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5:57pm UK, Sunday May 20, 2012
The former Libyan intelligence officer convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, Abdelbaset al Megrahi, has died, his family has said.
East Renfrewshire Council, which is supposed to receive updates about his condition following his early release from prison, has said it has received no official confirmation of his death but it is investigating.
The Foreign Office said it does not know if the reports are accurate, but they are “seeking further information”.
:: 270 people were killed when Pan Am flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie in 1988
:: 11 of the victims were residents killed when wreckage crashed to the ground
:: Megrahi was convicted in 2001 and told in 2003 that he must serve at least 27 years
:: He returned to Libya after being freed in 2009 on compassionate grounds
A Scottish court in 2001 convicted Megrahi, 60, of the 1988 attack on Pan Am flight 103, but he was freed on compassionate grounds in 2009 because doctors said he was battling prostate cancer and had only three months to live.
He was greeted like a hero by the Gaddafi regime on his return to the country in 2009, having served eight years of a 27-year sentence.
The scenes sparked fury from American families, who were among the most outspoken critics of the decision to release him.
Despite claims that he could not have worked alone, and the continuing belief by some that he was innocent and others were involved, Megrahi was the only man ever convicted over the terrorist attack.
All 259 people on the airliner died and 11 others on the ground in the Dumfries and Galloway town were killed in Britain’s biggest terrorist atrocity.
Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora died, did not believe Megrahi was to blame for the bombing – and said his conviction had been an “obstruction” in the search for the truth about the attack.
He told Sky News: “It’s a very sad event. I met him in Tripoli in December last year, when he was very sick and in a lot of pain.”
David Ben-Ayreah, a spokesman for the victims of Lockerbie families, said: “I was told seven days ago by very good sources in Tripoli that he was slipping in and out of quite deep comas, that the secondary tumours had affected his abdomen and lower chest, and that he had had three blood transfusions.
“His death is to be deeply regretted. As someone who attended the trial I have never taken the view that Megrahi was guilty.
“Megrahi is the 271st victim of Lockerbie.”
However, Bert Ammerman, the brother of a Lockerbie victim, said: “I’m pleased with the death of Megrahi. I was most angered when (Megrahi was released) on ridiculous grounds of compassion.
“I do agree Megrahi’s death does minimal for finding out the truth… I do believe that more people than Megrahi were involved.”
Prime Minister David Cameron, who is in Chicago attending a Nato summit, gave his reaction to the reports.
“Of course, I have always been clear that he should never have been released from prison,” he said.
“But today is a day to remember the 270 people who lost their lives in what was an appalling terrorist act and our thoughts should be with them and their families and the suffering that they’ve had.”
Megrahi was convicted in 2001 of the bombing
The former British ambassador to Libya, Oliver Miles, told Sky News his death would not automatically trigger any inquiry into the early release of Megrahi.
Sky’s political editor Adam Boulton said there was “no doubt that this news will have a very significant impact”.
“The American government always opposed the release of Megrahi on compassionate grounds back in 2009 – as indeed did David Cameron, then the leader of the Conservative opposition,” he said.
“So the death of this convicted man… will I think help in drawing a line under that period where relations with Colonel Gaddafi’s Libya were in active play, where there was give and take on both sides.”
Sky’s Scotland correspondent James Matthews said investigations were continuing and British police are set to be sent to Libya in the near future to attempt to gather more information.
Megrahi had rarely been seen since his return to Tripoli, but he was spotted on Libyan television at what appeared to be a pro-government rally in July 2011.
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said at the time that the public appearance confirmed that a “great mistake” was made in releasing him from jail.
In 2010, the Guardian reported that leaked US diplomatic cables showed the former Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi had warned of “repercussions” if Megrahi was to die in prison and threatened to cut trade with Britain.
Prior to Megrahi’s death, reports suggested his prostate cancer had spread to his neck.
Others said he had been kept alive with cancer drugs unavailable in the UK.
Mr Cameron has come under pressure from US senators for an inquiry into the decision to free the bomber. Scottish ministers have always insisted their decision was made in good faith.