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Britain warns Libya on Lockerbie bombing anniversary

Advises against celebration of Megrahi release

Counterterrorism adviser John Brennan says the US has told Libya that Abdel Baset Al-Megrahi should not remain free. Counterterrorism adviser John Brennan says the US has told Libya that Abdel Baset Al-Megrahi should not remain free.
By Ben McConville
Associated Press / August 21, 2010

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EDINBURGH, Scotland — Britain’s government says it has warned Libya that any celebration of yesterday’s anniversary of the release from jail of the Lockerbie bomber would be deeply offensive to the families of the victims of the attack, most of them from the United States.

Abdel Baset Al-Megrahi, the only person convicted in connection with the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 above Lockerbie, Scotland, was ordered in 2001 to serve 27 years in jail, but was freed on Aug. 20 of last year on compassionate grounds because he has prostate cancer.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration asked yesterday that Megrahi be returned to a Scottish prison.

John Brennan, President Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, told reporters accompanying the vacationing leader that the United States has “expressed our strong conviction’’ to Libyan officials that Megrahi should not remain free.

Brennan criticized what he termed the “unfortunate and inappropriate and wrong decision,’’ and added: “We’ve expressed our strong conviction that Megrahi should serve out the remainder — the entirety — of his sentence in a Scottish prison.’’

In a statement urging Libya to show restraint, Britain’s Foreign Office yesterday described the bombing, which killed 259 people and 11 on the ground, as the “worst act of terrorism in British history.’’

Before Megrahi’s release from a Scottish jail, doctors said he would probably live only for three months.

Yesterday marked the first full year of Megrahi’s freedom. Many families are outraged at the hero’s welcome he received as he returned to Libya, and his continued longevity.

“Particularly on this anniversary, we understand the continuing anguish that Megrahi’s release has caused his victims both in the UK and the US. He was convicted for the worst act of terrorism in British history,’’ the Foreign Office said.

“Any celebration of Megrahi’s release would be tasteless, offensive and deeply insensitive to the victims’ families. We have made our concerns clear to the Libyan government, including through representations by the UK ambassador to Libya.’’

The decision to release Megrahi was made by Scotland’s government, rather than the British government in London. Prime Minister David Cameron, who at the time was opposition leader, condemned the move.

“The government is clear that Megrahi’s release was a mistake; both the current prime minister and foreign secretary made this clear at the time,’’ the Foreign Office statement said.

First Minister Alex Salmond, the head of Scotland’s government, said this week that he stood by the decision.

“I think I’d rather be first minister of a society with too much compassion than be first minister of a country with too little compassion,’’ he said.

In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton condemned the release of Megrahi, issuing a statement that said the United States “continues to categorically disagree’’ with Scotland’s decision.

“As we have expressed repeatedly to Scottish authorities, we maintain that Megrahi should serve out the entirety of his sentence in prison in Scotland,’’ she said.

Four Democratic senators — Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer of New York and Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey — have called on Scotland’s government to release all medical records they hold on Megrahi. Scottish authorities have refused, citing patient confidentiality.

Scottish and British officials have also declined requests to offer testimony to a planned Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing on the case.

Some US legislators have expressed concerns that oil giant BP — seeking better access to Libyan oil fields — may have pressured officials to approve Megrahi’s release, a contention strongly disputed by ministers in Scotland and London.

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