Lockerbie bomber neighbours describe wealthy recluse

Libya’s de facto new government has blocked fresh demands for Megrahi's extradition
Lockerbie bomber neighbours describe wealthy recluse
A memorial to the Lockerbie air disaster in Arlington, US
By Reuters
Mon 29 Aug 2011 07:41 AM

Neighbours of the Libyan man convicted in the 1988 bombing
of a US-bound airliner over the Scottish town of Lockerbie described a wealthy
recluse, constantly surrounded by security guards.

Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, who had been diagnosed with cancer,
served only eight years in a Scottish jail for orchestrating the attack on Pan
Am 103, before being released on compassionate grounds in 2009 and flown back
to Libya after doctors gave him only months to live.

He was received with a hero's welcome on his return to
Tripoli, and the televised images of cheering crowds angered many relatives of
the 270 people killed in the attack, 189 of whom were Americans.

The Obama administration harshly criticised Scotland's
decision to release Megrahi and many US politicians and victims' families have
pressed for his extradition to the United States.

The fall of Muammar Gaddafi has prompted fresh demands for
Megrahi's extradition, but a senior member of the National Transitional Council
(NTC), Libya's de facto new government, said that was not going to happen.

"We will not give any Libyan citizen to the West,"
Mohammed al-Alagi, the NTC justice minister, told reporters in Tripoli.
"Al-Megrahi has already been judged once and he will not be judged again
... We do not hand over Libyan citizens."

One of Megrahi's neighbours said he had been whisked away by
security guards last week when Tripoli fell to rebels battling forces loyal to
Gaddafi, who like Megrahi, has gone into hiding.

"The day Tripoli fell, four security men, his private
security, took him, his wife and his sons and left. They left in a Mercedes,"
said Ahmed Mlaaty, 20, a student and one of Megrahi's neighbours, standing
outside his handsome villa.

As a condition of his release, Megrahi had been obliged to
check in regularly with Scottish authorities, who said last week they had lost
contact with him in the "dust of battle".

Neighbours said Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence
operative, owns several properties in the Demeshk area of Tripoli's Hadba
district, one of the smartest in the city.

Megrahi's properties appeared empty, with a padlock on the
gate of one residence where he was said to receive guests.

Sprays of bougainvillea, tall palm trees and brightly
coloured flowers could be seen behind the high walls of the neighbourhood's
large villas.

"He kept himself to himself .... He's a millionaire. He
gets his money from big daddy [Gaddafi]. People keep their distance. They don't
want to get into state affairs as it will only bring trouble," Mlaaty

Another neighbour who had sat with Megrahi at local
functions but had never spoken to him said he appeared a reserved,
well-turned-out man.

Most neighbours said Megrahi appeared unwell, but there is
controversy over his severity of his condition - diagnosed by Scottish doctors
as terminal prostate cancer -- and whether it warranted his release.

"I saw him many times, he was in a wheelchair, he
looked very ill, very thin. He always had security, more than one car. He never
went anywhere without them," said senior policeman Ali Ahmed al-Khudair,
40, who said he resented the security patrols that accompanied Megrahi's
arrival in the neighbourhood.

"He wasn't a millionaire before, but he is now. He came
here after he was released from prison. Then he bought these houses. This is
one of Libya's top neighbourhoods," he added.

Another neighbour said Megrahi caused no one any harm, and
said his complicity in the bombing had not been proved.

"Everyone associates him with Lockerbie, but I'm not
sure he was involved," said Noora Abdul Hadi, 27, a doctor.

Attiya al-Usta, 77, said he had seen Megrahi just before the
February uprising against Gaddafi's 42-year-rule.

"When he came back from Europe he looked ill. But
recently he looked fit and neat. I saw him just before the revolution. He
didn't look ill at all. He was sitting in a chair on his balcony. He looked 100

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