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In the months ahead of his release, Tripoli put enormous pressure on Britain, warning that if the ailing al-Megrahi died in a Scottish prison, all British commercial activity in Libya would be cut off and a wave of demonstrations would erupt outside British embassies, according to leaked U.S. diplomatic memos. The Libyans even implied “that the welfare of U.K. diplomats and citizens in Libya would be at risk,” the memos say.

He was greeted as a hero upon his return to Libya, and appeared on state TV seated next to Gadhafi at a government rally early in the civil war.

But in the eyes of many Americans and Europeans, he was a foot-soldier for Gadhafi’s regime. Tony Blair, Britain’s prime minister at the time of the conviction, said the verdict “confirms our long-standing suspicion that Libya instigated the Lockerbie bombing.”

To the end, al-Megrahi insisted he was innocent. Gadhafi’s regime denied any role in the bombing. Even some relatives of victims have had doubts over his guilt — with many theorizing that Iran had planted the bomb.