Bomber Megrahi vanishes along with can of worms
In theory, if he is found alive he could be sent back to jail. Or he could start talking the truth...
Hundreds of rebel forces continue to lay siege to an apartment block in the Abu Salim neighbourhood of Tripoli, in the belief that Colonel Gaddafi and possibly one of his sons may be holed up there.
Whether or not Gaddafi is really hiding in the block, or has managed to escape to his home town of Sirte, it has emerged that the embattled dictator may have in his entourage the dying Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi.
Megrahi, the only man ever convicted of the bombing of PanAm flight 103 in December 1988, and sent home by Scottish authorities two years ago on compassionate grounds, has not been seen at his Tripoli villa since the rebels entered the capital last weekend.
According to the Scotland's Herald newspaper, the villa's iron gates were found locked last night and the security guard who normally protects the house had vanished.
A neighbour, Dr Hussein Barba, said: "This man knows too many things. Gaddafi has taken him with him, wherever he is."
Whether Megrahi might have gone with Gaddafi under duress or of his own accord is a moot point. Many – not just conspiracy theorists, but relatives of the Lockerbie victims - believe Megrahi was not the bomber but was set up as the fall guy for Gaddafi and/or others in the regime who ordered the bombing. This would explain the treatment he received on his return to Tripoli – a hero's welcome, a comfortable home and the best medical treatment Gaddafi's oil money could buy.
So, Megrahi's recapture could open a can of worms if he now felt able to tell the truth.
Either way, his disappearance raises major implications for the Scottish authorities who have been widely criticised for letting him leave Greenock jail in August 2009 after a team of medics judged wrongly that he had only three months to live.
The fact that he has outlived that prognosis by so long has angered many families of the 270 victims of Lockerbie and raised questions from British and American politicians.
One of the requirements of Megrahi's early release "on licence" was that he must report in with East Renfrewshire Council by phone on a regular basis. Also, he was only allowed to change address with their permission.
The council has received no such notification and has not been in touch with him for several days. In theory, if Megrahi can be found, he could be recalled to complete his prison sentence.
Among those who would welcome such an outcome would be deputy PM Nick Clegg who told a Scottish radio host this week that he, personally, would like to see Megrahi back behind bars.
But Scottish justice secretary Kenney MacAskill, the man responsible for setting Megrahi free in the first place, and who continues to believe it was the right decision, made it clear yesterday that he is in no hurry to re-imprison Megrahi. "Whilst we're in a war zone, which is accepted by everybody, I think we need to wait and see what happens there," said MacAskill.
He confirmed that East Renfrewshire Council was trying to contact Libya's National Transitional Council to discuss the Megrahi situation but said the current chaos in Tripoli was making that difficult. "At present there is some doubt as to just which parts of Tripoli are controlled by whom," he said.
Also watching the story are those who never believed that Megrahi was responsible for the Lockerbie bombing and that he took the fall for those who ordered it. Hence the treatment he was accorded by Gaddafi on his return to Tripoli – a hero's welcome, a comfortable home and the best medical treatment Gaddafi's oil money could buy.
One solution to the mystery of Megrahi's whereabouts has not been raised by the authorities: that he might actually have succumbed finally to the prostrate cancer that won him his freedom. ·
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