- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 20, 2009

EDINBURGH, Scotland | A decision has been reached in the case of Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi and will be announced Thursday, the Scottish government said. British news networks reported that he would be released on compassionate grounds.

Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill said he had informed the families of the victims that he had come to a decision about what to do with al-Megrahi and would make a formal announcement Thursday afternoon in Edinburgh, the Scottish capital.

Sky News television reported Wednesday that al-Megrahi will be released from prison on compassionate grounds. The British Broadcasting Corp. has also previously reported that al-Megrahi would be set free on compassionate grounds, adding that his release had been expected before the end of the week. Neither network cited the source of its information.

In Washington, Obama administration officials said Scottish authorities had not formally notified them that al-Megrahi would be released. But they said the administration was working on the assumption that he would be freed. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicate diplomacy involved and the sensitive nature of the case.

Al-Megrahi, 57, was convicted in 2001 of taking part in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 on Dec. 21, 1988. The airliner - which was carrying mostly American passengers to New York - blew up as it flew over Scotland. All 259 people aboard and 11 on the ground died when the aircraft crashed in the town of Lockerbie.

The former Libyan intelligence officer was sentenced to serve a minimum of 27 years in a Scottish prison for the crime, but a 2007 review of his case raised the prospect that al-Megrahi had been the victim of a miscarriage of justice, and many in Britain think he is innocent.

Meanwhile, relations between Libya and the West have improved dramatically.

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has lobbied for the return of al-Megrahi, an issue that took on an added sense of urgency when the convicted man was diagnosed with cancer last year. Al-Megrahi’s lawyers say his condition is deteriorating.

The question of whether to release al-Megrahi has divided Lockerbie families, with many in Britain in favor of setting him free and many in the U.S. adamantly opposed.

The Rev. John Mosey, a Briton whose daughter Helga, 19, died in the attack, said Wednesday he would be glad to see al-Megrahi return home.

“It is right he should go home to die in dignity with his family. I believe it is our Christian duty to show mercy,” he said.

But American families have largely been hostile to the idea. So, too. has the U.S. government. Seven senators and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton have urged Mr. MacAskill not to release al-Megrahi.

“I’m totally against it. He murdered 270 people,” said Paul Halsch of Perinton, N.Y., who lost his 31-year-old wife in the attack. “This might sound crude or blunt, but I want him returned … the same way my wife, Lorraine, was … and that would be in a box.”

Many Libyans see al-Megrahi’s possible homecoming as the end of a humiliation at the hands of the West. Al-Megrahi is depicted in his homeland as innocent, a political scapegoat whom Libya was forced to surrender to end years of crippling sanctions.

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