CAIRO -- Abdel Basset Ali Megrahi, convicted in the 1988 bombing of an American airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, died at home in Tripoli on Sunday nearly three years after passions around the case were reawakened when he was freed on compassionate grounds due to what was reported as advanced prostate cancer.
Megrahi, 60, a former intelligence officer, became an icon of state-sponsored terrorism under the rule of the late Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi. Megrahi repeatedly denied he had a role in the downing of Pan Am 103, which killed 270 people, including 189 Americans, and led to Libya’s further isolation as a rogue state.
Diminished and purportedly close to death, Megrahi was released from custody in Scotland in 2009 on humanitarian grounds. The gesture was immediately scorned by the families of victims and condemned by Western leaders, including President Obama.The release was widely seen as a backroom deal for Kadafi to provide oil and gas contracts to benefit Great Britain. British and Scottish officials denied the accusation.
Megrahi returned to Tripoli to a hero’s welcome, allowing Kadafi, a master of intrigue and theatrics, to use the homecoming as a propaganda ploy.
With both Kadafi and Megrahi now dead, it is unlikely that a clearer picture will emerge around the details and planning of an attack that stunned the world and left debris scattered across Scotland.
“I am an innocent man,” Megrahi, the only person convicted in the case, said in his last interview, published in several British papers in December. “I am about to die and I ask now to be left in peace with my family.”
Many relatives of the Pan Am 103 victims still feel justice has been denied.
"Fine. He deserved to die," Susan Cohen of Cape May Court House, N.J., whose daughter Theodora died in the attack, told CNN. "He was a mass murderer. I feel no pity around him. He got to die with his family around him. My daughter, at age 20, died a brutal, horrible death."
Megrahi exemplified “the classic case that no matter how heinous the crime, that justice can be bought," Victoria Cummock of Miami, whose husband, John, was on the plane, told the cable network.
"His death is a relief,” she added. “Finally Megrahi will be judged by the highest of authorities -- our maker, his maker."
-- Jeffrey Fleishman