Police and investigators look at what remains of the flight deck of Pan Am 103 on a field in Lockerbie, Scotland, in December 1988.
updated 8/14/2009 9:49:49 AM ET 2009-08-14T13:49:49

Lawyers for the Lockerbie bomber say he is abandoning his second appeal against his conviction for the December 1988 attack as Scottish officials consider his request to be sent home to Libya.

British media reports said Thursday that Abdel Baset Ali al-Megrahi will soon be freed on compassionate grounds because he is terminally ill with cancer.

The possibility of an imminent release has reignited the fierce debate about whether justice has been done for victims of the attack that killed 270 people — most of them Americans.

The Scottish government dismissed the reports by Sky News and BBC television that he would be released next week as speculation and said Scotland's justice minister had yet to review all case information before deciding whether to release al-Megrahi. They are also considering a motion to allow him to serve out his life sentence in Libya.

U.S. National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said he had no reason to believe Scotland had made a decision — and took the opportunity to restate U.S. opposition to his early release.

Anger over a possible release
Al-Megrahi, a former Libyan secret service agent, is the sole person convicted for the December 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie.

He was arrested in 1991 in Libya, held under house arrest until handed over in 1998 and convicted in 2001 by a special Scottish court set held at Kamp van Zeist in the Netherlands. His co-accused Amin Khalifa Fhimah was acquitted, but al-Megrahi was sentenced to life in prison.

He unsuccessfully appealed immediately after the trial. Many in the U.K. had been looking forward to al-Megrahi's second appeal to find out more about the bombing.

Compassion for al-Megrahi
"Other people and other countries were involved in this," said the Rev. John Mosey, from Worcestershire, England, who lost his daughter Helga, 19. "We should show him some Christian compassion."

Since al-Megrahi's conviction, the dynamics of the relationship between Libya and the West have changed.

Gadhafi engineered a rapprochement with his former critics following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He renounced terrorism and voluntarily dismantled Libya's secret program to develop nuclear weapons — earning commitments from Britain and the United States to work together to contain the threat of international terrorism.

But the possibility that al-Megrahi could leave his Scottish prison exposed long-standing disagreements between victims' families.

Kathleen Flynn, of Montville, N.J., told the BBC that "it is terrible to think that someone who was responsible for the bombing could be released on compassionate grounds."

"This is a man who showed no compassion for the 270 people he blew up over Scotland," said Flynn, who's son J.P. was onboard Flight 103.

The spokesman for a group of British relatives offered an opposing view, saying studies of the trial and verdict suggested there was not enough evidence to convict the Libyan.

"I would be delighted if he went home to his family, as it is inhumane to keep him locked up," said Jim Swire, whose 24-year-old daughter, Flora, was on the flight. "Everything points to a miscarriage of justice" in the case, he added.

More on: Lockerbie | Libya

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