Facing American demands that he serve his full term in prison, the only person jailed in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 is seeking to abandon his second appeal against his conviction, his lawyers said Friday, a potential prelude to his early release.
Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, a 57-year-old Libyan national and former intelligence agent, is serving a 27-year term imposed in 2001 for his role in the bombing over the Scottish town of Lockerbie that claimed the lives of 270 people, the majority of them Americans.
The Scottish authorities acknowledged Thursday that they were considering requests for his early release on compassionate grounds because he has terminal prostate cancer. But a furious debate has again erupted between the survivors of the dead, with many Americans demanding that he should not be allowed to return to Libya, while some Britons say he is innocent and should be freed.
The complexities of the case took on diplomatic overtones on Thursday when the U. S. State Department said Washington had told the British and other authorities that Mr. Megrahi “should spend the rest of his time in jail.”
The Scottish authorities indicated Thursday that they would decide next week whether to free him. The Scottish High Court is to rule on his request next Tuesday, the lawyers said. If he were freed it would allow him to return to Libya before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The Libyan government has applied for his release from prison in Scotland to serve out his term in Libya under an agreement with Britain on transferring prisoners. But that treaty can only be invoked in the absence of any outstanding legal matters. The Scottish authorities may also release prisoners on compassionate grounds even if legal issues are still unresolved.
Mr. Megrahi, who has always protested his innocence, filed a first appeal against his conviction soon after he was jailed, but that was rejected in 2002. In 2007, a judicial review challenged some of the prosecution evidence at his trial, enabling him to launch a second appeal.
Some British survivors said the appeal should continue in order to re-examine the events that led to the explosion aboard Pan Am Boeing 747 at 31,000 feet just after it crossed the Solway Firth in Scotland.
“At the moment there is no other process or procedure ongoing to tell us how the bombing was carried out, why it was done, the motivation for it and who ordered it,” said Pamela Dix, whose brother, Peter Dix, died in the bombing, according to Britain’s Press Association news agency.
At a trial starting in May 2000, Mr. Megrahi and another defendant were charged with the murder of the 270 victims in a conspiracy to blow up Flight Pan Am 103 using a bomb hidden in a Toshiba cassette recorder wrapped in clothing in a suitcase. The suitcase was smuggled onto an airplane in Malta and tagged so that it would go through Frankfurt and London on to the Pan Am airplane.After a trial under Scottish law at a former NATO military base called Camp Zeist in the Netherlands, Mr. Megrahi was convicted in January 2001, but his fellow defendant, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, was acquitted.