London The release of the only man convicted of blowing up a Pan Am flight in 1988 has brought high drama and controversy: the jeering mob outside a Scottish prison, the cheering crowd at a Tripoli airport, the furious families of the 270 people who died in the Lockerbie bombing.
Britain on Friday condemned the “upsetting” scenes of jubilation in Tripoli at the return of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi and considered canceling a royal visit to Libya as a sign of displeasure. President Barack Obama said the warm welcome in Libya was “highly objectionable.”
Despite the strong words, the diplomatic end of the decades-long Lockerbie saga is unlikely to damage steadily warming relations between the West and Libya, a country once reviled as a pariah state.
“It will introduce a note of caution in the West’s dealing with Libya,” said Diederik Vandewalle, a Libya specialist at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. “I don’t think it will have much of an impact at all.”
Thousands of young men greeted al-Megrahi’s plane at a Tripoli airport after he was released from a Scottish prison Thursday on compassionate grounds. Some threw flower petals as the 57-year-old former Libyan intelligence agent stepped from the jet.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband condemned the scenes as “deeply distressing,” and said the way Moammar Gadhafi’s government behaved in the next few days would help determine whether Libya is accepted back into the international fold.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said footage of al-Megrahi’s arrival was “tremendously offensive to the survivors that, as I said, lost a loved one in 1988.”