Image: Abdel Baset al-Megrahi on July 26
Reuters TV  /  Reuters
Abdel Baset al-Megrahi sits in a wheelchair during a pro-government rally in Tripoli in this image taken from a July 26 video which aired on Libyan state television.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 8/29/2011 5:00:14 PM ET 2011-08-29T21:00:14

The former Libyan intelligence officer convicted in the 1988 Lockerbie plane bombing is close to death and slipping in and out of consciousness, his family said Monday, a week after the regime that protected him was ousted from power.

Abdel Baset al-Megrahi was the only person convicted for the bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 people. He was released from a Scottish prison on humanitarian grounds in 2009, only eight years into a life sentence, after doctors predicted he would die of prostate cancer within three months.

Many victims' families were infuriated by his release. That fury only grew when he returned to a hero's welcome in Libya, remained alive long past those doctors' predictions and even appeared at a recent pro-Gadhafi rally. The downfall of the Gadhafi regime spurred calls from some in the United States and Europe that he be returned to prison.

The Obama administration has asked the rebels to review his case, with an eye toward potentially expelling him if he does not die in the meantime, a U.S. official said Monday.

Washington has asked rebel officials to "take a hard look at what it thinks ought to happen with Mr. Megrahi, and it is committed to do that," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.

"This is a guy with blood on his hands, the lives of innocents. Libya itself under Gadhafi made a hero of this guy. Presumably, a new, free, democratic Libya would have a different attitude toward a convicted terrorist," Nuland said.

Video: Lockerbie bomber in coma, near death (on this page)

But First Minister Alex Salmond, head of the semiautonomous Scottish government, told reporters Monday that only his administration could demand al-Megrahi's extradition — and that it did not intend to do so. Al-Megrahi has abided by the conditions set upon his release, Salmond said, including keeping Scottish authorities updated on his medical status and not committing any new crimes.

"We have never had and do not have any intention of asking for the extradition of Mr. al-Megrahi," he said, adding that calls by others for al-Megrahi's return "have no bearing on this issue."

He suggested that those calling for al-Megrahi's return to jail instead allow the bomber "to die in peace."

Libya's rebel leaders, who are scrambling to replace Gadhafi's regime with a government of their own, initially said they would not deport al-Megrahi or any other Libyan, then softened their stance, saying that only the future elected government could deal with such issues.

But the question of his fate is likely to be the first of many thorny foreign policy issues that rebel leaders will have to navigate as they chart Libya's future course. While trying to extend their control over a vast desert nation of 6 million people with few working institutions, they'll have to address the legacy of Gadhafi's four decades of belligerent relations with much of the world.

The Lockerbie saga began when a bomb packed into a suitcase exploded inside Pan Am Flight 103 as it flew over Scotland, killing 270 people, including many American college students flying home for Christmas. The bombing, which scattered flaming wreckage onto the small town of Lockerbie and killed 11 people on the ground, became one of the most vivid scenes of terrorism of that era, and helped ensure that Libya remained an international pariah state.

After al-Megrahi's conviction brought some semblance of closure to the case, his release stirred up intense emotions once again for the victims.

Critics have long suspected the move was a British attempt to improve relations with oil-rich Libya.

After the collapse of Gadhafi's regime, two New York senators asked the rebels to hold al-Megrahi fully accountable for the bombing.

The rebels appeared to be caught off guard by the questions and modified their response several times.

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Rebel Justice Minister Mohammed al-Alagi told journalists in Tripoli on Sunday that no Libyans would be deported.

"We will not hand over any Libyan citizen. It was Gadhafi who handed over Libyan citizens," he said.

He took a more nuanced stance Monday, saying the decision to release al-Megrahi was made by a "sovereign government" that had not requested his return. He also said such issues could only be dealt with after a new Libyan government is in place.

"We are in the process of liberating Libya and rebuilding it anew," he said. "Dealing with this issue will fall to a national elected government."

Information Minister Mahmoud Shammam acknowledged that the issue "is very important to some of our Western allies," adding that it would be dealt with according to "international rules and standards."

While the rebels have yet to articulate a foreign policy, it will doubtless be more conciliatory toward the West than Gadhafi's. Rebel leaders are keenly aware that many of their military advances in the six-month civil war were facilitated by NATO airstrikes on Gadhafi's better-equipped and trained forces.

