Megrahi lay there, clinging to life. But will he die at home or in jail?


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The Independent Online

The medicine needed for his cancer treatment was gone, plundered by looters who ransacked the house. The foreign-trained specialist doctors disappeared when the violence began. Now the desperate family of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi are begging the Scottish authorities to supply the drugs which may alleviate his pain and distress in the final days.

As Libya struggles to recover from its bloody and vengeful civil war, with the discovery of mass graves, places of torture, and claims that 50,000 people are missing, a terrible atrocity from 13 years ago has resurfaced in Tripoli amid diplomatic controversy.

The highly emotive issue is the fate of the man found guilty of blowing up Pan Am flight 103, killing 270 people. US congressmen, some British MPs and bereaved American families want continued retribution. Megrahi, they say, must return to his incarceration and die in jail. The revolutionaries who have taken over in Tripoli are adamant that will not happen, with the recently appointed Justice Minister declaring: "We do not hand over Libyan citizens to the West, Gaddafi does." A pointed assertion of sovereignty towards foreign states which had helped him and his colleagues come to power.

British diplomats, who began arriving in Tripoli yesterday to set up an embassy, are due to raise the issue with the new government.

The man at the centre of attention lay in a bed at his home in a suburb of the capital. Megrahi, his face skeletal, could barely move. He was attached to a drip, his face covered by an oxygen mask, drifting in and out of consciousness. His 84-year-old mother, Fatima and his wife, Aysha, were by his side, weeping, holding his hands.

Megrahi was granted compassionate release in 2009 on the basis that he was expected to die from prostate cancer within months. In return he dropped his appeal against conviction based on new evidence which allegedly showed serious flaws in the prosecution case against him. "Why do they want so much to drag him back to suffer in prison? You are looking at a man who is very close to dying," said his brother, Abdelnasser al-Megrahi. "He cannot eat, he cannot walk. He only sometimes asks for our mother, he is afraid.

"The Scottish Government is in touch with us every month to ask how he is. It is part of the conditions under which he was freed. The last contact was by email yesterday. We told them what had happened and asked they send some medicine, what we had was stolen when people broke into the house.

"All we are asking for is what he was being given when he was in Britain. He got ill when he was in prison, his cancer worsened because of where he was, locked up. So we hope we may get some help. We also hope now that things are settling down a bit we may get the doctors to pay a call. We have had just one visit from a doctor recently, a local man, there was nothing he could do."

Abdelnasser said his brother was aware of the uprising, the fighting which followed, and that Muammar Gaddafi was no longer in power. He was confident, however, that the opposition administration, the Transitional National Council (TNC), would protect him from any extradition demands. "What can he [Abdelbaset] say about Gaddafi?" asked Abdelnasser, a former soldier. "He has met Gaddafi once. We are not involved in what is going on. The TNC does not have any problem with my brother. Almost all of them were Gaddafi people in the past, they know my brother's case and that he is not guilty."

Eleven members of the Megrahi family stay in a complex of two large houses in a relatively affluent part of Tripoli. The property, insisted Abdelnasser, was not a gift of the regime, but bought from their own savings.

Megrahi's son Khalid, as well as Abdelnasser, insisted they have had no communications with regime officials in the past few months. They also said there had been no contacts with Lamin Khalifa Fhimah, who had been charged as co-conspirator in the bombing, but cleared. Fhimah, also living in Tripoli, maintained that although he had been a member of the Libyan intelligence service, he was delighted with the revolution. As for Lockerbie: "I do not know whether Gaddafi was responsible or not. He should appear before a court and then we will find out."

The verdict on Megrahi, delivered by a Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands, was mired in controversy from the outset with many observers convinced that key parts of the prosecution evidence lacked credibility. Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was among those killed in the bombing, said yesterday: "I feel that in view of all that Megrahi had been through he should be allowed to have a peaceful end in Tripoli with his family. The idea of extraditing him is a monstrous one."

Yesterday, with discoveries of more bodies in the Libyan capital and fighting continuing around Colonel Gaddafi's home town, Sirte, the Justice Minister, Mohammed al-Alagi, was asked once more, at a press conference, about the possibilities of extraditing Megrahi. He said: "We realise this case is important to some of our Western allies. But the most crucial thing now is to secure our country. The second thing is to stabilise Libya so that it can function. After that we can look at related issues between us and other governments."