Compassionate release expected for Lockerbie bomber

Abdelbeset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, now 57, is suffering from terminal prostate cancer.
A Scottish court is expected to release convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbeset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi on compassionate grounds, senior State Department officials tell CNN.

Al Megrahi, 57, is suffering from terminal prostate cancer. He is serving a life sentence for bombing Pan Am Flight 103 over the town of Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people. The Scottish government has informally notified the U.S. State Department of the decision, the senior officials said. But they added that the conditions of his release are still being finalized. The announcement is expected to be made at 1 p.m. Thursday (8 a.m. ET). Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has been considering two applications, one for al Megrahi to be moved to Libya under a prisoner transfer agreement, and a separate one for him to be given compassionate early release to go home to die with his family. The Pan Am flight exploded December 21, 1988, as it flew over Scotland on its way from London to New York. All 259 people aboard the plane died, along with 11 Scots on the ground. A Scottish court ruled in 2003 that al Megrahi must serve at least 27 years of his sentence before becoming eligible for parole. Al Megrahi first appealed the conviction in 2002 and lost. Families of the Lockerbie victims are divided on whether al Megrahi should be ever be released.

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The United States has made clear to the British government and others that it believes al Megrahi should spend the rest of his time in jail. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called MacAskill last week to stress the U.S. opposition to an early release. Al Megrahi was convicted in 2001 after the prosecution argued he had placed the bomb, hidden in a suitcase, on a flight from Malta to Frankfurt, Germany. There, prosecutors said, the bomb was transferred onto the Pan Am plane that went first to London’s Heathrow Airport and then took off for New York. Another man — Al-Amin Khalifa Fahima — was also tried in the bombing but was acquitted. The prosecution said that al Megrahi, who worked at Malta’s Luqa Airport, was an agent for the Libyan intelligence services and had been seen buying clothes that were in the suitcase that contained the bomb. Libya has formally accepted responsibility for the bombing and has compensated the families, though Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi later denied any culpability.