While al-Megrahi has not been seen publicly in months, his brother said Monday that he was terminally sick and seldom even conscious.

"He is between life and death, so what difference would prison make?" Abdel-Nasser al-Megrahi said, standing outside the family's house in an upscale Tripoli neighborhood.

He described his brother as being in a coma, occasionally waking and asking for his mother.

"It is natural for him to be with his family and his mother," said the brother. "Anyone, either Libyan or Scottish, would have mercy."

He declined to let reporters see his brother.

Al-Megrahi's whereabouts were first reported by CNN, which reported Sunday that it found him at a palatial house in an upmarket part of Tripoli, guarded by at least six security cameras and attended to by concerned relatives.

Al-Megrahi was described by CNN correspondent Nic Robertson, who went inside the house, as "a shell of the man that he was, far sicker than he appeared before ... at death's door."

Story: US senators ask Libyan rebels to imprison the Lockerbie bomber

During the visit, the alleged ex-Libyan intelligence agent apparently was unconscious in bed. Al-Megrahi's relatives said he was being kept alive with oxygen and a fluid drip, had stopped eating and occasionally lapsed into a coma, CNN reported.

Britain's Sky News also reported that al-Megrahi's cancer drugs had been stolen during the uprising.

Scottish officials overseeing the parole of al-Megrahi said Monday they had been in contact with his family and confirmed the convicted bomber's "condition is consistent with someone suffering from terminal prostate cancer."

Little is known about al-Megrahi. At his trial, he was described as the "airport security" chief for Libyan intelligence, and witnesses reported him negotiating deals to buy equipment for Libya's secret service and military.

But he became a central figure — some would say pawn — in Libya's falling out with the West and then its re-emergence from the cold.

To Libyans, he was a folk hero, an innocent scapegoat used by the West to demonize their country. The Gadhafi regime said it handed him over to Scotland in 1999 only to restore Libya's relations with the world.

In the months ahead of his release, Tripoli put enormous pressure on Britain, warning that if the ailing al-Megrahi died in a Scottish prison, all British commercial activity in Libya would be cut off and a wave of demonstrations would erupt outside British embassies, according to leaked U.S. diplomatic memos. The Libyans even implied "that the welfare of U.K. diplomats and citizens in Libya would be at risk," the memos say.

He was greeted as a hero upon his return to Libya, and appeared on state TV seated next to Gadhafi at a government rally early in the civil war.

But in the eyes of many Americans and Europeans, he was a foot-soldier for Gadhafi's regime. Tony Blair, Britain's prime minister at the time of the conviction, said the verdict "confirms our long-standing suspicion that Libya instigated the Lockerbie bombing."

To the end, al-Megrahi insisted he was innocent. Gadhafi's regime denied any role in the bombing. Even some relatives of victims have had doubts over his guilt — with many theorizing that Iran had planted the bomb.

In Washington, State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland said Monday the U.S. stands by the position it took two years ago when Megrahi was released on compassionate grounds.

"Secretary (HIllary) Clinton has made it clear, we believe he should still be behind bars, that the decision to release him was...not the right decision to make," Nuland said.

The Associated Press and msnbc.com staff contributed to this report.

Video: Lockerbie bomber in coma, near death

  1. Closed captioning of: Lockerbie bomber in coma, near death

    >> we have news from libya this morning from family of convicted lockerbie bomber tells nbc news he is in a coma and without medicine. nbc's stephanie gosk is there with more. stephanie, good morning.

    >> reporter: good morning, natalie. that's right. we spoke with his son. he's concerned his father is in a coma. he told us that looters broke into hisso house and stole his medicine. we were at the house this morning and we didn't see any signs of looters. he was of tnl person convicted of the 1988 bombing of panam flight 183 that killed the passengers and crew over lockerbie, scotland. two years after his release he is still alive. the man who orchestrated one of the worse air attacks in history is living here in this gated upscale community in tripoli. his brother spoke to the press gathered outside the house. the doctors, he says, are not allowing visitors, but cnn managed to capture these images showing someone believed to be looked up to life support . the scottish government released him in 2009 . doctors said he would soon die of cancer. at home in libya he was greeted like a hero and met personally by gadhafi's son. now that the government is topped new york centers asked the national council to return the former intelligence officer to fully account for the attack that killed 189 americans. but with him now possibly on responsive and near death, remaining questions about panam 103 may remain unanswered. the ntc leaders who are not even in tripoli yet said they won't be extraditing him because they believe that's tantamount of a government ears be government's betrayal to one of its citizens.

