Image: Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi
AFP - Getty Images
Abdel Baset Ali al-Megrahi, seen here in August 2009, is the only person convicted in the Lockerbie bombing. staff and news service reports
updated 12/9/2010 5:44:30 AM ET 2010-12-09T10:44:30

The Libyan former intelligence agent convicted of the Lockerbie bombing is in a coma and close to death, according to reports Thursday.

Britain controversially released Abdel Baset Ali al-Megrahi on Aug. 20, 2009, sparking jubilation in Libya but roiling relations between London and Washington.

The U.K. government said it freed the 58-year-old on compassionate grounds because he was suffering from terminal prostate cancer.

Relatives told Britain's Sky News that al-Megrahi has been in a coma for about a week.

"He is on life support and has been for some days. Many people have been waiting for him to die," a source close to his family told the broadcaster. "That day is coming very soon. Every day, his loved ones expect it to be his last."

Britain's Daily Telegraph quoted Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi as saying al-Megrahi's health has "deteriorated badly." Citing unnamed sources, the newspaper said it appeared unlikely that the bomber would be alive to see the Dec. 21 anniversary of the 1988 attack on Pan Am Flight 103.

The release of al-Megrahi, the only man convicted in the bombing, fueled anger in the U.S. as 189 of the 270 victims were American.

A cache of cables from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli describing the run-up to the decision to free al-Megrahi was released Wednesday by WikiLeaks .

The documents indicate that the British government feared a furious Libyan reaction if al-Megrahi wasn't set free and expressed relief when they learned that he would be released on compassionate grounds.

Critics of the decision on both sides of the Atlantic have alleged that British officials were motivated by commercial interests — including those of energy company BP PLC — when they moved to free al-Megrahi. 

While officials here have always stressed that al-Megrahi was released because of his terminal cancer, the cables show the Brits were keenly aware that they faced a hugely damaging backlash if they didn't do as the Libyans wanted.

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British officials have long acknowledged that commercial interests — as well the desire to deepen anti-terrorism cooperation — played a role in the U.K.-Libyan prisoner transfer agreement which first raised the prospect of al-Megrahi's release.

But they have always stressed that the decision to release al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds was made independent of that deal, and that, in any case, officials in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh had the final say on whether to set him free.

Scotland has insisted that its decision was made on humanitarian grounds alone, although one cable does suggest that Libya tried to lean on the Scottish Executive to do its bidding.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: Medical records scrutinized as Lockerbie bomber lives on


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