Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has confirmed that Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, the man convicted of bombing Pan Am Flight 103 over the town of Lockerbie in Southern Scotland in December 1988, is to be released and returned to Libya.
The only man to have been brought to justice for the terrorist act which killed 270 people, all 259 on board the plane and 11 people on the ground, is suffering from terminal prostate cancer, hence his release on compassionate grounds.
Opinions amongst the families of the victims are said to be divided on the issue of al-Megrahi's release, with many in the U.S. bitterly opposed to it and others, mainly in Britain, unsure that he is even the man truly responsible for the atrocity.
According to CNN the U.S. government has expressed its belief to the British government that al-Megrahi should spend the rest of his life in prison. However the decision to free him was one for the Scottish government and not the British authorities in London.
The BBC has indicated that the 57-year-old al-Megrahi will be leaving for Libya's capital Tripoli on a specially chartered flight from Glasgow at 02:00 p.m. BST.
Responding to those, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who have maintained that al-Megrahi must be allowed to die in prison, Mr MacAskill told a media conference that the guilty verdict reached by the court in the case of the Libyan man still stood and that other options rather than a return to his homeland had been considered. But Mr MacAskill then justified the decision taken to allow al-Megrahi to fly back to Libya and his family, stating:Mr al-Megrahi did not show his victims any comfort or compassion. They were not allowed to return to the bosom of their families to see out their lives, let alone their dying days. No compassion was shown by him to them. But that alone is not a reason for us to deny compassion to him and his family in his final days
Emphasizing again that compassion and mercy were the primary factors in the decision reached by the Scottish authorities the Justice Secretary went on to say:For these reasons alone it is my decision that Mr al-Megrahi be released on compassionate grounds and allowed to return to Libya to die
There have been no reports of a reaction to the release from Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi or any other officials in Tripoli.