Scotland's justice minister is due to rule on the possible release of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi (pictured), who is serving a life sentence for his role in the 1988 terror attack that claimed 270 lives.
AFP - Scotland's justice minister will announce Thursday whether the ailing Lockerbie bomber is to be freed, in the face of intense US pressure to keep him behind bars, officials said.
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill will unveil his decision at a press conference at 1:00 pm (1200 GMT), amid British media reports the former Libyan intelligence agent is likely to be released on compassionate grounds.
MacAskill "has informed families and other interested parties that he has reached his decisions" regarding jailed bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi, a government statement said Wednesday.
The former Libyan agent is the only person convicted of the bombing of Pan Am flight 103, which blew up over the Scottish town of Lockerbie killing 270 people in 1988.
Megrahi is suffering terminal prostate cancer, and the Scottish minister has been studying three options: transferring him to a Libyan jail, freeing him on compassionate grounds or keeping him in a Scottish prison.
In the leadup to the decision, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has led strong US opposition to Megrahi's release.
Many relatives in the United States believe Megrahi, who was convicted in 2001 after a trial held in an extraordinary Scottish court in the Netherlands, should continue to serve his minimum 27-year sentence in Scotland.
Seven US senators recently wrote to the Scottish government demanding that he serve out his sentence in a Scottish prison.
When asked about the possibility of Megrahi being allowed to walk free, Clinton said: "We are still encouraging the Scottish authorities not to do so and we hope that they will not."
A Scottish government spokesman said late Wednesday that outside factors had not influenced the final decision on Megrahi's fate.
"We have a strong justice system in Scotland and people can be assured that the justice secretary's decisions have been reached on the basis of clear evidence and on no other factors," he said.
The Times newspaper reported Thursday that Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi will send his private jet to collect Megrahi and take him home, if he is released on compassionate grounds.
Staff at Scotland's Glasgow airport have been put on standby to receive the aircraft, the newspaper said, citing unnamed sources.
The BBC said Megrahi is likely to be returned to his family in time for the Islamic month of Ramadan which is expected to start on Friday.
A doctor who visited Megrahi in prison last month called this week for an urgent decision on his release, warning that he did not have long to live.
Karol Sikora, a cancer expert and former hospital consultant, said the 57-year-old had aggressive prostate cancer "that has spread widely" and was failing to respond to treatment.
The impending decision comes as relations between Libya and Britain, arch-enemies in the 1980s and 1990s, have been thawing in recent years.
Libya has the largest proven oil reserves of any country in Africa, much of it still untapped, and British firms including BP and Shell have signed major exploration deals in the country in recent years.
One major obstacle to Megrahi returning to Libya was removed Tuesday when Edinburgh's High Court ruled that he could drop his appeal against conviction.
Megrahi can only be sent home under a prisoner transfer agreement when there are no legal matters involving him outstanding -- and there is still an appeal by the authorities against the length of his sentence to be resolved.
But this is no bar to him being freed on compassionate grounds.
Date created : 2009-08-20