    >>> wall street is open for business again today. cnbc's mandy

Photos: Libya's uprising against Gadhafi

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  1. People gathering in Benghazi, Libya in mid-February of 2011 as protest against the rule of Moammar Gadhafi grew, in part triggered by the arrest of human rights activist Fethi Tarbel. EDITOR'S NOTE: The content, date and location of this image could not be independently verified. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Buildings at the entrance to a security forces compound burn in Benghazi, Feb. 21, 2011. Libyan protesters celebrated in the streets of Benghazi, claiming control of the country's second largest city after bloody fighting, and anti-government unrest spread to the capital with clashes in Tripoli's main square for the first time. (Alaguri / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi speaks on state television. Feb. 22, and signalled his defiance over a mounting revolt against his 41-year rule. (Libya TV via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Libyan U.N. ambassador Shalgham is embraced by Dabbashi, Libya's deputy U.N. Ambassador after denouncing Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi for the first time during a Security Council meeting at the headquarters of the United Nations in New York on Feb. 25. Shalgam, a longtime friend and member of Gadhafi's inner circle, had previously refused to denounce Gadhafi. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Thousands of Libyans gather for the Muslim Friday prayers outside the courthouse in the eastern city of Benghazi on Feb. 25, 2011. Perhaps 8,000 people gathered for the midday prayers with a local imam, who delivered his sermon alongside the coffins of three men killed in the violent uprising that routed Gadhafi loyalists from Benghazi. (Gianluigi Guercia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Rebels hold a young man at gunpoint, who they accuse of being a loyalist to Gadhafi, between the towns of Brega and Ras Lanuf, March 3, 2011. (Goran Tomasevic / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Pro-Gadhafi soldiers and supporters gather in Green Square in Tripoli, March 6, 2011. Thousands of Moammar Gadhafi's supporters poured into the streets of Tripoli, waving flags and firing their guns in the air in the Libyan leader's main stronghold, claiming overnight military successes. (Ben Curtis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Rebel fighters jump away from shrapnel during heavy shelling by forces loyal to Gadhafi near Bin Jawad, March 6. Rebels in east Libya regrouped and advanced on Bin Jawad after Gadhafi forces ambushed rebel fighters and ejected them from the town earlier in the day. (Goran Tomasevic / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Libyan rebel fighters take cover as a bomb dropped by an airforce fighter jet explodes near a checkpoint on the outskirts of the oil town of Ras Lanuf on March 7, 2011. (Marco Longari / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Libyan rebels fire rockets at government troops on the frontline. March 9, 2011 near Ras Lanuf. The rebels pushed back government troops westward towards Ben Jawat. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Libyan government soldiers aboard tanks at the west gate of the town Ajdabiyah March 16, 2011. Libya's army pounded an opposition-held city in the country's west and battled fighters trying to block its advance on a rebel bastion in the east amid flagging diplomatic efforts to end the bloodshed. EDITOR'S NOTE: Picture taken on a government guided tour. (Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Libyan people in Benghazi celebrate after the United Nations Security Council authorized a no-fly zone over Libya, March 18. Thousands of Libyans erupted in cheers as the news flashed on a giant screen in besieged Benghazi late March 17. After weeks of discussion, the UN Security Council banned flights in Libya's airspace and authorized "all necessary means" to implement the ban, triggering intervention by individual countries and organizations like NATO. (EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A picture combo shows a Libyan jet bomber crashing after being apparently shot down in Benghazi on March 19, 2011 as the Libyan rebel stronghold came under attack. Air strikes and sustained shelling of the city's south sent thick smoke into the sky. (Patrick Baz / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Residents of Benghazi flee the city along the road toward Tobruk, in an attempt to escape fighting in their city, March 19, 2011. Gaddafi's troops pushed into the outskirts of Benghazi, a city of 670,000 people, in an apparent attempt to pre-empt Western military intervention expected after a meeting of Western and Arab leaders in Paris. (Reuters TV) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Vehicles belonging to forces loyal to Gadhafi explode after an air strike by coalition forces, along a road between Benghazi and Ajdabiyah March 20, 2011. (Goran Tomasevic / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. A rebel fighter carries his weapon outside the northeastern Libyan town of Ajdabiyah, March 21, 2011. A wave of air strikes hit Gaddafi's troops around Ajdabiyah, a strategic town in the barren, scrub of eastern Libya that rebels aim to retake and where their fighters said they need more help. (Finbarr O'reilly / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. A Libyan rebel prays next to his gun on the frontline of the outskirts of the city of Ajdabiya, south of Benghazi, March 21, 2011. The international military intervention in Libya is likely to last "a while," a top French official said, echoing Moammar Gadhafi's warning of a long war ahead as rebels, energized by the strikes on their opponents. