Libya's new rulers will not hand over Lockerbie bomber


TRIPOLI – Libya will not extradite Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, the man convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie airline bombing, a minister in Libya’s rebel National Transitional Council said yesterday.

“We will not give any Libyan citizen to the West,” Mohammed al-Alagi, the council’s justice minister, told reporters in Tripoli. The council is the de facto government of Libya’s rebel movement.

“Al-Megrahi has already been judged once and he will not be judged again . . . We do not hand over Libyan citizens. Gadafy does.”

Megrahi, who had been diagnosed with cancer, served eight years in a Scottish prison for orchestrating the bombing of the Pan Am passenger aircraft which blew up over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in 1988, killing 270 people. He was released in 2009 on compassionate grounds after doctors gave him only months to live.

The release angered politicians in the United States – where many of the victims of the bombing were from. British prime minister David Cameron later said the decision by Scotland’s justice minister was a mistake.

In Tripoli, meanwhile, the stench of rotting bodies and burning garbage still hung over the city, overrun by anti-Gadafy forces last week. Many corpses have been discovered, some of them slain Gadafy soldiers.

A Libyan official said 75 bodies had been found at the Abu Salim hospital, which was caught up in heavy fighting. Another 35 were found at the Yurmuk hospital.

The council and the western powers that backed rebel forces with a five-month bombing campaign are acutely aware of the need to prevent Libya collapsing into the kind of chaos that plagued Iraq for years after the US-led invasion of 2003.

The council, whose leaders plan to move to Tripoli from Benghazi this week, is trying to impose security, restore basic services and revive the oil- and gas-based economy.

Officials announced yesterday that a vital gas export pipeline to Europe had been repaired and that Libya’s biggest refinery had survived the war intact.

In the far west, Tunisian authorities reopened the main border crossing into Libya, restoring a key supply route for Tripoli, after Gadafy forces were driven out of the city on Friday.

The move should help relieve a looming humanitarian crisis in the city, where food, drinking water and medicines are scarce.

Trucks loaded with food and other goods were already moving across the Ras Jdir crossing towards Tripoli, about two hours’ drive away. A UN official said aid would be sent along the route once it was confirmed to be secure.

The streets of the capital were quiet after sporadic overnight gunfire and explosions in a city traumatised by emerging evidence of widespread summary killings that took place during last week’s battles to expel Gadafy.

Some residents ventured out to search for water, food and fuel. In Martyrs’ Square, known as Green Square in the Gadafy era, traffic police reappeared in crisp white uniforms, directing cars on roadways strewn with bullet casings.

“I came back to work on Friday. Life is beginning to come back to normal,” said one policeman, Mahmoud al-Majbary (49).

Asked whether fighters were obeying the traffic police, he said: “Not yet, we’re getting there slowly. We’re mainly really here to reassure the people that they are safe.”

Libyans may remain fearful as long as the man who subjected them to his capricious will for 42 years remains at large.

Gadafy, (69), is on the run, perhaps intending to lead an insurgency against his foes grouped loosely under the council.

Officials of the council rejected any idea of talks with Gadafy, saying he was a criminal who must be brought to justice.

“We did not negotiate when we were weak, and we won’t negotiate now that we have liberated all of Libya,” its information minister Mahmoud Shammam told a news conference.

The Associated Press earlier quoted Gadafy’s spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, as saying the colonel was in Libya and wanted to discuss forming a transitional government with the council.

Officials say Gadafy, his son Saif al-Islam and his intelligence chief should be tried in Libya, although they are wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

The council hopes to gain access soon to hundreds of millions of dollars of assets frozen abroad. It needs to get oil and gas revenue, normally 95 per cent of exports, flowing again. – (Reuters)