TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, the man convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing that killed 270 people, said his role in the attack had been exaggerated and the truth about what really happened would emerge soon.
Megrahi, released from a Scottish prison two years ago because he was suffering from terminal cancer, spoke to Reuters from a bed at his Tripoli home. Looking frail and his breathing laboured, he said he had only a few months, at most, to live.
“The facts (about the Lockerbie bombing) will become clear one day and hopefully in the near future. In a few months from now, you will see new facts that will be announced,” he told Reuters Television over the pinging of medical monitors.
“The West exaggerated my name. Please leave me alone. I only have a few more days, weeks or months.”
Megrahi was found guilty in 2001 of bombing Pan Am flight 103 as it flew to New York from London on December 21, 1988. All 259 people aboard the aircraft were killed and 11 others on the ground in the Scottish town of Lockerbie also died from falling wreckage.
His release on compassionate grounds angered many relatives of the victims, 189 of whom were American, and the Obama administration criticised the decision. A number of U.S. politicians have pressed for his extradition to the U.S.
The United States said on Monday it still believed Megrahi should be behind bars.
“He does seem to have made a miraculous recovery...he never should have been let out of jail,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. “We continue to believe that the right place for Megrahi is behind bars and we will continue to make that case to the Libyans.”
Megrahi, who had served as an intelligence agent during the rule of deposed Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, denied any role in suspected human rights abuses in his home country.
“All my work was administrative. I never harmed Libyans,” he said.” I didn’t harm anyone. I’ve never harmed anyone in my life.”
He called his Lockerbie trial, held in a Dutch court under Scottish jurisdiction, a farce.
“Camp Zeist Court is the smallest place on earth that contains the largest number of liars. I suffered from the liars at Camp Zeist Court more than you can imagine,” he said.
Megrahi lay propped at a slight angle in a hospital-style bed surrounded by members of his family. An oxygen tank stood nearby, but he did not use an oxygen mask during the interview.
Unshaven, he wore a checked shirt and had a white headdress wrapped loosely around his head.
Libya’s ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) said last week it would work with the Scottish government over the possible involvement of others in the 1988 bombing, an attack the country’s new rulers are eager to distance themselves from.
The NTC had previously called the case closed and said any probe would not involve Megrahi, who had been serving a life sentence. NTC head Mustafa Abdel Jalil has previously claimed to have evidence of Gaddafi’s involvement in the bombing.
A second defendant, Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah, was cleared of murder charges in the proceedings.
A Scottish government spokesman said Megrahi was “an extremely sick man, dying of terminal prostate cancer.”
He was released in 2009 by the Scottish authorities because it was thought he had only months to live.
“He was tried and convicted under Scottish jurisdiction by international agreement - ministers do not doubt his guilt. As has always been the case, the Lockerbie atrocity remains an open investigation, given that al-Megrahi was convicted on the basis that he did not act alone,” he said.
“Scotland’s Justice Secretary granted compassionate release to Mr al-Megrahi according to the due process of Scots Law, and without regard to any other factor,” he added.
In his interview, Megrahi said that Jim Swire, the father of one of the victims of the bombing and who has disputed the court’s findings, maintained contact with him.
“The day before yesterday, Dr. Swire sent me an email to tell me that there is a new medicine. He is trying to help me. He told me how to get this medicine.”
He said he had little knowledge of the circumstances surrounding Gaddafi’s overthrow and that the armed groups which toppled Gaddafi had invaded his home and mistreated him.
“I don’t know anything about February 17th...that’s not a question for a sick person,” he said, using the term by which many Libyans describe the anti-Gaddafi rebellion. “I hear airplanes overhead every day,” he said, referring to NATO planes which have bombed sites in Libya.
“My house has been violated. They smashed the main door and stole my cars.”
He said he was being denied medical treatment which he said was stipulated in the deal that saw him returned from Scotland to Libya.
“I was treated badly when I came back. During the latest incidents, especially in the last month, I have a shortage of all my medicines. My doctor tells me to look for medicine like anyone else despite the agreement between us and Britain,” he said. “I have four pills left (of one of the medications).”
“I want to die in my house, among my family. I hope to God that I will see my country united, with no fighting or war. I hope the bloodshed will stop in Libya. I wish all the best for my country.”
Lockerbie resident Sarah Lawson, 87, who still lives in Sherwood Crescent where debris from the plane demolished houses and killed 11 residents, questioned whether the truth about the bombing would ever emerge.
“I don’t think he did it...somebody else did it. Maybe he had a job to do and he had to do it otherwise it would’ve cost him his life,” she told Reuters by telephone.
Megrahi’s release was conditional on his agreement to make himself available to talk by telephone or video link with officials from the criminal justice department of East Renfrewshire, an area of Scotland where Megrahi’s family lived while he was imprisoned.
“We continue to monitor him regularly and he has not breached any of the conditions imposed on him as part of that licence,” a spokesman for East Renfrewshire council said.
The British Foreign Office had no immediate comment.
Additional reporting by Avril Ormsby and Adrian Croft in London; Writing by Joseph Logan; Editing by Christian Lowe and Matthew Jones