Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence officer and the only person ever convicted in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, died today in his home in Tripoli. He succumbed to the prostate cancer that led Scottish authorities to release him on humanitarian grounds back in 2009. The move was part of a slow thawing of relations between the West and Libya’s former dictator Muammar Qaddafi aimed at opening up the country’s vast oilfields, though it ended up being a decision they regretted.
Arriving back in Libya, al-Megrahi received a warm embrace from Qaddafi’s onetime heir Saif al-Islam and a hero’s welcome from nationalistic crowds. Later, when the Arab Spring revolution plunged the country into civil war, a wheelchair-bound al-Megrahi was sometimes featured at pro-Qaddafi rallies, prompting British Foreign Secretary William Hague to describe his release as a “great mistake.”
Yet not everyone was convinced of al-Megrahi’s guilt. Dr. Jim Swire, father of one of the Lockerbie victims and a spokesperson for the grieving families right after the bombing, spoke to the BBC about meeting with the man dubbed the Lockerbie Bomber.
I’ve been satisfied for some years that this man had nothing to do with the murder of my [then 23-year-old] daughter. And I click my teeth every time I hear newscasters say the Lockerbie bomber has died. […] This is a sad day, the last time I met him in December we both knew we were saying good bye to each other. He was in a lot of pain.
He called on authorities to renew the search for whoever was really behind the bombing. But though the Qaddafi regime did take responsibility for this heinous act of terrorism and even paid $2.7 billion in restitution to victims’ families, its leaders are now mostly dead and its carefully maintained power structure decimated and turned to rubble. The truth may have permanently crumbled away with it.
This post has been updated throughout.