Libya unrest stirs up questions over fate of Lockerbie bomber 

An intriguing sideshow to the Libyan revolt is the fate of Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, the convicted Lockerbie bomber released to Libya from a Scottish prison two years ago, supposedly on the “compassionate” grounds that his terminal prostate cancer left him with less than three months to live.

The Libyan government lobbied the U.K. government of Gordon Brown hard and heavy for his release. He received a hero’s welcome at the airport upon his return to Libya in August 2009. And Moammar Gadhafi himself purportedly bought him the two-story Tripoli villa in which he has been living since then.

When Pan Am Flight 103 took off from London’s Heathrow airport on Dec. 21, 1988, there was a bomb on board. It detonated over Scotland, killing all 259 passengers and crew as well as 11 people on the ground in the village of Lockerbie. Of the dead, 189 were Americans. Physical evidence pointed to al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer and head of security for Libyan Arab Airlines.

After much negotiation, Gadhafi agreed to hand him over for a trial before Scottish magistrates in the Netherlands. He was convicted (a second suspect was acquitted) and sentenced to life in prison in 2001. At the time, London had made a political commitment to the U.S. government that al-Megrahi would serve out his sentence in Scotland.

But that was then. Fast-forward to 2007-08 and the government of Prime Minister Gordon Brown, which was hot to go in pursuit of business deals with Gadhafi—including an especially big BP oil venture. Gadhafi had conditions, however. One of them was completion of a prisoner transfer agreement between Libya and the U.K., whose main purpose was to secure al-Megrahi’s release.

A reasonable supposition is that al-Megrahi back in Libya and under the control of the Gadhafi regime would be less dangerous than al-Megrahi in prison in Scotland who has reached the conclusion that Gadhafi doesn’t care about him anymore. Who knows what stories he might tell?

The Brown government clearly saw al-Megrahi as an obstacle to the cultivation of further lucrative business deals with Gadhafi. Of course two years later, al-Megrahi’s survival, let alone his appearance at a 2011 Gadhafi rally, does pose a problem for the pretext for the whole sorry episode.

All parties worked diligently to overcome the inconvenience to the march of commerce of a mass murderer serving out his sentence. The Brown government got exactly what it wanted.

Maybe somebody will indeed grab al-Megrahi in Libya and ship him back to Scotland for violating his parole agreement. On the other hand, reports of his demise are greatly overdue.

Tod Lindberg, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and editor of Policy Review, is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard.

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