Libya feted freed Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi on Saturday, ignoring Western fury at his hero’s welcome and poured oil on the fire by accusing Britain of seeking commercial advantage.
Libyan newspapers carried front-page photographs of the homecoming of Megrahi, the only person convicted of involvement in the deadly 1988 bombing of a Pan Am flight over the Scottish town of Lockerbie.
State-owned daily Al-Shams hailed “the victorious return of the hero” who was freed on compassionate grounds by Scottish authorities on Thursday in the face of terminal prostate cancer.
“The freed hostage has returned to his homeland and his family ... after 20 years of suffering, half as an accused person and half as someone unfairly convicted of a crime he did not commit,” the paper said.
At Megrahi’s home in the upmarket Damascus neighborhood of Tripoli, the man’s family was receiving well-wishers on Saturday in a lavish tent set up outside.
Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, who met Megrahi late on Friday, praised Scottish authorities for their “courage” in authorizing his release in the face of virulent opposition from the US government.
TV showed images of him embracing the convicted bomber.
FBI Director Robert Mueller sent a letter to Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill saying he was “outraged at the decision, blithely defended on the grounds of ‘compassion.’”
Mueller, who in 1991 was assistant attorney general in charge of the investigation of Megrahi, wrote in the letter on Friday that the decision to free Megrahi “gives comfort to terrorists.”
A Scottish government spokesman said the decision was reached following proper procedures and that Megrahi would die a convicted man.
“Compassionate release is not part of the US justice system, but it is part of Scotland’s,” he said.
“Mr MacAskill could not have consulted more widely. He spoke with the US families, the US attorney general, [US] Secretary of State [Hillary] Clinton and many others,” he said.
Qaddafi’s second son, Seif al-Islam, drew Britain’s ire by charging that London had long offered to review Megrahi’s incarceration in return for lucrative trade deals.