Friday, 26 August 2011

Scottish officials still in dark as to whereabouts of Lockerbie bomber

[This is the headline over a report in today's edition of The Scotsman. It reads as follows:]

The Scottish justice secretary said officials are trying to contact Libyan rebel leaders as part of efforts to track down the Lockerbie bomber.

Kenny MacAskill said attempts are being made to reach the National Transitional Council (NTC) while fighting continues in Tripoli. Mr MacAskill released Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds two years ago after medical advice that the prisoner was three months from death. [RB: Three months from death was said to be a reasonable prognosis if he remained in prison in Scotland.]

As part of the terms, Megrahi is supposed to check in with officials at East Renfrewshire Council, but he has not been reached since fighting broke out in Tripoli. There have been growing calls in the US for Megrahi to be extradited there in the wake of the collapse of the Gaddafi regime.

But yesterday Mr MacAskill said: "Mr Megrahi is a Scottish prisoner. He's been released on licence in terms of the law that applies in Scotland.

"He remains a Scottish prisoner having been convicted by a Scottish court, albeit one that sat in the Netherlands, but it did so after the intervention of the United Nations, of Nelson Mandela and others, and he was tried by international agreement under the laws of Scotland."

He added: "There are obligations that go with him being a Scottish prisoner released on licence. But whilst we're in a war zone, which is accepted by everybody, I think we need to wait and see what happens there."

Asked if the Scottish Government is seeking contact with the NTC about Megrahi, Mr MacAskill said: "We're entering into communications. These matters are difficult, but we're seeking to make sure that we lock on to the authorities. But at present there is some doubt as to just which parts of Tripoli are controlled by whom. So, we seek to enter into discussions with the appropriate authorities."

He offered his support to council officials trying to contact Megrahi but said the "dust of battle" will have to settle before the picture is clear.

[The following, from an item posted yesterday on this blog, perhaps gives a more accurate picture than that painted above:]

A spokesman for the Scottish Executive said: “The next appointed date for scheduled contact with Al-Megrahi by the criminal justice social work service of East Renfrewshire Council is not for some time.

“He has not been in breach of his licence conditions to date, and if these circumstances were to change then that would be a matter for discussion with the new duly constituted authorities in Libya.

“As the Justice Secretary has said, we have already established a line of communication with the National Transitional Council in London.” A spokesman for Mr MacAskill added that Megrahi had never been under house arrest as part of his release conditions and was allowed to come and go from his property in Tripoli.

[A report in today's edition of The Herald contains the following:]

It is East Renfrewshire that will determine whether the convicted terrorist has breached the terms of his release licence. These include keeping in regular contact and producing monthly medical reports.

However, it is thought the Scottish Government would ensure the Libyan was recalled to prison, if it was deemed he had breached his licence. (...)

In the US, there are growing calls for Megrahi to be reincarcerated, with some senators and relatives of the bombing victims demanding his extradition to the US to stand trial there.

The Herald has been told that, on the ground in Libya, a race is now on between US and UK special forces to find and seize the convicted terrorist.

Meanwhile, former prime minister Gordon Brown has been rebuffed in his attempt to get a UK Government report on Megrahi changed.

In February, Sir Gus O’Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary, concluded the Labour Government did “all it could” to facilitate the Libyan’s release. In six strongly-worded letters Mr Brown insisted he “did not propose, initiate, lead, adopt, or even know of a policy called facilitation” in relation to Megrahi. But Sir Gus said Government papers showed “facilitation” was the policy agreed by UK ministers. He has refused to change his report.

[The following are extracts from a report to be found behind the paywall in today's edition of The Times:]

The Times twice went to al-Megrahi’s high-walled mansion in a war-torn area of Tripoli yesterday and was told first by his brother and then by his son that he had gone. They suggested that he was either at Tripoli central hospital or at his mother’s home near the Bab al-Aziziya compound, Colonel Gaddafi’s former stronghold. The Times visited both but he was not at either. His mother’s modest house was locked up and neighbours said that the family had left many days ago. (...)

Al-Megrahi’s son, Khalid, 25, said that he was afraid the rebel National Transitional Council would hand his father back to the Scottish authorities. When asked about those calling for his reimprisonment, he replied: “Shame on them. He’s a human being. He’s very sick. What’s the point of him going back? He will die, and they’re the ones who sent him back to Tripoli in the first place.”

Al-Megrahi’s brother, Abdul Nasser, 53, ridiculed the idea of his returning to a Scottish prison, saying that he would never survive the journey. He would not let The Times into the house.

Both insisted that al-Megrahi, 58, was a very sick man who now spent most of his time in bed. He could no longer go to the toilet alone, was fed by intravenous drip, found it hard to talk and used an oxygen mask. “Last month the doctor came and said his medicines didn’t work any more,” they said. (...)

Khalid al-Megrahi said that his father left for the hospital last Friday, accompanied by his nurse. “We don’t know if he’s still there or even alive. We can’t get through to him,” he said, adding that he might have gone on to his mother’s house.

A doctor who lives nearby told The Times: “Maybe the son’s a liar. Maybe they’ve just moved him to a safer place.”

[The paragraph that follows is taken from an editorial published yesterday on the website of The Washington Times. Comment seems superfluous:]

Regime change doesn’t end US focus on this North African nation. The United States has an interest in the fate of convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Mohmed Ali al-Megrahi, who was released from a British prison in 2009 on supposed humanitarian grounds after a faked cancer diagnosis claimed he had just weeks to live. Al-Megrahi was last seen on July 26 at a pro-Gadhafi rally. The murderer should not die in freedom.

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