Libya: Lockerbie bomber's health quickly worsening

TRIPOLI, Libya - September 1, 2009 The head of the Libyan State Information Agency, Majid al-Dursi, said Abdel Baset al-Megrahi is in the hospital and described him as "very sick."

"His health is deteriorating fast since he arrived," al-Dursi said. Asked how long al-Megrahi could still have to live, he answered: "Only God knows when it will be over. But he is dying now."

There was no way to independently verify his health, and it was not clear how long he has to live. Scottish officials released him from prison Aug. 20 on compassionate grounds due to his cancer, sparking an international uproar. At the time, Scottish officials said doctors had determined al-Megrahi had less than three months to live.

Television footage on Britain's Channel 4 that aired Sunday showed al-Megrahi in the hospital, breathing through an oxygen mask and propped up by pillows.

Al-Megrahi was the only person convicted of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed all 259 people on board the plane and 11 people on the ground.

His release and return to Libya where he was greeted warmly at the airport by hundreds of cheering supporters has led to outrage from many of the Lockerbie victims and questions about whether his release was secured in order to facilitate lucrative oil trade with Libya.

Both Britain and Scotland have denied that business had anything to do with allowing al-Megrahi to leave prison after completing only eight years of his life sentence. They have said they plan to publish correspondence on al-Megrahi's release Tuesday in an effort to fight those allegations.

The British media claimed over the weekend that the British government struck a deal with Libyan authorities to include al-Megrahi in a prisoner transfer agreement because it was considered to be in Britain's interests at a time when a major oil deal was being negotiated.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown denied that report, telling the Financial Times on Tuesday that the decision to release al-Megrahi rested with the Scottish government in Edinburgh. He also said he told Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi at the Group of 8 meetings in Italy in July that his administration had no role in the matter.

"I made it absolutely clear to him then that this was not a decision, the future and fate of Mr. al-Megrahi, that we as the United Kingdom could take," Brown was quoted as saying. "It was a matter for the Scottish Executive, and it was their decision, and their decision alone, that would decide it."

The release of al-Megrahi has been sharply criticized by victims' families in the United States, President Barack Obama and FBI director Robert Mueller.

Edinburgh, however, has defended the move, arguing that compassionate release is a standard part of Scottish justice for dying prisoners.

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