British PM Cameron: Decision to Release Lockerbie Bomber was "Utterly Wrong"

"Completely and utterly wrong."

By Jonathan Dienst and Ryan Smith
|  Monday, Jul 19, 2010  |  Updated 8:42 PM EDT
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<a title=New York Senator Kristen Gillibrand says she questions BP's role in the mass murderer's release" />

New York Senator Kristen Gillibrand says she questions BP's role in the mass murderer's release

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British Prime Minister David Cameron visits the White House Tuesday and the issue of the release of the Pan Am 103 terrorist will be front and center.

Cameron said Monday the decision to free Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi from a Scottish jail was "completely and utterly wrong." He told BBC television he had opposed the Scottish government's decision to return the cancer-stricken prisoner to Libya on compassionate grounds last August.

Ahead of a visit to the United States beginning Tuesday, during which he is expected to face questioning about the case, Cameron said the decision was mistaken.

"All I know is as leader of opposition I couldn't have been more clear that I thought the decision to release al-Megrahi was completely and utterly wrong," said Cameron.

Pan Am Flight 103 was on its way from Kennedy Airport in New York to Heathrow in London when it exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people.

The move to set the killer free was the decision of Scottish legal authorities and the previous British government headed by Gordon Brown.

Senators from New York and New Jersey are requesting a face to face meeting with Cameron to express their dismay over the decision free al-Megrahi on 'compassionate grounds.'

Senators Schumer, Menendez, Gillibrand and Lautenberg wrote Cameron calling for 'greater transparency into the circumstances surrounding the release, address the injustice and ensure that a similar mistake is not repeated.'

A spokesman for the British embassy in Washington said the British government will cooperate in congressional hearings on the terrorist's release set for July 29.  He added as of now no meeting between the Prime Minister and the senators had been scheduled. 

Al-Megrahi, who has prostate cancer, was set free 11 months ago after Scottish authorities said he had just three months to live. One doctor involved in the diagnosis now admits he was paid by the Libyan government and there was a 50 percent chance al-Megrahi would live longer than 3 months.

British Petroleum officials admit they lobbied the British government to secure a prisoner transfer agreement with Libya so Libyan officials would allow a $900 million dollar oil and gas deal go forward.  But BP officials deny they ever specifically lobbied for al Megrahi's release.

It was back on December 21, 1988 that a bomb destroyed Pan Am 103 in the skies over Lockerbie, Scotland.  Two-hundred and fifty-nine passengers and crew were killed as well as 11 villagers on the ground. Al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence agent, faced a life sentence but was released after serving less than 8 years in prison. He is now living at home in Libya with his family.

Relatives of the victims remain outraged by the terrorists release calling it a "blood for oil" deal. Bert Ammerman, former head of the Pan Am 103 victims group, said 'heads should roll' in U.S. and British government circles for the 'shady' deal.

Other relatives of victims said the Obama administration should have done more to press the British government to keep al-Megrahi behind bars.

"You dont take the largest convicted terrorist ever prior to September 11 and say 'please please don't let him go,'" said Brian Flynn, whose brother JP Flynn died in the bombing.  "No, you don't let him go.  You don't let it happen." 

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told NBC's Andrea Mitchell that British authorities have told her there is no evidence BP played a direct role in helping to secure al-Megrahi's release.& "It may be that there is nothing to be done about it which is deeply frustrating," Clinton said.

The London Telegraph reports Cameron will tell President Obama the release was 'wrong' and he understands the pain the families of the victims are feeling. But most of the blame he says rests with the Scottish justice executive who signed off on setting him free.

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