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US and UK Race to Seize Lockerbie Mastermind

The mastermind of the Lockerbie bombing over Scotland is being hunted after the collapse of the Qaddafi regime.
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 8/25/2011, 9:59 AM

The United States and Britain wish the Libyans good hunting in tracking down the elusive Colonel Qaddafi, but for them the ace of spades, as in the case of Saddam Hussein under analogous circumstances in Iraq, is Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi.

Al-Megrahi, the mastermind of the Lockerbie bombing in 1988, was released from a Scottish prison two years ago when he supposedly had three months to live as a result of advanced prostate cancer. He has defied a medical prognosis that may have been "doctored". Ironically, the patient is being treated in Libya by a British drug that is still not available to British patients under the National Health Service.

American political leaders from both parties urged the insurgents, soon to become rulers of Libya, to hand over al Megrahi. According to Senator Charles Schumer, such an extradition would "send a strong statement to the world…Two years after an incorrect medical prognosis prompted his release from prison, the Lockerbie bomber is not only alive and well, but seems to have even outlived the Qaddafi regime,” continued the senator.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney called upon the Libyans to arrest and extradite al-Megrahi "so justice can finally be done." Romney and the American Justice Department want to try him in the United States

However, the United States is not the only contestant in the race. British Prime Minister David Cameron wants to see him returned to his jail cell in Scotland and through a spokeswoman expressed his regrets over the continuing anguish, pain and suffering that the release of Megrahi has caused .and his personal view is that he thinks it was wrong that he was released."

For the Americans it could be another bin Laden moment, demonstrating that America will relentlessly pursue people who have killed American citizens. This is one of the few issues that unites the Obama Administration and its opponents.

For the British government, a more complex range of motives is in play. Although one can take David Cameron at his word when he claimed that the release was a travesty of justice, there are undeniable political dividends.

The return of Al-Megrahi to a British cell would represent payback to a person who made the British government into a laughingstock but it would also be a way to get back at the Scotland's leader, Scottish Nationalist Alec Salmond and at Labour who according to reports looked favorably on Al-Megrahi's release in the expectation that it would facilitate British economic interests in Qaddafi's Libya.

A note of comic relief was also inserted by reports that al-Megrahi had also run afoul of the parole board bureaucracy. The East Renfrewshire Council has been unable to contact al-Megrahi. The terms of the release stipulated that the former prisoner had to make contact and provide monthly medical reports and stay in touch via telephone or video link.

He also was prohibited from leaving Libya without permission from East Renfrewshire officials. Al-Megrahi is therefore on notice to beware: Not only is he being hunted by US Navy SEALs and British SAS forces. but by the East Renfrewshire parole board as well.