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U.S.: Fate of Lockerbie bomber up to Libyan rebel movement

From Jill Dougherty, CNN
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Lockerbie mastermind near death
  • Rebel movement should "take a hard look" at Lockerbie bomber, State Department says
  • Release of al Megrahi will be up to elected Libyan government, rebels say
  • Scottish authorities hit back at critics of the release
  • CNN tracks Abdelbeset al Megrahi to his Tripoli villa

Washington (CNN) -- The United States is looking to Libya's rebel movement to decide whether Lockerbie bomber Abdelbeset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi needs to return behind bars, the State Department said Monday.

CNN Senior International Correspondent Nic Robertson found al Megrahi under the care of his family in his palatial Tripoli villa Sunday, surviving on oxygen and an intravenous drip. The Scottish government has come under fire in recent years for its decision to release al Megrahi from prison in 2009 on the grounds that he had cancer and was not likely to live more than three months.

"Secretary (Hillary) Clinton has made clear, we believe (al Megrahi) should still be behind bars, that the decision to release was not the right decision to make," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters Monday.

She said the decision is now left to be made by the Libyan rebel movement, the National Transitional Council -- now fighting to quash the last pockets of resistance.

"We need to let them get their feet under themselves as a governing authority and then they have agreed that they will look at this," Nuland said. "We asked the (NTC) to, as soon as it can, take a hard look at what it thinks ought to happen with Mr. Megrahi and it has committed to do that.

"This is a new day in Libya. This is a guy with blood on his hands, the lives of innocents. Libya itself under (Moammar) Gadhafi made a hero of this guy. Presumably a new free democratic Libya would have a different attitude towards a convicted terrorist," Nuland added. "So it is in that spirit that the (NTC) will look at this case. I cannot speak to what decisions will be made."

Earlier Monday, the NTC said there would be no decision made on al Megrahi's fate until a newly elected government is established in the war-torn country.

Al Megrahi was freed from a prison in Scotland in 2009 after serving eight years of a life sentence for blowing up the Pan Am jet, killing all 259 on board and 11 in the town of Lockerbie below.

Doctors who had been treating him for prostate cancer gave him just three months to live, and he was released on compassionate grounds.

He received a hero's welcome in Tripoli, enraging many in the United States and Britain. And with the rebel sweep into Tripoli in recent days, politicians on both sides of the Atlantic have called for al Megrahi to be sent back to prison.

But the NTC told CNN Monday that the decision will be left to the future elected government of Libya. The statement appeared to back away from comments made a day earlier by NTC Justice Minister Mohammed al-Alagi, who said the rebels would not allow him to be extradited: "We will not give any Libyan citizen to the West."

Mahmoud Jibril, president of the executive bureau of the National Transitional Council, contacted CNN Monday to clarify what al-Alagi said.

"What Mr. Alagi was talking about was about a legal point," Jibril told CNN. "He was not talking about a policy or a position taken by the (National Transitional Council). So there is a misperception, a misinterpretation of the statement by Mr. Alagi.

"Mr. Alagi cannot make a policy statement on behalf of the (NTC) or on behalf of the Libyan people," Jibril added. "This will be left to the Libyan people to decide in the future. The (NTC) is an interim body and it cannot decide major issues."

He said "stability and order" in Libya is the top priority for the rebel movement.

Meanwhile, the Scottish government Monday took aim at critics of its decision to release the bomber.

"As has always been said, al Megrahi is dying of a terminal disease," said the Scottish government and the local council that monitors him since his release.

"Speculation about al Megrahi in recent days has been unhelpful, unnecessary and indeed ill-informed," the government and East Renfrewshire Council said in a statement.

The cancer-stricken former Libyan intelligence officer may be the last man alive who knows precisely who in the Libya government authorized the 1988 bombing.

Al Megrahi has lived far longer than expected. He made a public appearance with now-fugitive Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi in July, confined to a wheelchair. He has maintained his innocence.

With the rebels holding control of many parts of Tripoli, his care has been left up to his son and his mother.

"We just give him oxygen. Nobody gives us any advice," his son, Khaled al Megrahi, told CNN. "There is no doctor. There is nobody to ask. We don't have any phone line to call anybody."

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