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The rebels appeared to be caught off guard by the questions and modified their response several times.

Rebel Justice Minister Mohammed al-Alagi told journalists in Tripoli on Sunday that no Libyans would be deported.

“We will not hand over any Libyan citizen. It was Gadhafi who handed over Libyan citizens,” he said.

He took a more nuanced stance Monday, saying the decision to release al-Megrahi was made by a “sovereign government” that had not requested his return. He also said such issues could only be dealt with after a new Libyan government is in place.

“We are in the process of liberating Libya and rebuilding it anew,” he said. “Dealing with this issue will fall to a national elected government.”

Information Minister Mahmoud Shammam acknowledged that the issue “is very important to some of our Western allies,” adding that it would be dealt with according to “international rules and standards.”

While the rebels have yet to articulate a foreign policy, it will doubtless be more conciliatory toward the West than Gadhafi’s. Rebel leaders are keenly aware that many of their military advances in the six-month civil war were facilitated by NATO airstrikes on Gadhafi’s better-equipped and trained forces.

While al-Megrahi has not been seen publicly in months, his brother said Monday that he was terminally sick and seldom even conscious.

“He is between life and death, so what difference would prison make?” Abdel-Nasser al-Megrahi said, standing outside the family’s house in an upscale Tripoli neighborhood.

He described his brother as being in a coma, occasionally waking and asking for his mother.

“It is natural for him to be with his family and his mother,” said the brother. “Anyone, either Libyan or Scottish, would have mercy.”

He declined to let reporters see his brother, and the family could be worried that with the collapse of the Gadhafi regime they will lose both their legal protection and medical care.

Little is known about al-Megrahi. At his trial, he was described as the “airport security” chief for Libyan intelligence, and witnesses reported him negotiating deals to buy equipment for Libya’s secret service and military.

But he became a central figure — some would say pawn — in Libya’s falling out with the West and then its re-emergence from the cold.

To Libyans, he was a folk hero, an innocent scapegoat used by the West to demonize their country. The Gadhafi regime said it handed him over to Scotland in 1999 only to restore Libya’s relations with the world.

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