EDINBURGH (Reuters) - A former Libyan agent jailed for life for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing that killed 270 people, most of them Americans, is to be freed on Thursday, the Scottish government said.
Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, who has terminal cancer, will return to Libya on compassionate grounds, despite pressure from the U.S. government to keep him in prison.
"Megrahi now faces a sentence imposed by a higher power," Scottish justice minister Kenny MacAskill told a news conference. "It is terminal, final and irrevocable. He is going to die."
A Libyan government spokesman said Megrahi was being flown home by a son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
"Megrahi has been released and is on his way home," the spokesman said.
Megrahi, 57, is the only person to be convicted over the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in mid-air above the Scottish town of Lockerbie. He lost an appeal against his conviction in 2002.
(pause for effect) My brother was aboard Pan Am 103 that fateful evening, and so this I can say with certainty. After conviction for the calculated murder of 270 individuals by terrorist bombing the key to al-Megrahi's cell should have been melted and then thrown away. I'm quite certain the Scottish prison is capable of providing compassion to a dying man while still keeping him incarcerated.
I’m sorry, but I don’t care a jot whether Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi has terminal cancer. So long he remains the only person to have been convicted of the worst terrorist atrocity committed on British soil he should remain in prison for the rest of his life, whether he dies this year or in 20 years’ time.
It’s all very well for Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish Justice Secretary, to talk about releasing Megrahi on compassionate grounds. But where was the compassion he showed the victims of the terrorist attack on flight Pan Am 103 in December 1988 when he planted the bomb that killed 270 people?