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Obama condemns Lockerbie bomber's 'hero's welcome'

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  • NEW: President Obama condemns Al Megrahi's homecoming
  • Al Megrahi has terminal cancer, allowed to go home to die
  • He was serving life term for bombing Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland in 1988
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The cheering, flag-waving welcome that the convicted Lockerbie bomber received in Libya after being released from a life sentence was "highly objectionable," President Barack Obama said Friday.

270 people were killed in the Lockerbie plane bombing in 1988.

Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi (second from left) arrives in Tripoli, Libya.

His spokesman, Robert Gibbs, also criticized the bomber's reception as "tremendously offensive," echoing a sense of outrage that senior British leaders also have expressed.

Abdelbeset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi had been serving a life sentence for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. The bombing killed 270 people, including 189 Americans.

Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill freed al Megrahi after doctors concluded he has terminal prostate cancer and estimated he has three months to live. A plane returned the 57-year-old to Libya, and video of his reception Thursday at the airport drew harsh responses in the United States and Britain. Video Watch MacAskill deliver his announcement »

"The images that we saw in Libya yesterday were outrageous and disgusting" and are "tremendously offensive to the survivors that lost a loved one," Gibbs said.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said it was "deeply distressing" and "deeply upsetting" to watch video of the convict's return home.

"Obviously, the sight of a mass murderer getting a hero's welcome in Tripoli is deeply upsetting, deeply distressing," Miliband told BBC radio Friday morning. He added that personally, "I find it deeply distressing of course, as well."

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown had specifically asked Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi not to give al Megrahi a celebratory welcome, Brown's office at 10 Downing Street said.

Brown wrote a letter to Gadhafi, delivered to the Libyan Foreign Ministry on Thursday, asking the Libyans to act with sensitivity with regard to al Megrahi's return.

The letter was private and therefore won't be released to the media, a Downing Street spokeswoman said.

MacAskill released al Megrahi on compassionate grounds, saying he was going home to die. His decision was highly controversial, drawing criticism from the United States and dividing family members of the 270 Lockerbie victims.

Both Brown and Miliband made clear that the decision to release al Megrahi was for the Scottish government to make. But Miliband said Libya must now act responsibly.

"I think it's very important that Libya knows, and certainly we have told them, that how the Libyan government handles itself in the next few days after the arrival of Mr. Megrahi will be very significant in the way the world views Libya's re-entry into the civilized community of nations," Miliband said.

"It is in our interests to stand up for our own principles in the interests of international relations," he said. "Where Libya is willing to abide and engage in the international system in a way that does the right thing for those international principles, we will engage with Libya."

Al Megrahi always maintained his innocence, complaining that he had to spend years in prison for something he did not do. Video Watch Lockerbie bomber maintain his innocence »

"The remaining days of my life will have to be spent under the shadow of the wrongness of my conviction," he said in a statement issued Thursday through his attorney.

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He also offered sympathy to the families of the victims.

Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over the Scottish town of Lockerbie four days before Christmas in 1988 while traveling from London to New York. All 259 of those aboard the plane and 11 people on the ground were killed.

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