Convicted Lockerbie Bomber Returns Home to Libya, a Hero

Terminally ill Libyan, Abdel Basset al-Megrahi released from Scottish jail.

ByABC News
August 20, 2009, 7:27 AM

LONDON, August 20, 2009 — -- Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, the only man ever convicted of the 1988 Pan Am 103 bombing, which killed 270 people, received a hero's welcome back home in Libya today just hours after being released from a Scottish jail.

He was greeted by a large enthusisatic crowds at the airport in Tripoli, according to The Associated Press.

He was alllowed to return home on compassionate grounds, Scottish officials said, after doctors said he is suffering from terminal prostate cancer and may have only three months to live.

Al-Megrahi, 57, served only eight years of the life sentence imposed after his 2001 conviction.

Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill said he understands people will disagree with the decision but said al-Megrahi "now faces a sentence imposed by a higher power. It is terminal, final and irreversible. He is going to die."

In Washington, the White House said it "deeply regrets" the decision to release al-Megrahi.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a statement said the U.S. has repeatedly maintained that al-Megrahi should serve out his term in Scotland. "Today, we remember those whose lives were lost on December 21, 1988, and we extend our deepest sympathies to the families who live each day with the loss of their loved ones due to this heinous crime," Clinton said.

Families of the victims were dumbfounded when it was reported earlier this week that his release was likely.

Susan Cohen's only child, Theodora, a student at Syracuse University, died when a bomb in the baggage compartment brought down Pan Am flight 103 on Dec. 21,1988. All 259 passengers - most of whom were American - and 11 people on the ground died when the plane crashed in the town of Lockerbie, Scotland.

"The pain is there all the time. Anyone who has lost a child will tell you that," Cohen told ABC News.

"That was a plane full of young students like my daughter. There were little children. There was a family of three little girls on that plane," she said.

Former Libyan intelligence officer al-Megrahi was convicted on all 270 counts of murder. In an interview with ABC News in 1991, he insisted he was innocent, asking, "Why would I go there [to Scotland] to have to prove that I am innocent?"

Al-Megrahi was imprisoned in 2001, sentenced to a minimum of 27 years in a Scottish prison. But a 2007 review of the case opened the ground for him to file an appeal against the sentence, and many in the U.K. say that he is innocent.

His release is a decision many American survivors don't understand.

"What have we become, if we can release a terrorist like this? What have we become? I say it's cowardness [sic]. We [are] certainly not the greatest generation," Cohen said.

Bert Ammerman, whose brother Tom was killed in Lockerbie, told The Associated Press, "It's insane, it's a travesty of justice and totally unacceptable."