LISA MULLINS: I'm Lisa Mullins and this is The World. The Libyan intelligence agent convicted of planting the bomb that brought down a Pan American airliner in 1988 is back home in Libya. Abdelbaset al-Megrahi has been sentenced to life for what became known as the Lockerbie bombing. But today the Scottish justice minister let him go because al-Megrahi has terminal cancer. Al-Megrahi was the only person found guilty in the explosion aboard Pan Am flight 103. Two hundred fifty nine passengers, including 189 Americans, died. Also killed were 11 people in the Scottish village of Lockerbie where the planes wreckage fell. As The World's Laura Lynch reports today's decision to release al-Megrahi has infuriated people on both sides of the Atlantic.
LAURA LYNCH: The Scottish justice minister had been grappling with requests to release al-Megrahi for months. First it was the Libyan government applying to have him transferred to serve out his sentence in Tripoli. Then just a month ago al-Megrahi himself asked to be let go on compassionate grounds. Kenny MacAskill said no to the prisoner to the prisoner transfer but yes to letting him go because he's terminally ill, framing it as a moral choice.
KENNY MACASKILL: Our beliefs dictate that justice be served but mercy be shown. Compassion and mercy are upholding the beliefs that we seek to live by remaining true to our values as a people no matter the severity of the provocation or the atrocity perpetrated.
LYNCH: His words were met with fury from people like American Stephanie Bernstein ï¿½ her husband Michael died when the plane exploded.
STEPHANIE BERNSTEIN: I'm sick to my stomach. I feel ill and I'm very angry because I think that the government ï¿½ the UK government, the Scottish government, and the American government ï¿½ are only too happy to wash their hands of Megrahi.
LYNCH: The British government was indeed saying very little today, keeping a distance from the decision and the controversy surrounding it. But President Obama came down on the side of the many Americans who lost loved ones in the disaster.
BARACK OBAMA: We have been in contact with the Scottish government indicating that we objected to this. And we thought it was a mistake. We're now in contact with the Libyan government and want to make sure that if in fact this transfer has taken place that he's not welcomed back in some way, but instead should be under house arrest.
LYNCH: But from Lockerbie itself came entirely different views. Many of the families of the Scottish victims who died on the ground believe al-Megrahi isn't guilty ï¿½ that his trial was flawed. Jim Swire's daughter, Flora, was one of the victims. With the criminal case closed, with no chance that an appeal will uncover new evidence, Swire is asking for something else.
JIM SWIRE: Why have we been denied an inquiry for all these years and who's going to have the guts now to set up the sort of inquiry that has the teeth and the powers to investigate all this before we all die off the face of the planet.
LYNCH: There is one area where Swire and Stephanie Bernstein agree. They both believe there were others involved in the bombing ï¿½ that there's still much that isn't known. But Bernstein doesn't think any government is interested in opening up the case to further public scrutiny.
BERNSTEIN: By sending him back we've removed our opportunity to find out anything we might have been able to find out from him ï¿½ perhaps a deathbed confession. Now he's safe back in the arms ï¿½ or he will be ï¿½ of Gadaffi where no more truth will ever be found.
LYNCH: Bernstein calls Libyan president, Moammar Gadaffi the winner in all of this. Gadaffi has played a pivotal role in al-Megrahi's case. Critics say Britain was willing to play along because they now have business interests in the oil-rich country. Lawyer Saad Djebbar who represented Libya in the case hinted today's decision will strengthen ties.
SAAD DJEBBAR: I think it's a victory for common sense and fairness and it's a victory for Scotland's compassion and also it's a victory for the high interests of Britain. This will pave the way for total normalization with Libya.
LYNCH: Al al-Megrahi boarded the plane today his Scottish lawyers released a written statement on his behalf. In it al-Megrahi says he had the most to gain and nothing to lose in having the whole truth come out until he was diagnosed with cancer. Now doctors say he has only about three months to live. And the families of those who died say they still have a lifetime of painful questions that they fear will remain forever unanswered. For The World I'm Laura Lynch in London