LONDON (AP) — The Lockerbie bomber is believed to still be in Tripoli where he is dying of prostate cancer, Scotland’s government said Monday, citing parole officials who had contact with the man’s family.
That statement came as the family of one bombing victim reported that Abdel Baset al-Megrahi’s cancer drugs had been stolen in the chaos in the Libyan capital and his health was sharply deteriorating.
Al-Megrahi was convicted in 2001 over the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which killed 270 people. He was freed from a Scottish jail on compassionate grounds in August 2009 after doctors estimated he had only three months to live due to the cancer.
Since Libya’s opposition advanced into Tripoli last week, probation officials in Scotland had been seeking to confirm al-Megrahi’s whereabouts. Under the terms of his release, he must live at his home in Tripoli or report any change of location and give Scottish probation officials a monthly medical report.
"Over the course of the weekend, there has been contact through Mr. al-Megrahi’s family. There was no evidence of a breach of his license conditions, and his medical condition is consistent with someone suffering from terminal prostate cancer," Scotland’s government said in a statement.
East Renfrewshire Council said officials had received an email from al-Megrahi’s family confirming details of his whereabouts and condition. Spokesman George Barbour said the council was able to verify the authenticity of the message, but declined to elaborate.
He would not confirm whether al-Megrahi’s family had provided any change of address, amid some reports the bomber had moved to a new location within Tripoli.
Rev. John Mosey, whose 19-year-old daughter Helga died in the bombing, said he had been sent an email Friday by al-Megrahi’s son Khaled from a recognized address. Mosey has been in contact with the bomber’s family
"Khaled sent an email three days ago asking ‘to pray for us’. He said his father’s drugs had been stolen and that his father was slipping in and out of a coma," Mosey said.
Mosey has long contended that al-Megrahi was wrongly convicted and that evidence points to Iranian-backed Palestinian militants as the perpetrators of the 1988 bombing.
"I have never thought he was guilty and I sat through most of his trial. The case was not proved beyond reasonable doubt, particularly in the matter of identification of him," Mosey said.
New York senators have asked Libya’s transitional government to hold al-Megrahi fully accountable for the Pan Am bombing. His release after serving eight years of a life sentence infuriated the families of many Lockerbie victims, most of whom were American.
Some suspect his release was motivated by Britain’s attempts to improve relations with oil-rich Libya — though the decision was sanctioned by authorities in Scotland, not London.
Last month, al-Megrahi appeared at a televised rally in Tripoli alongside the Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
Scotland’s semiautonomous government criticized those who had suggested that al-Megrahi may not be terminally ill.
"Speculation about al-Megrahi in recent days has been unhelpful, unnecessary and indeed ill-informed," the government said.
However, it said that any change in al-Megrahi’s health would likely be a "a matter for discussion with the National Transitional Council."
British diplomats in London have confirmed that they plan talks with Libya’s opposition in the coming weeks on al-Megrahi’s situation. International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell told BBC radio that it now appeared certain the bomber’s life was "drawing to a close."
In a separate development, a former head of Britain’s domestic spy agency MI5 defended western nations’ efforts to return Libya to the international fold in the 1990s, following its involvement in terrorism attacks.
Eliza Manningham-Buller, who served as head of MI5 between 2002 and 2007, told the Radio Times magazine in an issue Monday that it had been correct to improve ties and persuade Gadhafi to give up his weapons of mass destruction.
"There was a point to cozying up to him, to get him to forfeit his stockpiles of WMD. It was the right thing to do," Manningham-Buller was quoted as saying.
Associated Press writer Ben McConville in Edinburgh, Scotland, contributed to this report