EDINBURGH, Scotland (AP) – Two British broadcasters reported Thursday that Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi would likely be freed from prison on compassionate grounds, but Scotland’s government denied any such decision had been made.
The government dismissed the reports by Sky News nor BBC television as speculation, and said the region’s justice minister had yet to review all case information before deciding whether al-Megrahi should be released from a Scottish prison. The former Libyian secret service agent is terminally ill with cancer.
Neither Sky News nor BBC cited sources for their reports. “The decision will be made next week,” Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill told Scottish Television late Wednesday.
Al-Megrahi is serving a life sentence for the bombing of Pan Am 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in December 1988. The attack killed 270 people, most of them Americans.
His legal team has sought his release on compassionate grounds in the past, and it has made a separate request that he be allowed to serve the rest of his sentence in a Libyan jail.
The BBC said al-Megrahi’s release was influenced by the hope that he could be back on Libyan soil in time for Ramadan next week.
Victims’ families were divided over the news of al-Megrahi’s possible release.
Susan Cohen, whose 20-year-old daughter Theodora died in the attack, called the idea “simply horrible.”
“I’m sick of hearing about compassion and sympathy,” she told Sky News. “If you send him back, he’ll be a hero.”
The spokesman for a group of some of the British relatives
offered an opposing view.
“I am someone who does not believe he is guilty,” said Dr. Jim Swire, whose 24-year-old daughter Flora was on the flight. “The sooner he is back with his family, the better.”
“If it’s true that he is to be returned on compassionate grounds, then that would be more to Scotland’s credit than returning him under the prisoner transfer agreement.”