Rejecting American pleas to the contrary, Scotland on Thursday granted mercy to terminally ill Lockerbie bomber — Abdel Baset al-Megrahi — on compassionate grounds, letting him go home to Libya and die a free man.
Al-Megrahi, responsible for the macabre 1988 attack that killed 270 people, has served only eight years of the life sentence, which was commuted after doctors diagnosed him with an advanced stage of prostrate cancer and gave him only months to live.
The White House has declared “deep regrets” over the Scottish decision that came in for severe criticism from family members of those killed in the attack.
Al-Megrahi has left Greenock Prison and on a Libyan Airbus plane even as victim’s kin continued to cast aspersions over the Scottish decision.
Describing the decision as “appalling, disgusting and so sickening,” Susan Cohen, whose 20-year-old daughter, Theodora, died in the attack said the judgment was motivated by a desire for Libyan oil.
“This isn’t about compassionate release. This is part of give-Gadhafi-what-he-wants-so-we-can-have-the-oil,” she was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.
While noting that al-Megrahi had not shown compassion to his victims — many of whom were American college students flying home to New York for Christmas — Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said he motivated by Scottish values to show mercy.
The 57 year old al-Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence officer, was convicted and sentenced to a minimum 27 years in prison 2001, for taking part in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 on Dec. 21, 1988.
Flight 103 exploded over Scotland, killing all 259 onboard and 11 on the ground died as it crashed into the town of Lockerbie.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs on Thursday said that the United States disagreed with the decision to free al-Megrahi.
“On this day, we extend our deepest sympathies to the families who live every day with the loss of their loved ones,” he said.
Describing the bombing as “the worst terrorist atrocity ever committed on UK soil,” MacAskill said he stood by al-Megrahi’s conviction and sentence, but added that as a prisoner given less than three months to live, al-Megrahi was eligible for compassionate release.