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Lockerbie Bomber Released From Prison

The man convicted of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, has been granted release from prison on compassionate grounds. The former Libyan intelligence agent is dying of prostate cancer, but news of his release has sparked very mixed reactions.

Scotland's Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill carefully outlined the legal options and the process involved in coming to a final decision. He condemned the 1988 bombing as an heinous crime, and said he supported Abdelbaset Ali Mohmeit al-Megrahi's conviction. He said, while it is important that justice be served, mercy must also be shown.

"For these reasons and these reasons alone, it is my decision that Mr. Abdelbaset Ali Mohmeit al-Megrahi, convicted in 2001 for the Lockerbie bombing, now terminally ill with prostate cancer, be released on compassionate grounds and allowed to return to Libya to die," said MacAskill.

Megrahi served eight years of a life sentence as the only man convicted for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over the town of Lockerbie. All 259 people on board were killed along with 11 on the ground. Most of the victims were American.

Even before his actual release, news that Megrahi might be freed sparked controversy, particularly among families of the American victims. Many said that a man convicted of killing 270 innocent people, should be shown no mercy and should spend the rest of his life behind bars.

MacAskill said he knew many would disagree with his decision, and he said, he was conscious of deeply held feelings.

"Scotland will forever remember the crime that has been perpetrated against our people and those from many other lands," he said. "The pain and suffering will remain forever. Some hurt can never heal, some scars can never fade. Those who have been bereaved cannot be expected to forget, let alone forgive."

The White House responded to MacAskill's announcement, saying it "deeply regrets" the decision. U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton had urged the Scottish authorities not to release Megrahi as did seven U.S. senators who wrote to the Scottish government. Mrs. Clinton issued a statement following the release saying she was "deeply disappointed" and extended her sympathies to the families who lost loved ones in the bombing.

Many families of British victims have been in favor of an early release, saying they do not think the evidence against Megrahi was conclusive.

Megrahi has always maintained his innocence and had twice appealed his conviction.

He was diagnosed with prostate cancer last year, and medical experts said the situation had deteriorated and that Megrahi could have only several more months to live.

Megrahi was transported from prison shortly after the announcement of his release and taken to a waiting plane to return home.