Subdued Libyan funeral for Lockerbie bomber Megrahi

TRIPOLI Mon May 21, 2012 11:02am EDT

1 of 12. The body of Abdel Basset al-Megrahi is carried from an ambulance for a funeral prayer before his burial at a cemetery in Janzour, 17 km (11 miles) west of Tripoli, May 21, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Ismail Zitouny

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TRIPOLI (Reuters) - - The Libyan convicted of the 1988 bombing of a PanAm flight over Lockerbie was buried on Monday in a quiet family ceremony, ignored by most Libyans keen to forget the international controversy that surrounded Abdel Basset al-Megrahi in life.

Megrahi, who always said he was not responsible for bringing down the jumbo jet on the Scottish town and killing 270 people, died in his bed in Tripoli on Sunday surrounded by family.

His release from jail in 2009 caused controversy in Britain and the United States, where most victims were from.

But neither his death at 60 from cancer nor his funeral even made the news on the three main television stations in Libya, where people are focused on the upcoming elections after overthrowing Muammar Gaddafi in a NATO-backed war last year.

A few Gaddafi-era officials were among about 150 mourners, mostly members of the Megrahi clan, who attended the funeral of a man, seen by many as an embarrassing reminder of Gaddafi's rule, when Libya became a pariah state and suffered years of international sanctions.

"Megrahi is a symbol of the old regime and if Gaddafi were still alive he would have received a huge and pompous funeral," said taxi driver Ali al-Ahmed.

"But now those who like him don't want to show they are sympathetic, so they keep silent. The rest of us don't really care much about him."

At the graveside, the shroud-wrapped body was removed from a wooden coffin and placed in a deep grave to cries of Allahu Akbar, or God is Greatest, before mourners walked quietly away.

Even for his family, courted by Gaddafi before last year's revolt and by foreign journalists since, Megrahi's death offers closure from a long-running saga.

"I myself heard Abdul Basset always saying that if God gives me life and health I will appeal my case and prove my innocence," his cousin Rashed Megrahi said. "We see his death as a mercy - he has rested and so have we."

CONTROVERSY

Megrahi was found guilty of the Lockerbie bombing in 2001 but was freed in 2009 and returned to Libya because he had terminal cancer and was not expected to live long.

The decision by officials in Scotland to repatriate Megrahi angered relatives of many victims, 189 of whom were American, and was criticized by Washington as he received a hero's welcome from Gaddafi, who was killed by rebels last year.

That Megrahi survived for nearly three years after his release from jail caused discomfort in Britain. Prime Minister David Cameron, visiting the United States on Sunday, said Megrahi should never have been freed.

The White House said it would not end the quest for justice and Scottish leader Alex Salmond said Scottish lawyers were still seeking other suspects.

Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC), keen to distance itself from the bombing and Megrahi, has said it would work with the Scottish government over the possible involvement of others in the 1988 attack. It has had little else to say about Megrahi's death.

"Megrahi is seen as a Gaddafi cronie and editors are unsure of the street's reaction if we cover the death in depth: we may be seen as a trying to give Gaddafi or his supporters more importance or sympathy than they deserve," said Abdel Wahab al-Meletan, correspondent for Libya al-Ahrar private TV station.

"Libyans are just tired of the past and they want it to die. They feel like they have a chance to forget... the strange and hidden case of Megrahi which Gaddafi cooked with the West."

Megrahi, the only person convicted for the bombing, was found guilty under Scottish law of secretly loading a suitcase bomb onto a plane at Malta's Luqa Airport, where he was head of operations for Libyan Arab Airlines in December 1988.

The suitcase was transferred at Frankfurt to another flight and then onto New York-bound PanAm Flight 103 at London's Heathrow airport, Scottish judges had concluded.

Megrahi, handed over by Gaddafi under a U.N.-brokered deal, always insisted he was merely an airline executive, not a Libyan intelligence agent as prosecutors charged.

His trial was part of a process of rapprochement by which Gaddafi distanced himself from association with groups regarded as terrorists in the West and secured renewed cooperation with Western firms keen to exploit Libya's oil and gas reserves.

Many people in Britain say they believe Megrahi was a scapegoat and families of the victims fear they will never know the truth.

Megrahi told Reuters in October the West had exaggerated his role and the truth about what happened would emerge soon. But his brother Abdulhakim said he was too sick to utter anything on his deathbed and anything he may have known died with him.

"He was smiling before he died," another brother, Mohammed, said. "He died in his home and country, an innocent man."

(Additional reporting by Olesya Dmitracova in London and Lily Kuo in New York, Adrian Croft in Chicago and Bill Trott in Washington; Writing by Lin Noueihed; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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