Monday, June 6, 2011

Wikileaks: Inside story of Megrahi's return home

Published Date: 06 June 2011
By Kenny Farquharson
COLONEL Muammar al-Gaddafi's motive for giving a hero's welcome to freed Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi is revealed today in secret US diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks and seen by The Scotsman.
The cables reveal that the regime's handling of the homecoming was heavily influenced by Col Gaddafi's simmering resentment towards the West over the case of six Bulgarian nurses freed from a Libyan jail in 2007.

The nurses had been jailed for life for allegedly infecting 400 Libyan children with the HIV virus. European Union diplomats negotiated their release - but then reneged on a deal that the nurses should serve the rest of their sentences in jail in Bulgaria.

Col Gaddafi's lingering anger at this diplomatic "insult" is revealed in a cable, written by a diplomat, describing a meeting in Tripoli between the colonel and US senator John McCain, shortly before Megrahi's release. The Libyan leader refused to give any guarantees about the tenor of Megrahi's homecoming, the cable reports, despite Mr McCain's warning that a hero's welcome could severely damage Libya's new friendship with the United States.

Col Gaddafi cited the celebrations that met the nurses in Bulgaria after their release.

"Calling them murderers, (Gaddafi] remarked in a tone of disbelief that they were welcomed home by the Bulgarian president himself," the cable reads. Col Gaddafi told Mr McCain the Libyan people would decide how to welcome home the Lockerbie bomber.

The cases of Megrahi and the Bulgarian nurses had long been linked in Col Gaddafi's mind.

While the nurses were still in jail, he repeatedly tried to barter a prisoner swap with the West - exchanging the nurses for the Lockerbie bomber.

These approaches were always rebuffed by the West, to Col Gaddafi's frustration.

Megrahi, the only person convicted of the Lockerbie bombing in which 270 people were killed, was freed from Greenock jail on 20 August, 2009, after being granted compassionate release due to advanced prostate cancer.

The decision by the SNP government to free Britain's biggest mass murderer met an angry response from the US government and most of the relatives of the Lockerbie dead.

Jubilant scenes on Megrahi's arrival at Tripoli airport - when Libyans waved saltires in celebration - were beamed around the world to universal condemnation.

Despite the Scottish Government's declared belief at the time that Megrahi had less than three months to live, he is still alive - staying in a high-class Tripoli suburb - 34 months later.

Gordon Brown, prime minister at the time, had written to Col Gaddafi before Megrahi's release, urging Libya to "act with sensitivity".

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