It was the worst terrorist attack in Britain’s history, the deadliest assault on U.S. civilians until 9/11 and a political powder keg that roiled governments around the world. On Dec. 21, 1988, a bomb exploded in the forward cargo hold of Pan Am Flight 103, a jetliner flying from London to New York. Within less than a minute, the Boeing 747 splintered into thousands of pieces and fell 31,000 feet, smashing down in the village of Lockerbie, Scotland. The impact killed 11 villagers and destroyed 21 homes. None of the 259 people on board the aircraft survived.
On August 21, 2009 Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi was released from the Prison where he had been serving a life sentence. Because he supposedly had less than three months to live, he had been sent home to Libya to die. Under pressure from Great Britain, Scottish courts were forced to show more mercy to al-Megrahi than he showed to the 270 people he killed.
Four months later, al-Megrahi is still alive, well at least we think so. You see the Lockerbie terrorist who is supposed to be in phone contact with his Scottish “parole officers” has disappeared. The Libyan government says they don’t know where he is either.
Politicians on both sides of the Atlantic and relatives of the 270 people who died in the 1988 bombing expressed anger about al-Megrahi’s disappearance. Richard Baker, Labour’s justice spokesman in the Scottish Parliament, said the whole affair was turning into a shambles and putting Scotland’s reputation at risk. “This flags up just how ludicrous it is that East Renfrewshire Council, a local council thousands of miles away from Libya, is responsible for supervising al-Megrahi’s conditions of licence,” he said.
Eliot Engel, a New York congressman, said: “I think it was a tremendous mistake to let him out in the first place. I don’t think a convicted terrorist has any integrity to abide by any type of agreement.”
Relatives of the victims were furious in August when Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish Justice Secretary, released al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds because he was expected to die of prostate cancer within three months.
On Sunday evening The Times called at the bomber’s home in suburban Tripoli. A policeman sitting on a plastic chair outside was asked to deliver a message to al-Megrahi. He spoke no English, but indicated that al-Megrahi was not there.
The next day The Times visited the Tripoli Medical Centre where alMegrahi was treated soon after his return to Libya. The receptionists said he had left the hospital some time ago.
Back at al-Megrahi’s home, there was no sign of activity. One of three security officers sitting in a grey Mercedes car outside said: “They’ve all gone.” He refused to elaborate.
Alerted by The Times, Jonathan Hinds, of East Renfrewshire Council, tried to telephone al-Megrahi at his home yesterday. He spoke to a Libyan man who said al-Megrahi was too ill to speak to him.
Mr Hinds has called al-Megrahi every other Tuesday since August, and has always been able to speak to him. Yesterday was not one of the regular Tuesdays, so al-Megrahi would not have been expecting a call.
“We will continue to attempt to call Mr Megrahi tomorrow and will then consider the situation,” a council spokesman said. If there were grounds for suspecting al-Megrahi was breaching the terms of his release, “we would report that to the Scottish Government and it would be up to them to decide what action to take”.
It is entirely possible that al-Megrahi was too ill to speak. Libyan doctors have sent monthly reports on his health to Scottish officials, but these have been kept private. Al-Megrahi has not been seen in public since September 9, when he briefly met a delegation of African politicians at the Tripoli Medical Centre. He was in a wheelchair, said nothing and coughed repeatedly. Observers said he looked frail. His older brother, Mohammed, has told The Times that al-Megrahi had been examined by Italian cancer specialists and that he was receiving his fourth dose of chemotherapy. He asked that he be left alone.
Tony Kelly, al-Megrahi’s Scottish lawyer, refused to discuss his client, and the British Embassy in Tripoli had no comment, but other British sources were adamant that al-Megrahi was terminally ill.
Even so, Bill Aitken, the Scottish Conservative justice spokesman, called for an immediate investigation. He said: “This is outrageous and there will be intense anger that Britain’s biggest mass murderer appears to be able to disappear.”