02-19-2017  6:05 pm      •     

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) -- The Libyan man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing is near death and slipping in and out of consciousness, his brother said Monday, insisting he should not return to prison for the 1998 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which killed 270 people.

Calls that Abdel Baset al-Megrahi be returned to prison have increased in the U.S. and Europe since rebel forces seized Tripoli last week.

"He is between life and death, so what difference would prison make?" said his brother, Abdel-Nasser al-Megrahi, standing outside the family's house in an upscale Tripoli neighborhood.

Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, who was convicted for the bombing in 2001, was freed from a Scottish jail on compassionate grounds in August 2009, after doctors estimated he had three months to live. He was greeted as a hero in Libya and recently appeared on TV in a wheelchair at a pro-Gadhafi rally.

His release, after serving eight years of a life sentence, infuriated the families of many Lockerbie victims, most of whom were American. Some critics of his release have long suspected it was motivated by Britain's attempts to improve relations with oil-rich Libya.

Two New York senators recently asked Libya's transitional government to hold al-Megrahi fully accountable for the Pan Am bombing. But the head of the semiautonomous Scottish government, First Minister Alex Salmond, told reporters that only his administration would have the legal right to demand al-Megrahi's extradition - and that it had no intention of doing so, as he had abided by the conditions set when he was released from jail in 2009.

"The only people with any authority in this matter are the Scottish government, who have jurisdiction on the matter - he is a Scottish prisoner under license - and the new Libyan Transitional Council, who are the new duly constituted legal authority in Libya," Salmond said.

"We have never had and do not have any intention of asking for the extradition of Mr. al-Megrahi," Salmond told Britain's Sky News television, adding that those demanding al-Megrahi's extradition should allow the bomber "to die in peace."

Under the terms of his release, the bomber was ordered to live at his home and provide a monthly medical report. On Monday, Scottish officials overseeing his parole said they had been in contact with his family, with the government saying in a statement that his "medical condition is consistent with someone suffering from terminal prostate cancer."

On Sunday's rebel transitional government Justice Minister Mohammed al-Alagi told journalists in Tripoli that the renewed demands for punishment had "no meaning," because al-Megrahi had already been tried and convicted.

But on Monday he appeared to backtrack, saying officials knew the issue was important to some governments but that any discussions would have to wait until an elected government was in place.

His answer reflected the many issues the new Libyan government will have to face, following a Gadhafi regime that had alienated much of the world.

Abdel-Nasser al-Megrahi, meanwhile, said his brother was unconscious most of the time, occasionally awakening and asking for his mother. He described him as being in a coma.

"It is natural for him to be with his family and his mother," said the brother. "Anyone, either Libyan or Scottish, would have mercy."

Little has ever been known about al-Megrahi. At his trial, he was described as the "airport security" chief for Libyan intelligence, and witnesses reported him negotiating deals to buy equipment for Libya's secret service and military.

But he became a central figure - some would say pawn - in both Libya's falling out with the West and then its re-emergence from the cold.

To Libyans, he was a folk hero, an innocent scapegoat used by the West to turn their country into a pariah - whose handover to Scotland in 1999 was seen as a necessary sacrifice to restore Libya's relations with the world.

In the months ahead of his release, Tripoli put enormous pressure on Britain, warning that if the ailing al-Megrahi died in a Scottish prison, all British commercial activity in Libya would be cut off and a wave of demonstrations would erupt outside British embassies, according to leaked U.S. diplomatic memos. The Libyans even implied "that the welfare of U.K. diplomats and citizens in Libya would be at risk," the memos say.

But in the eyes of many Americans and Europeans, he was the foot-soldier carrying out orders from Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's regime. Tony Blair, Britain's prime minister at the time of the conviction, said the verdict "confirms our long-standing suspicion that Libya instigated the Lockerbie bombing."

The bombing that blew up Pan Am Flight 103 on Dec. 21, 1988, over Lockerbie, Scotland was one of the deadliest terror attacks in modern history. The flight was heading to New York from London's Heathrow airport and many of the victims were American college students flying home to for Christmas.

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