Minister under pressure over Lockerbie decision

The Scottish Justice Secretary came under fresh pressure today over the possible release of the Lockerbie bomber after the US government insisted he should spend the rest of his life in jail.





The Scottish Government insisted Kenny MacAskill had not yet made a decision on whether to free Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, who has terminal prostate cancer.

But there is mounting speculation that Megrahi, who is serving a life term with a minimum of 27 years, could be released on compassionate grounds as early as next week, in time for the start of Ramadan.

US families of victims have reacted angrily to the reports.

And President Barack Obama's administration added to the pressure by insisting Megrahi should never be freed.

Philip Crowley, of the US State Department, said: "We have made our views clear to the UK Government, to other authorities, that we believe that he should spend the rest of his time in jail."

An American university that saw 35 of its students killed in the bombing on December 21, 1988 above the town of Lockerbie in Scotland, also urged the Justice Secretary to consider the "tremendous loss and suffering" the terrorist attack caused.

A statement from Syracuse University read: "During this time our thoughts are with the Pan Am Flight 103 victims and their families and, as always, keeping the memories alive of those we lost.

"From the beginning, we have wanted justice to be served in this case, and we hope the Scottish Justice Secretary fully takes into account the tremendous loss and suffering this terrorist act caused."

US relative Bob Monetti, who lost his son Rick in the outrage, said he was "very sceptical" of the early release report - and of Megrahi's illness.

He said: "We understand Megrahi was just a tool in this, he wasn't really the person that decided what to do.

"We would really rather see (Libyan leader Colonel Muammar) Gaddafi in jail, but Megrahi was the one who was convicted and lost his appeal.

"So I'm really happy to see him in jail."

Another US relative, Susan Cohen, whose only child 20-year-old Theodora was killed, said the release of Megrahi would be a "disgrace".

"It makes me sick, and if there is a compassionate release then I think that is vile.

"It just shows that the power of oil money counts for more than justice.

"There have been so many attempts to let him off. It has to do with money and power and giving Gaddafi what he wants."

But British relative Martin Cadman, who lost his son Bill in the bombing, said Americans convinced of Megrahi's guilt and sceptical of his illness should "get real".

"(They should) remember that the likely cause of the bombing of Pan Am 103 was the shooting down by an American ship of an Iranian Airbus in 1988," he said.

He described the original trial as a "farce" and said: "I think he is innocent and even if he were not innocent I still think it's certainly the right thing to do on compassionate grounds."

Megrahi was convicted by a Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands in 2001 and sentenced to life. A Libyan co-accused, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, was found not guilty.

The Scottish Government is considering a request by Megrahi to be released on compassionate grounds, and a separate request for him to be transferred from Greenock prison to complete his sentence in a Libyan jail.

An appeal against his conviction is already under way and a prisoner transfer request cannot be granted while this is continuing.

But if he were granted compassionate release he would not have to drop the appeal.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "We can confirm that no decision has been made on applications under the prisoner transfer agreement or compassionate early release by the Libyan authorities and Mr al-Megrahi."

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