Scotland defends Megrahi’s release

LONDON: The Scottish government has defended its decision to free the Lockerbie bomber in the face of a blistering attack from the head of the FBI and

criticism today from opponents at home.

Robert Mueller, the head of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, said in a strongly worded letter to the Scottish justice minister that releasing Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi “gave comfort to terrorists around the world”. Mueller said the decision to free Megrahi, who has terminal cancer, on compassionate grounds made a “mockery of justice.” But the Scottish government hit back, saying the decision to release Megrahi had been reached on the basis of Scotland’s due process, clear evidence, and the recommendations from the parole board and prison governor.” “Compassionate release is not part of the US justice system but it is part of Scotland’s,” a government spokesman said.

The Lockerbie case has personal resonance for Mueller, a former prosecutor who played a major role in investigating the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over the Scottish town in which 270 people died. The majority were Americans.

Criticism of the decision also came from Scotland’s former first minister Jack McConnell, who said it was a “grave error of judgement.” “The way in which the decision has been made and the decision itself have damaged the reputation of the Scottish justice system,” McConnell told the BBC.

“It’s damaged that reputation, but much more significantly it’s also damaged the reputation of Scotland internationally.” McConnell is a member of the Labour party, whose administration preceded the current one formed by the Scottish National Party. The current first minister, Alex Salmond, said he “clearly disagreed” with the letter from the head of the FBI.