The White House voiced its "deep regret" over the release of the only person convicted for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing that killed 270 people, of which 189 were Americans. President Barack Obama described the release as "a mistake", while relatives of the victims in the United States condemned the decision to allow him to return to Libya as "vile".
The release came in spite of urgent transatlantic lobbying over recent days by Washington to have Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi serve out his time. Seven US senators, including Ted Kennedy and John Kerry, had detailed their concerns in a letter to the Scottish Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill. Similar messages were conveyed to London and Scotland by the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In a statement, the White House said it "deeply regrets" his release, adding: "We continue to believe that Megrahi should serve out his sentence in Scotland. On this day, we extend our deepest sympathies to the families who live every day with the loss of their loved ones. We recognise the effects of such a loss weigh upon a family forever."
Eric Holder, the US Attorney General, who had been part of Washington's failed campaign to block Megrahi's release, also voiced his disappointment. "The interests of justice have not been served by this decision," he said in a statement. "There is simply no justification for releasing this convicted terrorist."
Frank Duggan, president of the Victims of Pan Am Flight 103, a group that represents the families of American victims of the attack, said he had been assured of the genuineness of Megrahi's illness and that he "really is within three months of dying". But, he added: "We have always maintained that he should remain in prison in Scotland and die there if it comes to that."
Mr Duggan also noted that the families in the US were relying on assurances from the Libyan authorities that there "will be no celebratory reactions on the part of the Libyans when Megrahi gets back". He went on: "We were all afraid that this guy would go back to a hero's welcome."
Less measured in her response last night, however, was Susan Cohen, who lost her 20-year-old daughter, Theodora, in the bombing. Speaking from her home in New Jersey, she called the release "vile".
"It is appalling and the people of Scotland should be ashamed of themselves for letting this release go ahead," Mrs Cohen said. "Megrahi's release has nothing to do with compassion. It is simply a way of appeasing Colonel Gaddafi in order to get at his petroleum. With his release from jail the last shred of justice for the families of those who died has disappeared for good."
Mrs Cohen also dismissed the idea that Megrahi had been made a scapegoat. "I do not believe that he was innocent, or that Libya was framed," she said.Reuse content