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US Warns Libyans Not To Make Hero of Lockerbie Figure

The United States is warning Libya not to make a hero out of the terminally-ill Libyan, convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie airliner bombing, who was allowed to return home Thursday by Scottish authorities. The Obama administration says the decision to release Abdel Baset al-Megrahi was a profound mistake.

The United States is expressing deep disappointment and regret over the Scottish decision to release the Lockerbie bombing figure, and it has warned Libya not to make a hero of the convicted terrorist or face unspecified consequences in bilateral relations.

The decision by Scottish authorities to release Megrahi, said to be near death from prostate cancer, on compassionate grounds had been widely expected, and both the White House and State Department expressed regret over the move.

President Obama, in a radio interview, said the United States believes the release was a mistake and has conveyed that to the Scottish authorities - while telling the Libyan government Megrahi should not be welcomed back in any way and should be put under house arrest.

At a news briefing here, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs P.J. Crowley said justice has not been served but rather undermined by the release, which he said sets a poor example for a world community trying to combat terrorism.

"What we're mostly concerned about is the mixed message that this sends in terms of those who have in the past, or those who might contemplate in the future, acts of political violence," said P.J. Crowley. "And that's why we have said very firmly and very strongly that as a perpetrator of one of the most heinous acts in recent history, that he should serve out his sentence and not be released."

In 2001, a special Scottish court convened in the Netherlands convicted Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence agent, of the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people.

A senior official who spoke to reporters here said the United States conveyed its dismay over the release to officials of both the British goverment and Scottish regional administration. He said while Scottish legal authorities were within their rights to free the Libyan, the U.S. views it as a profound mistake.

The official said Libyan diplomats were told Thursday in both Washington and Tripoli that Megrahi is not entitled to a hero's welcome, either now or in connection with Libya's national day observance on September first.

He said U.S. officials have told Libyan authorities the way he is treated will, in his words, potentially affect our future relationship.