Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi welcomed home the only man convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing that killed 270 people with a hug and praised Scotland for releasing him.
Abdel Baset al-Megrahi returned to Libya Thursday after Scottish officials announced he was being freed on compassionate grounds because he is suffering from terminal prostate cancer. The decision to free al-Megrahi has been met with condemnation by many of the victims' families and the U.S. which has called for him to be put under house arrest.
The U.S. and Britain were also outraged at the warm welcome al-Megrahi received at the airport when he arrived in Tripoli, where he was met by a crowd of hundreds, some who threw flower petals.
Gadhafi's Friday meeting with al-Megrahi, which was shown on Libyan state television, is sure to fuel the debate about how Libya should be treating the man they once turned over for trial.
Gadhafi hugged al-Megrahi, who at one point kissed the Libyan leader's hand, before sitting down with al-Megrahi and his family.
In what has been the only official Libyan reaction since the release, Gadhafi lauded Scotland for their decision.
"To my friends in Scotland; the Scottish National Party, and Scottish Prime Minister, and the Foreign Secretary, I praise their courage for having proved their independence in decision making, despite the unacceptable and unreasonable pressures they faced. Nevertheless, they took this courageously right and humanitarian decision," he said.
Gadhafi went on to cite "my friend Brown, the Prime Minister of Britain, his government, the Queen of Britain, Elizabeth, and Prince Andrew, who all contributed to encouraging the Scottish government to take this historic and courageous decision, despite the obstacles."
Gadhafi compared al-Megrahi's return to his government's 2007 release of five Bulgarian nurses and a naturalized Palestinian doctor imprisoned on charges of deliberately infecting with HIV more than 400 Libyan children. The nurses denied the charges and said they were tortured into confessing.
The Libyan leader noted there were no such widespread concerns for the families of the infected children when the nurses returned home to a hero's welcome.
"Do we not have feelings and they have feelings?" Gadhafi said.
Libya has accepted formal responsibility for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, but many there see al-Megrahi as an innocent victim scapegoated by the West.
Al-Megrahi was the only person convicted in the explosion, which killed all 259 people on the plane and 11 on the ground and was Britain's worst terrorist attack.Reuse content