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Libyan rebels retreat as mortars from Gadhafi's forces are fired on them near the outskirts of the city of Ajdabiya, March 22, 2011. Coalition forces bombarded Libya for a third straight night, targeting the air defenses and forces of Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi, stopping his advances and handing some momentum back to the rebels, who were on the verge of defeat. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. A Libyan man is comforted by hospital staff as he reacts after identifying his killed brother in the morgue of the Jalaa hospital in Benghazi, March 22, 2011. His brother was killed earlier in fighting around the city of Ajdabiya. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Volunteer fighters training at a rebel army training camp in Benghazi, March 29, 2011. Pro-government forces intensified their attacks on Libyan rebels, driving them back over ground they had taken in recent days. The rebels had reached Nawfaliya, but pulled back to Bin Jawad. (Manu Brabo / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Smoke billows as seven explosions were reported in the tightly-guarded residence of leader Moammar Gadhafi and military targets in the suburb of Tajura. Two explosions also rocked the Libyan capital Tripoli on March 29, 2011, as NATO-led coalition aircraft had been seen in the skies over the capital. (Mahmud Turkia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. A Libyan rebel urges people to leave, as shelling from Gadhafi's forces started landing on the frontline outside of Bin Jawaad, 93 miles east of Sirte, March 29, 2011. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. General Abdel-Fattah Younis, former interior minister in the Gadhafi regime who defected in the early days of the uprising, is greeted by Libyan rebels at the front line near Brega, April 1, 2011. (Altaf Qadri / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Libyan men show the V-sign for victory as they stand on the deck of a Turkish ship arriving from Misrata to the port of Benghazi who were evacuated along with others the injured in the fighting between rebel and Gadhafi forces, April 03, 2011. The Turkish vessel took hundreds of people wounded in the Libyan uprising for treatment in Turkey from the two cities of Misrata and Benghazi. (Mahmud Hams / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. A wounded prisoner from Gadhafi's forces is transported in the back of a pickup truck by rebels, on the way to a hospital for treatment, half way between Brega and Ajdabiya, April 9, 2011. Rebels say they took two prisoners after a clash with soldiers near Brega's university outside the government-controlled oil facilities, marking a noticeable advance by rebels. (Ben Curtis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. In this image taken from TV, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi makes a pubic appearance in Tripoli, April 14 2011. Gadhafi defiantly waved at his supporters while being driven around Tripoli while standing up through the sunroof of a car. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. A rebel fighter celebrates as his comrades fire a rocket barrage toward the positions of government troops April 14, 2011, west of Ajdabiyah. (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Gadhafi supporters hold copies of his portrait as they gather at the Bab Al Azizia compound in Tripoli, April 15, 2011. Rebels held much of eastern Libya by mid-April, while Gadhafi controlled the west, with the front line shifting back and forth in the middle. (Pier Paolo Cito / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Doctors work on a baby who suffered cuts from shrapnel that blasted through the window of his home during fighting in the besieged city of Misrata, April 18, 2011. Thousands of civilians are trapped in Misrata as fighting continues between Libyan government forces that have surrounded the city and anti-government rebels there. The Libyan government has come under international criticism for using heavy weapons and artillery in its assault on Misrata. (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. MISRATA, LIBYA - APRIL 20: Libyan rebel fighters discuss how to dislodge some ensconced government loyalist troops who were firing on them from the next room during house-to-house fighting on Tripoli Street in downtown Misrata April 20, 2011 in Misrata, Libya. Rebel forces assaulted the downtown positions of troops loyal to Libyan strongman Moammar Gaddafi April 20, briefly forcing them back over a key bridge and trapping several in a building that fought back instead of surrendering, firing on the rebels in the building and seriously wounding two of them during the standoff. Fighting continues between Libyan government forces that have surrounded the city and anti-government rebels ensconced there. