U.S.-U.K. crisis over Lockerbie bomber

Aug. 25, 2009 at 5:11 PM
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LONDON, Aug. 25 (UPI) -- The release of the Lockerbie bomber is increasingly burdening trans-Atlantic relations.

British and Scottish government officials are under growing pressure to explain the release of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, the Libyan convicted of blowing up a jetliner over Lockerbie in Scotland. Victims' relatives in Europe and the United States are outraged, and U.S. government officials including President Barack Obama have expressed their irritation. FBI Director Robert Mueller called the move a "mockery of the rule of law."

Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill decided to release the prisoner because he has prostate cancer. MacAskill was grilled for that decision by Scotland's parliamentarians Monday.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has also come under fire for his refusal to comment on the actual release. He has, however, said that he was "repulsed" by the welcome given to al-Megrahi -- crowds cheered upon his return home.

"My first thoughts have been with the families of the victims in the Lockerbie bombing," Brown said Tuesday in London. "I was both angry and repulsed by the reception that a convicted bomber guilty of a huge terrorist crime received on his return."

Al-Megrahi in 2001 was sentenced to 27 years in prison for killing 270 people (including 189 Americans) on board Pan Am Flight 103, which flew from New York to London on Dec. 21, 1988. The man has always pledged he is innocent.

Victims' relatives in the United States are outraged because they believe the release was influenced by London to pay back Libya for some lucrative bilateral energy deals.

At least indications for this are on the table: The Guardian reports that Brown sent a letter to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi that mentioned details of the release some six weeks ago; and Gadhafi's son, Seif al-Islam al-Gadhafi, said in a television interview that the prisoner's release was "always on the negotiating table" when deals about giving Britain greater access to Libya's oil and gas resources were discussed.

Brown denied that London has had a hand in the release.

"It was a matter over which we couldn't interfere," he said. "I don't think what has happened will undermine our relationship with Israel or the U.S. or other countries. Our determination to fight terrorism is clear."

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