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Lockerbie bomber released on 'compassionate grounds'

Video by Luke Brown and Karim Yahiaoui

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2009-08-21

Scotland's justice minister says Libyan national Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, who was given a life sentence for his role in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing that killed 270 people, will be released from a Scottish jail on compassionate grounds.

Scottish justice minister Kenny Mac Askill announced Thursday the liberation of Syrian terrorist Abdelaset Ali Mohamed Al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds. The man behind the 1988 Lockerbie plane bombing is terminally ill with prostate cancer. According to doctors, he has no more than three months to live.


Megrahi was the only person convicted for the 1988 bombing of a Boeing 747 jet owned by now defunct US airline, Pan Am. The jet exploded over the Scottish village of Lockerbie, killing 270 people, including 189 Americans. Megrahi was sentenced to life in prison in 2001.


MacAskill explained his decision in a long and detailed statement at a news conference in Edinburgh. He declared that “Scotland will forever remember the crime” that was perpetrated in Lockerbie, and that the “pain and suffering of victim’s families will remain forever”.


He added, however, that Scotland’s "justice system demands that judgment be imposed but compassion be available. Our beliefs dictate that justice be served, but mercy be shown".


US Furor


Megrahi, 57, expressed “profound relief” at his release. He left Greenock prison in western Scotland to angry shouts from onlookers, and headed for Glasgow airport, where a Libyan jet was waiting to fly him home. He was seen boarding the jet slowly but unaided and left Scotland at 2:30pm GMT.


Shortly after his release was announced, US President Barack Obama said the Scottish government's release of Megrahi was "a mistake." Earlier, the White House also expressed “deep regret” at the decision and extended its “profound sympathies” to the victim’s families.

“The families of US victims were fiercely opposed to his liberation, and are not happy with this decision” said Benedicte Paviot, FRANCE 24’s London correspondent. Seven US senators wrote to the Scottish authorities asking them not to free Mr. Megrahi. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also spoke out against his release.


But for Jean-Louis Bruguière, a French judge and counter-terrorism specialist, victim’s families must take into account that “the sentence remains the same”. “There was a trial, the person responsible was found guilty. That’s what matters” he told FRANCE 24, adding that Scottish authorities “made a compassionate decision that France probably would have made as well.”

Date created : 2009-08-20