Lockerbie Bomber's Release "Sickening" to Victims' Kin

Convicted terrorist arrives in Libya to festive reception

By JONATHAN DIENST and BEN McCONVILLE
|  Thursday, Aug 20, 2009  |  Updated 7:59 PM EDT
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Bomber Goes Free - Families Outraged

AP

Police and investigators look at what remains of the flight deck of Pan Am 103 on a field in Lockerbie, Scotland on Dec 22, 1988.

Photos and Videos

Bomber Goes Free - Families Outraged

Jonathan Dienst talks to two of the families who lost loved ones in Pan Am Flight 103. Today, the man convicted of blowing up the plane goes free.

Bomber Goes Free - Families Outraged

Jonathan Dienst talks to two of the families who lost loved ones in Pan Am Flight 103. Today, the man convicted of blowing up the plane goes free.
More Photos and Videos

The only man convicted in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 arrived in Libya today after he was released by the Scottish government -- drawing ire from heartbroken family members of the 270 victims who felt they had to relive the searing pain of loss all over again.

"I think it's horrible," fumed Kara Weipz of New Jersey, whose 20-year-old brother was a Syracuse student on board the flight. "I don't no how to show compassion for someone who showed no remorse." 

Susan Cohen, also of New Jersey, lost her 20-year-old daughter Theodora in the bombing.

"I think it's appalling, disgusting and so sickening I can hardly find the words to describe it," she said. "Lockerbie looks like it never happened now. There isn't anybody in prison for it." 

Abdel Baset al-Megrahi was released from a Scottish prison after serving eight years of a life sentence and was on board a flight bound for his native Libya Thursday afternoon after the terrorist, who suffers from prostate cancer, was given only months to live.

Al-Megrahi was the only man convicted in the bombing of the Pan Am aircraft in what was the deadliest international terrorist attack against the U.S, before Sept. 11.

Despite pressure from the White House, the U.S. State Department and relatives of the victims, Scottish authorities released the 57-year-old terminally ill Libyan terrorist on humanitarian grounds.

The White House reiterated its disapproval of Scotland's move to free Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset Al-Megrahi, who has been serving a life sentence in a Scottish prison, saying it "deeply regrets" the move. 

Footage showed Al-Megrahi boarding a plane at Glasgow Airport around 3:10 p.m. local time. The aircraft took off roughly 15 minutes later, and Al-Megrahi landed in Tripoli where he was greeted by thousands in a joyous atmosphere.

"As we have expressed repeatedly to officials of the government of the United Kingdom and to Scottish authorities, we continue to believe that Megrahi should serve out his sentence in Scotland," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement.

"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."

The Scottish courts called it an act of compassion to free Al-Megrahi because he is dying of prostate cancer. Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill said today that there had been a significant deterioration in the health of al-Megrahi.

MacAskill said he stood by al-Megrahi's conviction and the sentence for "the worst terrorist atrocity ever committed on U.K. soil.''
    
He said he ruled out sending the bomber back to Libya under a prisoner-transfer agreement, saying the U.S. victims had been given assurances that al-Megrahi would serve out his sentence in Scotland.
    
But he said that as a prisoner given less than three months to live by doctors, al-Megrahi was eligible for compassionate release.
    
"I am conscious that there are deeply held feelings and many will disagree whatever my decision,'' he said. "However, a decision has to be made.''

On December 21, 1988,  a bomb hidden inside a suitcase exploded in the belly of the 747 aircraft bound for New York's John F. Kennedy airport, full of Americans returning home for Christmas.

A painstaking investigation tied Al-Megrahi to the bomb hidden inside a radio-cassette player inside a checked bag. The fireball sent wreckage scattered across miles of countryside.

Lost among the 259 passengers and crew on aboard were many tri-state area college students returning home from Europe to visit their families for the Christmas holiday.  Another 11 people were killed on the ground when the plane broke apart and rained down on the village of Lockerbie.

The families of some American victims lashed out.

"I don't understand how the Scots can show compassion. It's an utter insult and utterly disgusting,'' said Kara Weipz, of Mt. Laurel, New Jersey, whose 20-year-old brother Richard Monetti was on board Pan Am Flight 103. "It's horrible. I don't show compassion for someone who showed no remorse.''
    
The Times of London reported Thursday that the private jet of Libya's leader, Moammar Gadhafi, was to collect al-Megrahi at Glasgow Airport after he was released.
    
Al-Megrahi's trial and conviction led to a major shift in Libya's relationship with the West.
    
Gadhafi engineered a rapprochement with his former critics following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He renounced terrorism, dismantled Libya's secret nuclear program, accepted his government's responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing and paid compensation to the victims' families.
    
Western energy companies -- including Britain's BP PLC -- have moved into Libya in an effort to tap the country's vast oil and gas wealth.
    
Gadhafi has lobbied for the return of al-Megrahi, an issue which took on an added sense of urgency when he was diagnosed with cancer last year. His lawyers say his condition is deteriorating and doctors have given him less than three months to live.
    
The question of freeing al-Megrahi has divided Lockerbie families, with many in Britain in favor of setting him free and many in the U.S. adamantly opposed.
    
British Rev. John Mosey, whose daughter Helga, 19, died in the attack, said Wednesday he would be glad to see al-Megrahi return home.
    
"It is right he should go home to die in dignity with his family. I believe it is our Christian duty to show mercy,'' he said.

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