Libyan convicted in Lockerbie bombing could be freed, reports say

Stobart is in The Times' London Bureau.

The Scottish justice minister is considering the release from prison of a man serving a life sentence for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, which killed 270 people, because the man is terminally ill, according to news reports Thursday.

Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill may allow Abdel Basset Ali Megrahi, who is suffering from terminal prostate cancer, to be released on compassionate grounds as early as next week, the reports by the British Broadcasting Corp. and Sky News said.

But MacAskill told the BBC that he had not yet made a decision about the case, and was considering options.

"Clearly, he is terminally ill, and there are other factors," MacAskill told the BBC.

A Scottish government spokeswoman referred to reports of Megrahi's imminent release as speculation. The BBC and other news outlets had reported that Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence agent, might return to Libya by the end of next week.

Megrahi in 2001 was convicted of planting a bomb-laden radio cassette player in a suitcase that caused the December 1988 explosion, which killed all 259 people on board the London-to-New York flight, many of them American, and 11 people on the ground. He was sentenced to life imprisonment by a Scottish court convened in Camp Zeist, the Netherlands. His co-defendant, Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, was acquitted and allowed to return to Libya.

The 57-year-old Megrahi, who says he is innocent, is in a Scottish prison. The independent Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission said in June 2007 that there was sufficient doubt involving his case to warrant an appeal.

Last year, judges declined a request that Megrahi be released on compassionate grounds based on testimony that he could live for several years if given proper medical treatment, but he reapplied. A recent prisoner transfer deal between Britain and Libya that could allow Megrahi to serve his sentence in his home country would require that he drop the appeal of his conviction.

A U.S. State Department spokesman said Thursday that Megrahi should stay in prison.

The reports that Megrahi may be released angered some relatives of those who died in the Pan Am 103 bombing, but others said they were interested in learning more about who and what was behind the bombing.

Peter Sullivan of Akron, Ohio, whose best friend, Mike Doyle, was among the victims, said there was no reason Megrahi could not be treated in custody, according to the Associated Press.

"I have a tough time being compassionate for a guy who killed 270 people," Sullivan said. "He ought to die in prison. Period."

But Jim Swire, who lost his 24-year-old daughter Flora and serves as a spokesman for many of the British victims, said that "everything points to a miscarriage of justice" and that he would be "delighted" if Megrahi were sent home, according to AP.

The Rev. John Mosey, of Worcestershire, England, whose daughter Helga, 19, was killed, said that he believed other people and countries were involved, AP reported.

"We should show him some Christian compassion," Mosey said.

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