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Al-Megrahi: Why Libyans gave him a hero’s welcome
Abdel Basset Ali Mohamed al-Megrahi was jailed in 2001 for the Lockerbie bombing. The UK and US governments have described his release and eventual welcoming on his home soil as bad taste. They are appalled over the “hero’s” welcome the “mass murderer” received after urging Libya to remain discrete. But, are the Libyans right to have ignored these instructions? Is Mr. al-Megrahi really guilty? And does the fact that his appeal was withdrawn mean that the Scottish justice system absolutely wants a closure on this affair even if it means sending an innocent man into his grave as a guilty person, without ever investigating new developments?
Abdel Basset Ali Mohamed al-Megrahi was jailed in 2001 for the Lockerbie bombing. The UK and US governments have described his release and eventual welcoming on his home soil as bad taste. They are appalled over the “hero’s” welcome the “mass murderer” received after urging Libya to remain discrete. But, are the Libyans right to have ignored these instructions? Is Mr. al-Megrahi really guilty? And does the fact that his appeal was withdrawn mean that the Scottish justice system absolutely wants a closure to this affair even if it means sending an innocent man into his grave?
Great Britain and the United States, have denounced the heart-felt reception the Libyan spy Abdel Basset Ali Mohamed al-Megrahi, convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, enjoyed upon his return home to Libya. The top Libyan official who has about three months to live due to an advanced prostate cancer, was released Thursday by the Scottish justice system. He was immediately flown to his country, where a jubilant crowd awaited his arrival, to the utter displeasure of the United States, who strongly opposed the release, and Great Britain. How could the Libyan defiance be explained?
Disapproval and threats
U.S. President Barack Obama and British authorities had warned Tripoli not to give the spy a hero’s welcome. Barack Obama called the release an "error" whilst terming the Libyan welcome as "highly objectionable.".
Earlier Friday, Bill Burton, a spokesman for the White House said "It is disturbing to see images suggesting that Megrahi was accorded a hero’s welcome instead of being treated as a convicted murderer," Talking about the affair, British Minister for Foreign Affairs, David Miliband, said the welcoming of al-Megrahi is "deeply distressing". The British official also threatened Libya diplomatic sanctions. "I think it’s very important that Libya knows, and certainly we have told them, that how the Libyan government handles itself in the next few days after the arrival of Mr. Megrahi will be very significant in the way the world views Libya’s re-entry into the civilized community of the nations," he said.
In the media, the U.S. daily Wall Street Journal talks about a "second Lockerbie" for families of victims. Among the 270 people (259 aboard the panam airline that was bombed and 11 on the ground in the small village of Lockerbie, Scotland) who perished in the December 21, 1988 tragedy were 189 U.S. citizens. The British newspaper, The Daily Mail regrets that with al-Megrahi’s release the victims’ families “will never (know) the truth."
Talking to the Scottish parliament, Monday, Mr. McAskill said "Assurances had been given by the Libyan government that any return would be dealt with in a low-key and sensitive fashion," he said. "It is a matter of great regret that Mr. al-Megrahi was received in such an inappropriate manner,"
The deal, as most people now know, did little to deter the Libyans from celebrating a decision that some believe was a gift to President Muammar Gaddafi on the 40th anniversary of the Libyan revolution (1st September). "The fact that it’s all going to be put into place before September 1 is no coincidence on the Libyan side,” Molly Tarhuni, an expert at Chatham House in London, told AFP.
"This case does not hold water"
But, does the satisfaction expressed also reflect that of a man who has consistently maintained his innocence? Abdel Basset Ali Mohamed al-Megrahi appealed twice. Although the Scottish authorities deny that he was made to abandon his second appeal in return for his release, it is known (according to Mr. McAskill) that his appeal was mysteriously dropped. "God is my witness, I am innocent, I committed no crime, and I did not take part in this affair," he confided to the Arabic-language newspaper Asharq al-Awsat in 2001, the year his life sentence was issued.
Confirming the Libyan spy’s innocence on July 18, 2007, Ulrich Lumpert, one of the chief witnesses at his trial gives credibility to al-Megrahi’s claims. Mr. Lumbert confesses. "I lied in my testimony about the Lockerbie bombing,” he says in a statement published on Mebo’s website. Mebo was Lumbert’s employer at the time. The company was accused of having sold the timing device that was used in the Libyan attack. According to the former Swiss engineer, he stole and handed a fragment of the device to the Scottish investigation. The timing device was possibly the most crucial piece of evidence proving the involvement of Libyans in the terrorist act.
Edwin Bollier, co-founder of Mebo, in an interview with RFI in 2007 said he was convinced "that this piece of evidence was meant to help with the accusation against Libya." "They wanted them found guilty for political reasons but the timing device was intentionally added … to the exhibits," he had said. In fact, Mr. Bollier confirms that though his company exclusively provided the timing device to Libya, that particular type of timing device had not been sold to any of their customers because they were defective. They had therefore remained in the company’s reserves until Lumbert snatched one out.
Miscarriage of justice
Pierre Pean, a journalist who wrote a book on the affair said, "Elements that have been added over the years, one after the other, show that this case does not hold water. (...) Libya’s implication was incomprehensible," he also confided to the French international radio. According to him, the U.S. Secret Service, the CIA, orchestrated the whole affair. It must be noted that in the days following the Lockerbie bombing, Iran, Syria, Libya and some Palestinian groups had been suspected. At the end of the 2001 trial, Abdel Basset Ali Mohamed al-Megrahi’s lawyer, Margaret Scott, called the verdict a "miscarriage of justice. "
After five years of severe sanctions, including a ban on air travel and an arms embargo that saw Libya on a waterslide into tough times, the northern African nation delivered al-Megrahi and another person to the Scottish justice system. The second Libyan was found not guilty. In October 2008, however, Libya accepted to pay a 2.7 billion dollar compensation to families of Lockerbie victims. This act won Gaddafi the normalisation of relations with the United States and most Western countries. Relations between the West and Muammar Gaddafi have always been ambiguous. Oil interests in Libya, estimated at 36 billion barrels, according to observers have a big role in the complexities of this affair.
Whilst observers believe that al-Megrahi was delivered as a scape-goat to redeem his country of its pariah image, others believe that although the Scottish justice system doubts his involvement, releasing him as an innocent man would nullify the closure that has brought some relief and a feeling of justice to families of victims who were involved in the unfortunate tragedy. Mr. McAskill, Monday, told the Scottish parliament that the Scottish justice system can still pursue the case whether suspects are dead or alive. But after years of incarceration and in the final days of his life, the question is whether Mr. al-Megrahi would file an appeal and whether anyone would ever respond to the unanswered questions.
As for welcoming him home as a hero, only one thing can explain this defiance, he had redeemed his country’s image. But the joy that comes with the feat should have been stifled.