Hero's welcome for Libya bomber sparks fury

Hundreds of people waving Libyan and Scottish flags greeted Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi as he landed in Tripoli on Thursday evening, hours after a dramatic decision to free him on compassionate grounds as he has terminal cancer.

The only person found guilty of blowing up a US Boeing 747 airliner and killing 270 people over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in 1988, Megrahi said he was “very relieved” to be freed but described his conviction as a “disgrace.” Megrahi returned with an official delegation including Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi’s son Seif al-Islam. The scenes of jubilation came despite a call by the US that it would be monitoring reactions carefully.

US President Barack Obama said he believed the Scottish government had blundered in approving his release. “We’re now in contact with the Libyan government and want to make sure that he’s not welcomed back in some way, but instead, should be under house arrest,” said Obama. State Department spokesman P J Crowley said it had been made very clear to Libya that “he is not entitled to a hero’s welcome.”

“We will be watching very carefully to see what they do upon his return and we have told them that this will be something that will potentially affect our future relations,” he added.

The British government was careful not to criticise the decision made by the semi-autonomous Scottish government but expressed outrage at the reception accorded to Megrahi who had only served eight years of a life sentence.

“Obviously the sight of a mass murderer getting a hero’s welcome in Tripoli is deeply upsetting, deeply distressing”, Foreign Secretary David Miliband said. While defending the decision, Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond criticised the way Megrahi was greeted back in his homeland. However Libya’s former ambassador to London Ahmed Zwei said Megrahi deserved his country’s gratitude.

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