- Associated Press - Monday, August 29, 2011

TRIPOLI, Libya — The former Libyan intelligence officer convicted in the 1988 Lockerbie plane bombing is close to death and slipping in and out of consciousness, his family said Monday, a week after the regime that protected him was ousted from power.

Abdel Baset al-Megrahi was the only person convicted for the bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 people. He was released from a Scottish prison on humanitarian grounds in 2009, only eight years into a life sentence, after doctors predicted he would die of prostate cancer within three months.

Many victims’ families were infuriated by his release. That fury only grew when he returned to a hero’s welcome in Libya, remained alive long past those doctors’ predictions and even appeared at a recent pro-Gadhafi rally. The downfall of the Gadhafi regime spurred calls from some in the United States and Europe that he be returned to prison.

The Obama administration has asked the rebels to review his case, with an eye toward potentially expelling him if he does not die in the meantime, a U.S. official said Monday.

Washington has asked rebel officials to “take a hard look at what it thinks ought to happen with Mr. Megrahi, and it is committed to do that,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.

“This is a guy with blood on his hands, the lives of innocents. Libya itself under Gadhafi made a hero of this guy. Presumably, a new, free, democratic Libya would have a different attitude toward a convicted terrorist,” Nuland said.

But First Minister Alex Salmond, head of the semiautonomous Scottish government, told reporters Monday that only his administration could demand al-Megrahi’s extradition — and that it did not intend to do so. Al-Megrahi has abided by the conditions set upon his release, Salmond said, including keeping Scottish authorities updated on his medical status and not committing any new crimes.

“We have never had and do not have any intention of asking for the extradition of Mr. al-Megrahi,” he said, adding that calls by others for al-Megrahi’s return “have no bearing on this issue.”

He suggested that those calling for al-Megrahi’s return to jail instead allow the bomber “to die in peace.”

Libya’s rebel leaders, who are scrambling to replace Gadhafi’s regime with a government of their own, initially said they would not deport al-Megrahi or any other Libyan, then softened their stance, saying that only the future elected government could deal with such issues.

But the question of his fate is likely to be the first of many thorny foreign policy issues that rebel leaders will have to navigate as they chart Libya’s future course. While trying to extend their control over a vast desert nation of 6 million people with few working institutions, they’ll have to address the legacy of Gadhafi’s four decades of belligerent relations with much of the world.

The Lockerbie saga began when a bomb packed into a suitcase exploded inside Pan Am Flight 103 as it flew over Scotland, killing 270 people, including many American college students flying home for Christmas. The bombing, which scattered flaming wreckage onto the small town of Lockerbie and killed 11 people on the ground, became one of the most vivid scenes of terrorism of that era, and helped ensure that Libya remained an international pariah state.

After al-Megrahi’s conviction brought some semblance of closure to the case, his release stirred up intense emotions once again for the victims.

Critics have long suspected the move was a British attempt to improve relations with oil-rich Libya.

After the collapse of Gadhafi’s regime, two New York senators asked the rebels to hold al-Megrahi fully accountable for the bombing.

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