Scotland released the "Lockerbie bomber" on compassionate grounds Thursday, allowing him to go back to Libya despite American protests that mercy should not be shown to the man responsible for the deaths of 270 people, most of them Americans. Scotland's Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said Abdel Baset al-Megrahi's condition had deteriorated from prostate cancer.
According to the AP, Al-Megrahi had only served some eight years of a life sentence. "Our belief dictates that justice be served but mercy be shown," MacAskill said, adding that al-Megrahi "be released on compassionate grounds and be allowed to return to Libya to die."
"Some hurts can never heal, some scars can never fade," MacAskill said. "Those who have been bereaved cannot be expected to forget, let alone forgive ... However, Mr. al-Megrahi now faces a sentence imposed by a higher power."
Al-Megrahi, 57, was convicted in 2001 of participating in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 on Dec. 21, 1988. He was sentenced to life in prison. The airliner blew up as it flew over Scotland.
The former Libyan intelligence agent was sentenced to serve a minimum of 27 years in a Scottish prison. But a 2007 review of his case found grounds for an appeal of his conviction, and many in Britain believe he is innocent.
The White House stated Thursday it "deeply regrets" the decision to free al-Megrahi. "As we have expressed repeatedly to officials of the government of the United Kingdom and to Scottish authorities, we continue to believe that Megrahi should serve out his sentence in Scotland," the White House said in a statement. "On this day, we extend our deepest sympathies to the families who live every day with the loss of their loved ones."