The British government has condemned the hero's welcome Libya gave to the only man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing in 1988. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband says it was deeply upsetting for the loved ones of the 270 victims of the Pan Am attack.
Abdel Basset al-Megrahi received a warm welcome from flag waving Libyan supporters as he stepped off the plane Thursday in Tripoli, after his release from custody in Scotland on compassionate grounds. Such an option exists under Scottish law, and Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill, announcing Megrahi's release Thursday, said the convicted bomber and former Libyan intelligence officer is near death from prostate cancer.
The decision to release him early from prison elicited a firestorm of condemnation from many American family members of victims of Pan Am flight 103, which blew up over Lockerbie on December 21, 1988. In all, 270 people died.
In Washington, President Barack Obama called the release a mistake. In London, criticism was limited to the reception bestowed upon Megrahi at home in Libya.
Speaking on the BBC, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband criticized Libya's handing of Megrahi's arrival.
"The sight of a mass murderer getting a hero's welcome in Tripoli is deeply upsetting, deeply distressing, above all for the 270 families who grieve every day for the loss of their loved ones 21 years ago. But also for anyone who has got an ounce of humanity in them and I think that is the overriding emotion that people will be feeling today," he said.
Libya has maintained that it was not responsible for the downing of Pan Am flight 103 and Megrahi, who was serving a life sentence, has maintained his innocence.
On Tuesday, Megrahi dropped his appeal, which would have opened the door to a close examination of the evidence. That might have shed more light on those responsible, and also, what warnings may have been known in the West regarding an imminent attack.
According to Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, the dropping of that appeal had nothing to do with Megrahi's release.
"In terms of how the Scottish government approached this, then everything we have done was not about any deals or understandings or negotiations, it was done on the basis of Scots law, what is there within our system," he said. "Our motives were the right ones. Other people must speak for themselves. And, in terms of Scotland's standing on the world stage, I am not ashamed in any sense of leading a government, which is prepared to put mercy at the heart of its legal system," Salmond added.
Not all of the families of the British victims are convinced that Abdel Basset al-Megrahi was responsible for the worst-ever terrorist incident on British soil. Dr. Jim Swire, who lost his daughter in the bombing, says he does not believe al-Megrahi was behind the bombing but with the appeal now gone, so too is the chance to answer the big vexing questions that linger to this day.