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images) (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Libyan rebel fighters carry out a comrade wounded during an effort to dislodge some ensconced government loyalist troops who were firing on them from a building during house-to-house fighting on Tripoli Street in downtown Misrata April 20, 2011. Rebel forces assaulted the downtown positions of troops loyal to Gaddafi, briefly forcing them back over a key bridge and trapping several in a building where they fought back instead of surrendering. Two rebels were seriously wounded during the standoff. (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Rebels tread carefully as they prepare to invade a house where soldiers from the pro-government forces had their base in the Zwabi area of Misrata on April 24, 2011. (Andre Liohn / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Libyans inspect damage and an unexploded missile at the Gadhafi family compound in a residential area of Tripoli, May 1, 2011. Gadhafi escaped a NATO missile strike in Tripoli that killed one of his sons and three young grandchildren. EDITOR'S NOTE: Photo taken on a government guided tour. (Darko Bandic / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Moammar Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, center, leaves the funeral of his brother Saif Al-Arab Gadhafi, who was killed during air strikes by coalition forces, at the El Hani cemetery in Tripoli, May 2, 2011. Crowds chanting Gadhafi's name gathered in Tripoli for the funeral of his son and three grandchildren. (Louafi Larbi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Fleeing migrants and Libyans are seen on board an International Organization of Migration ship leaving the port of Misrata on May 4, 2011, as Gadhafi forces continued to pound the city. (Christophe Simon / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Libyan men watch as the main fuel depot in Libya's third largest city, Misrata, burns following a bombing by Gadhafi's forces on May 7, 2011. Libyan regime forces shelled fuel depots in Misrata and dropped mines into its harbor using helicopters bearing the Red Cross emblem, rebels said as they braced for a ground assault. (Ricardo Garcia Vilanova / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Libyan rebels celebrate near the airport of Misrata on May 11, 2011 after capturing the city's strategic airport following a fierce battle with Moammar Gadhafi's troops -- their first significant advance in weeks. (Ricardo Garcia Vilanova / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Women react after a protest against Moammar Gadhafi's regime in Benghazi, Libya, on May 16, 2011. Luis Moreno-Ocampo, prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, announced that he would seek arrest warrants against the leader of Libya, Moammar Gadhafi, his son Seif al-Islam and the country's intelligence chief on charges of crimes against humanity. (Rodrigo Abd / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Tripoli street in Misrata is seen from the terrace of a building used by Gadhafi’s snipers before the rebels took control of the area on May 22, 2011. The weeks-long siege of the city ended in mid-May and Tripoli Street was the site of the fiercest fighting in the battle and a turnin point in the war. (Rodrigo Abd / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. A rebel fighter gives water to a soldier loyal to Gadhafi after he was wounded and then captured near the front line, west of Misrata on May 23, 2011. (Rodrigo Abd / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. An uncle, left, prays over the body of one and a half year-old Mohsen Ali al-Sheikh during a washing ritual during the funeral at his family's house in Misrata, May 27, 2011. The child was killed by a gunshot during clashes between rebels and pro-Gadhafi forces earlier in the day. (Wissam Saleh / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. The body of a drowned refugee floats near a capsized ship which was transporting an estimated 850 refugees from Libya, approximately 22 miles north of the Tunisian islands of Kerkennah, June 4, 2011. At least 578 survived the sinking. (Lindsay Mackenzie / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. A photograph taken from a video by a National Transitional Council (NTC) fighter shows Mutassem Gadhafi, son of Moammar Gadhafi, drinking water and smoking a cigarette following his capture and shortly before his death, in Sirte, Oct. 20, 2011. (- / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. A photograph taken from mobile phone video of a National Transitional Council (NTC) fighter shows the capture of Moammar Gadhafi in Sirte on Oct. 20, 2011. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. This image provided by the Libyan Youth Group on Nov. 19, 2011, shows Seif al-Islam Gadhafi after he was captured near the Niger border with Libya. Moammar Gadhafi's son, the only wanted member of the ousted ruling family to remain at large, was captured as he traveled with aides in a convoy in Libya's southern desert. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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    Above: Slideshow (81) Conflict in Libya
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    Slideshow (34) Moammar Gadhafi through the years

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