Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the only person convicted in the 1988 bombing of an American jetliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, died Sunday (May 20, 2012) in Libya, nearly three years after Scotland released him on humanitarian grounds, citing evidence that he was near death with metastatic prostate cancer. He was 60.
The death of Mr. al-Megrahi, who always insisted he was innocent, foreclosed a fuller accounting of his role, and perhaps that of the Libyan government under Moammar Gadhafi, in the midair explosion of Pan Am Flight 103, which killed 270 people, including 189 Americans.
A former Libyan intelligence officer, Mr. al-Megrahi was found guilty in 2001 of orchestrating the bombing and sentenced to life in prison, with a 27-year minimum. But eight years later, after doctors said he was likely to die within three months, he was freed in 2009 under a Scottish law providing for compassionate release of prisoners with terminal illnesses.
Cheering crowds greeted his return to Libya, escorted by Gadhafi's son, Seif al-Islam, in a propaganda coup. But his release infuriated many families of the bombing victims, touched off angry protests in Britain and the United States, and was condemned by President Barack Obama and other Western leaders.
Critics charged that Mr. al-Megrahi's release had been a part of Libyan oil and gas deals with Britain. A British Cabinet official admitted that he and the prime minister had discussed Mr. al-Megrahi with Gadhafi's son at a European economic conference, but denied there had been any deal for his release.
After treatment at Tripoli's most advanced cancer center, Mr. al-Megrahi lived with his family at a villa in Tripoli at the government's expense. As civil war engulfed Libya in 2011, Western calls for his return to prison increased, especially after Gadhafi was overthrown and later killed.
Tripoli's new leaders refused to return him, but signaled a willingness to get to the bottom of the Lockerbie case.
Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said the United States would continue "toward a full accounting of Gadhafi's horrific acts."
"Megrahi's death concludes an unfortunate chapter following his release from prison in 2009 on medical grounds — a move we strongly opposed," he said. "As we have long said, we want to see justice for the victims of the Lockerbie bombing and their families."