The FBI director, Robert Mueller, has launched a scathing attack on Scotland's Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, for releasing the Lockerbie bomber and letting him return to Libya. Mr Mueller has written a highly critical letter to Mr MacAskill for sending back Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. He says the decision makes "a mockery of justice" and gives comfort to terrorists around the world.
The letter went on: "I am outraged at your decision, blithely defended on the grounds of 'compassion'. Your action in releasing Megrahi is as inexplicable as it is detrimental to the cause of justice.
"Your action gives comfort to terrorists around the world who now believe that regardless of the quality of the investigation, the conviction by jury after the defendant is given all due process, and sentence appropriate to the crime, the terrorist will be freed by one man's exercise of 'compassion'.
"Your action makes a mockery of the emotions, passions and pathos of all those affected by the Lockerbie tragedy ... But most importantly, your action makes a mockery of the grief of the families who lost their own on December 21, 1988. You could not have spent much time with the families ... You could not have visited the small wooden warehouse where the personal items of those who perished were gathered for identification – the single sneaker belonging to a teenager; the Syracuse sweatshirt never again to be worn by a college student returning home for the holidays; the toys in a suitcase of a businessman looking forward to spending Christmas with his wife and children ... Where, I ask, is the justice?"
The news came amid a welter of developments, including the recall tomorrow of the Scottish Parliament to debate the release; Gordon Brown issuing the text of a letter to Colonel Gaddafi; Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson denying the release was made in return for trade concessions; and, in the US, relatives of those killed when PanAm flight 103 was blown up over Lockerbie now planning to converge on New York City to protest against Colonel Gaddafi's speech at the United Nations in September.
In the first evidence of UK government interference in the decision to free Megrahi, it emerged last night that the minister responsible for Libya wrote to the Scottish Executive, allegedly urging officials to send the bomber home. The Foreign Office last night said Ivan Lewis's set out the legal situation in a letter to Mr MacAskill but did not make any representations. But sources in Edinburgh said it clearly expressed the hope that the Scots would agree to release Megrahi under the terms of a prisoner-exchange deal with the Libyan government.
Scottish officials said Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence officer, has advanced prostate cancer and only months to live. They said they were bound by Scottish rules of compassion to release him, although he had served only eight years of a life sentence. Colonel Gaddafi, who met Megrahi on Friday, said on Libyan TV: "This step is in the interest of relations between the two countries ... and of the personal friendship between me and them and will be positively reflected for sure in all areas of co-operation between the two countries."
His son, Seif al-Islam Gaddafi, said whenever he had met British officials to discuss business, Megrahi's release had been a condition of any deal. Lord Mandelson's response was emphatic. "The idea that the British government, the Libyan government, would sit down and somehow barter over the freedom or the life of this Libyan prisoner and make it all part of some business deal ... it's not only wrong, it's completely implausible and actually quite offensive." Lord Mandelson said he had met Mr Gaddafi's son twice in the past year and the issue had been raised both times, but the release was not tied to business deals.