Scotland's decision to release convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi was a mistake that will cause more pain for relatives of the victims and potentially encourage other terrorists , New York religious leaders said Tuesday.
Archbishop Timothy Dolan, the leader of New York's 2 million Catholics, said it was "a sad and perplexing mistake " to free al-Megrahi from his life sentence in a Scottish prison.
"While as a follower of Jesus Christ I believe in mercy, I also believe that mercy must always be tempered with justice ," the Archbishop said in a statement. " Mercy can be demonstrated in ways other than by releasing a man responsible for so much pain, suffering, and death. Those who lost loved ones also deserve mercy and justice . Finally we must consider that the release of this man could encourage others to engage in similar acts of terrorism in the future which would be a tragic result."
Megrahi was set free on compassionate grounds because Scottish officials say the 57-year-old is dying of prostate cancer. He was the only person convicted of the bombing of a Pan Am jet over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in 1988 that killed 270 people.
The leader of New York's Episcopal Diocese also condemned his release.
"It seems to me to be a truly terrible misunderstanding of what compassion is," said Bishop Mark Sisk. "It truly undercut the sensibilities of those who are the survivors. And in that sense, it is, I think horrific."
"'I have great difficulty with this decision ," the Bishop added. "'This is a man that according to the courts was found guilty of masterminding a horrendous crime. He was given a life sentence with a minimum of 27 years. He should have had to abide by that sentence and to abridge that does not seems to have been a just thing to have done.'
Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, head of the New York Board of Rabbis, said the release was cruel, not compassionate.
"It's almost as if you are killing the people again because now these families having gone through so much horror are reliving the tragedy ," said the rabbi. "And that just isn't' fair, it isn't right."
Forgiveness is not appropriate in this case, the rabbi added.
'I cannot forgive this person (Al-Megrahi), I cannot forgive Adolf Hitler. I cannot forgive Timothy McVeigh " said Rabbi Potasnik.
Upon arriving home, Megrahi was greeted by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in a rapturous 'hero's welcome' that further riled the international community.
The head of New York's largest mosque said this homecoming was troubling.
"I don't want this to be a signal or gesture to the other criminals around to say at the end of the day you will be a heroic one " said Imam Mohammed Shamsi Ali of the Islamic Cultural Center of New York. "Terrorism is terrorism.and we want terrorism to be stopped in any way and in any means possible. "
The imam said he sympathized with the feelings of the victim's relatives.
" When we come to human feelings and sentiments of the victims families ...this would have had to have been taken into consideration before any decision was taken ," he said.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who has denied any role in al-Megrahi's release, broke his silence Tuesday, saying he was "repulsed" by the homecoming reception.
At least two prominent religious leaders in Scotland have voiced support for the release. The Archbishop of Glasgow Mario Conti said "despite contrary voices, I believe it is a decision that will be a force of pride for many Scots...."
The Rev. Ian Galloway, of the Church of Scotland, said "to chose mercy is the tough choice....our nation met that challenge."
Gaddafi, who is due to attend the U.N. General Assembly in New York next month, said that he intends to 'pitch a tent' in Englewood, New Jersey, outside a mansion owned by Libyan embassy.
Angry residents are calling to have Gaddafi's immigration permission revoked or restricted. Libyans reportedly had also requested permission to pitch a tent in Central Park but were turned down.