-odd years.
The only man convicted in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing has been buried with little fanfare near the Libyan capital with just under 100 family members and passers-by in attendance.
The quiet funeral in Tripoli on Monday stands in stark contrast to the hero’s welcome Abdel Baset al-Megrahi received three years ago from his patron, dictator Muammar Gaddafi, upon his return to Libya after serving eight years of a life sentence in Scotland.
Al Jazeera’s Omar al-Saleh, reporting from Tripoli, said that over 100 people attended Megrahi’s funeral, describing it as “low profile”.
“There were no government officials, there were no representatives from the National Transitional Council,” said Saleh.
“You will get the sense that the new Libyan authorities are trying to distance themselves from the whole event.”
Megrahi died 11 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.
He 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.
Megrahi 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.
‘In and out of coma’
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?
Megrahi insisted he was an airline executive, while prosecutors at his trial described him as a Libyan intelligence officer, which the court accepted.
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.