- The Washington Times - Friday, August 21, 2009

Waves of anguish gripped the American families of Lockerbie victims Thursday as the only person ever convicted in the deaths of their loved ones walked free.

“The American families hate this,” said Susan Cohen, who lost her 20-year-old daughter, Theodora, in the 1988 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland. “This was done by the Scots, and some in England have fallen for [Libyan leader Moammar] Gadhafi’s massive campaign.

“They should feel sorry for the victims, for the good people,” said Mrs. Cohen of Cape May Court House, N.J., her voice hoarse after a day of media interviews. “No sympathy for the killer.”

Earlier in the day, a Scottish judge released former Libyan agent Abdel Baset al-Megrahi after serving eight years of a life sentence for the bombing, which killed 259 people on a Pan Am jetliner and 11 on the ground.

Megrahi, freed on compassionate grounds because he is dying of cancer, was immediately flown to Libya, where he was greeted by cheering supporters in white robes, including the son of Mr. Gadhafi, before being whisked away in a convoy.

“You get that lump in your throat and you feel like you’re going to throw up,” Norma Maslowski, of Haddonfield, N.J., told the Associated Press. Her 30-year-old daughter, Diane, died in the attack.

“I don’t understand how the Scots can show compassion,” said Kara Weipz, of Mount Laurel, N.J. Her 20-year-old brother, Richard Monetti, was on board the doomed flight. “I don’t show compassion for someone who showed no remorse,” she told the AP.

Most families of the victims have received millions of dollars in compensation from the Libyan government in a U.S.-brokered agreement that helped end economic sanctions against the former pariah nation.

Mrs. Cohen called the release “a complete capitulation that would put the United States at risk for new terrorist attacks because they know if you have money and time you’ll get released.”

In Libya, al-Megrahi, 57, is seen an innocent victim of Western bias against their nation, and Col. Gadhafi had pushed hard for his release.

In Britain, where people followed details of the trial closely, many are skeptical of the evidence used to convict al-Megrahi. It relied on scraps of cloth found in the wreckage that were matched to a shirt sold at a store in Malta. A shopkeeper identified al-Megrahi as a customer who purchased the shirt.

Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said al-Megrahi “now faces a sentence imposed by a higher power,” referring to his recent diagnosis of terminal cancer.

Al-Megrahi, who has repeatedly declared his innocence, expressed condolences to the victims’ families in a statement released in Libya.

“To those victims’ relatives who can bear to hear me say this, they continue to have my sincere sympathy for the unimaginable loss that they have suffered,” he said. “To those who bear me ill will, I do not return that to you.”

Just days before Christmas in 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 was blown out of the sky by explosives stored in a checked bag. There were 189 Americans on board, many of them students on their way home for the holidays.

The White House on Thursday said it regretted the decision to set the convict free.

“We’re now in contact with the Libyan government and want to make sure that if, in fact, this transfer has taken place, that he’s not welcomed back in some way, but instead, should be under house arrest,” President Obama said in a radio interview.

U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said: “There is simply no justification for releasing this convicted terrorist. Megrahi did not show and has not shown compassion for innocent human life.”

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat and chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, said al-Megrahi “deserves no compassion.”

Christina Bellantoni contributed to this report in Washington.

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