Lockerbie victims' families: Relief, anger

Anger, concern after Pan Am bomber death
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Story highlights

  • Relatives of those who died are still angry about bomber's release
  • "It's about time," says the mother of on Pan Am 103 victim
  • Another victim's mother believes co-conspirators are still in Libya

Relief expressed Sunday at the death of Pan Am 103 bomber Abdelbeset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi by relatives of some of his 270 victims was tempered by still-smoldering anger at his release from prison more than two years ago.

"Fine. He deserved to die," said Susan Cohen of Cape May Court House, New Jersey, whose daughter Theodora died in the December 1988 airplane bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland. "He was a mass murderer. I feel no pity around him. He got to die with his family around him. My daughter, at age 20, died a brutal, horrible death."

Al Megrahi was the only person convicted in connection with the bombing. In August 2009, he was released from a Scottish prison on the grounds that he was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer and had only a few months to live. He was sent home to Libya on "compassionate" grounds, receiving a hero's welcome at the airport.

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"I think Megrahi exemplified the classic case that no matter how heinous the crime, that justice can be bought," said Victoria Cummock of Miami, who lost her husband John in the bombing and serves as co-president of the Families of Pan Am 103 group.

"His death is a relief," Cummock said. "Finally Megrahi will be judged by the highest of authorities -- our maker, his maker."

Barbara Zwynenburg of West Nyack, New York, whose 29-year-old son Mark died aboard the plane, said, "It's about time. I'm glad he's dead."

But she called the deal resulting in al Megrahi's release "disgraceful."

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"He was supposed to be ill and was allegedly ready to die," Zwynenburg said. "He went home to his family, and our son never came home."

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At the time of al Megrahi's release, Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, son of then-Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, told Libyan channel Al Mutawassit that "in all commercial contracts for oil and gas with Britain, (al Megrahi) was always on the negotiating table," adding that then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair raised al Megrahi's case each time he visited Libya.

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Blair said that while Libya brought up al Megrahi, no deals were ever made when he was in power to arrange for his release. British authorities rejected that al Megrahi's release was tied to British business deals with Libya.

However, victims' relatives expressed disbelief.

"That was a disgusting deal that involved oil and money," Cohen said.

"All of us," said Cummock, "have been pawns in all of this."

Bert Ammerman of New Jersey, whose brother Tommy was aboard Pan Am 103, said Sunday he was "pleased" at Megrahi's death. Megrahi's 2009 release, he said, was "when I was most angry in this 24-year journey."

Libya agreed in 2003 to pay $2.7 billion in compensation to the families of the bombing victims, though Gadhafi always remained cagey about admitting official Libyan involvement in the bombing.

Gadhafi died in October following months of unrest in Libya.

"Gadhafi's death brought me a great deal of, the word is, pleasure," Cohen said. "I was happy when he died because he was the primary villain in this." Megrahi, she said, was "sent to do the job."

Ammerman said Gadhafi's ouster and death also helped reduce some of his anger at al Megrahi's release.

"He was the big fish and Megrahi, as far as I'm concerned, became a minor actor once Gadhafi was killed," he said. But, he said, the release was "a true act of betrayal by our government and the British government." He felt the United States didn't do enough to keep al Megrahi behind bars.

The full truth about the bombing may have died with al Megrahi, who never provided details. If Megrahi had not been released, Cohen said, he might have talked when the Gadhafi regime fell.

But Cohen and Ammerman said they believe others still in Libya or former Gadhafi regime officials may also have been complicit in the bombing, and that U.S. and British officials should go into the country and conduct interviews in an effort to find them.

"He was not the only person taking orders," Cohen said of al Megrahi. "... We really do need to know how these terrible things are done and who's involved in them ... The key is, where do we go from here?"

Cummock said she previously met with Blair, who told her the Scottish authorities were the ones who released al Megrahi. And she said in the fall, she met with Mustafa Abdul Jalil, chairman of Libya's Transitional National Council, who has said he has proof Gadhafi ordered the bombing.

After the Gadhafi regime fell last year, U.S. officials renewed their call for al Megrahi's imprisonment.

"Once there's a government in place, we will renew our calls that Megrahi, who should never have been released in the first place, be returned to serve the rest of his sentence," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in October.

However, Cummock said, "I don't think the U.S. government or the U.K. government has the will to find out the truth about why Pan Am 103 was attacked and hold people involved accountable. We've seen (nearly) 24 years of turning the page."

"Both the Scottish and British governments have not been forthcoming," said U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, on Sunday. "The whole deal (regarding al Megrahi's release) smelled of a trade of oil for this man's freedom, and that was almost blasphemy given what a horrible person he was and the terrible destruction and tragedy he caused."

"This is long overdue," Zwynenburg said of al Megrahi's death. "It's been 23 years now, but you never get over losing your kid."

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