The United States would have sought the extradition of the Lockerbie bomber if it had known the Scottish government was planning to release him, the US ambassador to Britain said yesterday.
Libyan agent Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, convicted of the 1988 airliner bombing in which 270 people were killed, was released from a Scottish prison on compassionate grounds in August.
The decision to free terminally ill Megrahi and allow him to return home to Libya, angered US President Barack Obama’s government and relatives of the 189 Americans who were killed.
Louis Susman, who became the US ambassador in London in August, said US officials would have acted had they known at an early stage Megrahi would be released.
“We never anticipated his release. I think if we ever thought he would be released we would have asked for his extradition early on,” he told the BBC.
Although Obama told British Prime Minister Gordon Brown of his disappointment at the release shortly afterwards, Susman said it would not damage Anglo-US relations in the long term.
“Good friends disagree. I compare it to a marriage. You have a little fight, you are a little mad but you don’t get divorced,” he said.
The British government said the decision to free Megrahi was taken by Scottish authorities alone, but admitted that British business and other interests would have been damaged had the bomber died in jail.
“The United States government was well aware that repatriation was a real possibility,” Robert Black, Professor Emeritus of Scots law at the University of Edinburgh and an expert on the Lockerbie case, wrote on his website.
Black said the Scottish courts would have rejected any application for Megrahi’s extradition after his conviction.