LONDON, August 21, 2009 -- As the only man ever convicted of the 1988 Pan Am 103 bombing arrived in Libya to a hero's welcome Thursday, relatives of the passengers who perished are asking how a man convicted of murdering 270 people can be released. How can he be shown compassion when he showed none?
All 259 passengers -- most of whom were American -- and 11 people on the ground died when Pan Am flight 103 crashed in the town of Lockerbie, Scotland, on Dec. 21,1988.
Former Libyan intelligence officer Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi was convicted in 2001 on all 270 counts of murder and given a life sentence. But Thursday night al-Megrahi, returned home a free man.
Twenty years ago, families of the dead grieved. Today they are angry.
Susan Cohen's only child Theodora, a student at Syracuse University, died when a bomb in the plane's baggage compartment brought the plane down.
"He is convicted of mass murder -- a convicted terrorist," Cohen said in an interview with ABC News. "It was a plane full of young kids going home to New York for the holidays. She had everything to live for... This has destroyed my life."
Al-Megrahi was indicted by the U.S. and Scotland in 1991. Libya refused to extradite him, but put him under house arrest.
In an 1991 interview with ABC News, al-Megrahi insisted he was innocent, asking, "Why would I go there [to Scotland] to have to prove that I am innocent?"
He was eventually put on trial and convicted in the Netherlands, but served only eight years of the life sentence imposed after the 2001 conviction.
Last night, al-Megrahi said, "To those victims' relatives who can bear to hear me say this, They continue to have my sincere sympathy."
White House 'Deeply Regrets' al-Megrahi's Release
Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill told reporters 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."
The U.S. had asked Scotland not to release al-Megrahi, and the White House said it "deeply regrets" the decision.
"We've obviously also been in contact with the families of the Pan Am victims and indicated to them that we don't think this was appropriate," President Obama said after the decision was announced.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement that 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.
As al-Megrahi headed home to be with his loved ones, families of the victims remembered those they had lost.
Glenn Johnson's daughter Beth was just 21 years old when she was killed. "I don't think he deserves the right to be home with his family," Johnson told ABC News.
His wife, Carole added, today "probably is the second-worst day of our lives, the first being December 21st, 1988."
Al-Megrahi was the only man convicted of this heinous crime. Now, after less than a decade in jail, he is free.