05/21/2012, 00.00
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Lockerbie "lone bomber" Al-Megrahi dies

The former Libyan secret agent passed away at his Tripoli home after a long illness. He was sentenced to 27 years in prison for his role in the death of 270 people. The debate over his innocence or guilt remains open however.

Tripoli (AsiaNews) - "Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, a former member of the Libyan secret service who was sentenced to 27 years in prison for the Lockerbie bombing (Scotland) in December 1988, was guilty. Any attempt to prove his innocence ex post facto makes no sense," said journalist and historian Angelo Antonio del Boca who spoke to AsiaNews about the Libyan whose death will surely reopened the debate over the Pan Am flight bombing that killed 270 people.

Al-Megrahi, 59, dies in Tripoli after a long illness. He was sentenced to 27 years in prison by a court set up in the Netherlands in 2001. He was freed from his Scottish jail in 2009 on compassionate grounds because of cancer, and returned to libya.

"Gaddafi's regime welcomed him home as a hero, sparking a row with British authorities, who had supposedly accepted US$ 2.7 billion in compensation to the victims' families," Del Boca said. However, the "evidence submitted during the trial in the Netherlands indicates that al-Megrahi was behind the deadly bombing."

"During the civil war, he went into hiding fearing rebels might kill him," Del Boca noted, but "both at home and abroad, there are some who still believe he was innocent."

Dozens of people visited his home in Tripoli and paid their respect to his body.

Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter died at Lockerbie, called Megrahi's death a "very sad event".

"Right up to the end he was determined, for his family's sake... [that] the verdict against him should be overturned," said Dr Swire, who is a member of the Justice for Megrahi group.

On 21 December 1988, a Pan Am Boeing 747 bound for the United States exploded in the sky over Lockerbie. Some 270 people, including everyone on board the plane and 11 village residents, were killed.

After months of investigation, the authorities concluded that the attack was the work of the Libyan secret service.

The two alleged bombers were handed over to Scottish justice at the end of the 1990s when the Libyan strongman Gaddafi decided to improve ties with the West.

Al-Megrahi remains the only person convicted in connection with the Lockerbie bombing. His alleged accomplice, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, was found not guilty in 2001.

Following Gaddafi's fall, the National Transitional Council admitted Libya's responsibility in the attack. However, despite pressures from victims' families, it has rejected demands that the attacker be sent back to jail. (S.C.)

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