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Scottish justice minister defends his decision to free Lockerbie bomber

August 25, 2009|Associated Press

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND — Scotland's justice minister Monday defended his much-criticized decision to free the only man convicted in the Lockerbie bombing.

The Scottish administration has faced unrelenting criticism from both the U.S. government and some of the families of American victims of the 1988 Pan Am bombing since it announced last week that it was freeing Abdel Basset Ali Megrahi on compassionate grounds.

The terminally ill Megrahi, who has prostate cancer, returned to his native Libya on Thursday, where he was greeted by crowds waving Libyan and Scottish flags.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill defended the decision Monday, but said Libya had broken a promise by giving the convicted terrorist a hero's welcome.

MacAskill said the warm homecoming for Megrahi breached assurances from Libyan authorities that "any return would be dealt with in a low-key and sensitive fashion."

A member of the Libyan team that negotiated Megrahi's release said the Libyan government had not organized Megrahi's reception and had not broken any agreement with Scotland. The official did not want to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue.

Scottish lawmakers came back from summer vacation a week early for an emotional debate on the issue.

Britain, meanwhile, scrapped a trade visit to Libya by Prince Andrew amid controversy over the release.

The explosion of a bomb hidden in the cargo hold of Pan Am Flight 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie killed all 259 people aboard, most of them Americans, and 11 people on the ground.

Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence agent, is the only person convicted in the bombing.

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