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Lockerbie bomber home in Libya amid US anger

Obama says Lockerbie bomber should be under house arrest

Published:

The terminally ill Libyan convicted over the 1988 Lockerbie bombing arrived home from Scotland on Thursday after being freed on compassionate grounds despite U.S. anger over the decision.

Hundreds of young people waving Libyan and Scottish flags greeted the aircraft carrying Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi as it landed in Tripoli amid heavy security and to the sound of patriotic music.

Loudspeakers pumped out patriotic songs ahead of a celebration later in the heart of the Libyan capital that Megrahi was expected to attend, said a source in the delegation that accompanied him from Scotland.

U.S. disappointment

Megrahi, the only person found guilty of blowing up a U.S. Boeing 747 airliner and killing 270 people, said earlier he was "very relieved" to be freed, but described his original conviction as a "disgrace."

But the release was immediately condemned by the U.S. government, which asked Libya not to give a "hero's welcome" to the Lockerbie bomber.

U.S. President Barack Obama said that the release of the dying Lockerbie bomber by the Scottish government was a "mistake" and that he should be placed under house arrest on return to Libya.

"We have been in contact with the Scottish government, indicating that we objected to this, and we thought it was a mistake," Obama told a U.S. radio journalist, giving his first reaction to the decision.

"We're now in contact with the Libyan government and want to make sure that if, in fact, this transfer has taken place, that he's not welcomed back in some way, but instead, should be under house arrest."

We have been in contact with the Scottish government, indicating that we objected to this, and we thought it was a mistake

U.S. President Barack Obama

Justive vs mercy

Scotland's justice minister announced Thursday that he had granted release on compassionate grounds to the Libyan man convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, Britain's worst terrorist attack.

Kenny MacAskill said al-Megrahi, who is suffering from terminal prostate cancer, could return to Libya to die because Scottish law required that "justice be served but mercy be shown."

"For these reasons, and these reasons alone, it is my decision that (Megrahi)... be released on compassionate grounds and allowed to return to Libya to die," he said.

The United States fiercely opposed the release of Megrahi, jailed for 27 years over the murder of 270 people when Pan Am Flight 103 was blown from the skies over the Scottish town of Lockerbie late on December 21, 1988.

Our justice system demands that justice be imposed but compassion be available, our beliefs dictate that justice be served but mercy be shown

Scotland Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill

Compassion and mercy

But the Scottish minister insisted he had not taken political pressures into consideration.

"Our justice system demands that justice be imposed but compassion be available, our beliefs dictate that justice be served but mercy be shown," he said.

And he added: "Compassion and mercy are about upholding the beliefs that we seek to live by, remaining true to our values as a people no matter the severity of the provocation or the atrocity perpetrated."

"It's my decision and my decision alone ... We have done so on the basis of following due process. I know that there will be those who disagree," he said, adding that he made the decision "without political or economic consideration."

Compassion and mercy are about upholding the beliefs that we seek to live by, remaining true to our values as a people no matter the severity of the provocation or the atrocity perpetrated

MacAskill

U.S. expresses regret

Meanwhile, the United States expressed deep regret and disappointment after the Scottish government ignored pleas from Washington and freed the dying Libyan man.

"The United States deeply regrets the decision by the Scottish Executive to release Abdel Basset Mohamed al-Megrahi," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said in a statement issued within minutes of the decision being made public.

"On this day, we extend our deepest sympathies to the families who live every day with the loss of their loved ones. We recognize the effects of such a loss weigh upon a family forever."

As the Scottish government weighed whether to release al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds, the Obama administration made repeated and blunt calls for him to stay in the jail.

The United States deeply regrets the decision by the Scottish Executive to release Abdel Basset Mohamed al-Megrahi

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs