Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says Libya’s transitional leaders assured her Thursday they will take up the case of the former Libyan intelligence agent convicted in the 1988 bombing of a U.S. PanAm jetliner over Lockerbie, Scotland. The Libyan, Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, is said to be near death from cancer at his home in Tripoli.
Clinton says she shares the anger of the families of the more than 200 Americans killed in the Libyan backed terrorist attack.
But she is resisting calls from the U.S. Congress that the administration withhold the return of frozen Libyan assets to Libya’s transitional authority unless Megrahi is jailed.
In 2001, a special Scottish court in the Netherlands convicted the former Libyan intelligence official of being behind the Lockerbie bombing.
In a decision condemned by the United States, Scottish authorities released him two years ago on the belief he was dying of cancer, and Megrahi returned to a hero’s welcome from the Gadhafi government.
Clinton raised the Meghrai case in a meeting with senior members of Libya’s National Transitional Council, the NTC, on the sidelines of Thursday’s ‘Friends of Libya” conference in Paris.
At a closing press event, Clinton said Megrahi, reported by relatives to be in grave condition in Tripoli, should be returned to prison, and that the United States wants access to all Libyans who may have been involved in the 1988 attack.
She said the NTC leaders promised to give the case early consideration but she did not link it to the return of impounded Libyan funds.
“We recognize the magnitude of all of the issues that the TNC is facing. And we know that they have to establish security, the rule of law, good governance. But at the same time, they’ve assured us that they understand the sensitivities surrounding this case, and they will give the matter the consideration it richly deserves, at the earliest opportunity,” she said.
Clinton said in Paris the United States has transferred to the NTC about half of the $1.5 billion in frozen Libyan assets approved for release by the U.N. sanctions committee last week.
The Obama administration froze more than $30 billion in Libyan assets in line with U.N. sanctions against the Gadhafi regime, but most of it is in real estate and other non-liquid assets.
A bipartisan group of U.S. legislators led by New York Senator Charles Schumer had asked Clinton to make the funds release contingent on Megrahi’s return to jail.
Many of the Americans killed in the attack were college students from New York.
Clinton, who also represented that state in the U.S. Senate, said she has never wavered in her view that Megrahi should not have been freed, and stressed the U.S. Justice Department is keeping the Lockerbie case open.
A total of 270 people - PanAm passengers and people on the ground in Scotland -- were killed in the 1988 bombing.
Without accepting responsibility for the attack, the Gadhafi regime in 2003 -- seeking to end its political isolation- agreed to pay $2.5 billion in compensation to victim's families.
Not all of the compensation money was delivered.
Thursday, six members of the U.S. House of Representatives said in a letter to Clinton that unpaid compensation should be deducted from still-impounded Libyan funds.
They said more should be set aside for U.S. victims of other terrorist attacks that the Gadhafi government is believed to have sponsored.