Lockerbie bomber drops appeal

A Scottish court has allowed the Lockerbie bomber to drop an appeal against his conviction - a step that could lead to the Libyan man's possible release or transfer to a prison in his homeland. Libya wants Abdel Baset al-Megrahi sent home, but US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has urged Scotland to keep him in prison to serve out his 27-year sentence. Seven US senators - including Edward Kennedy and John Kerry - also wrote to Scottish justice minister Kenny MacAskill with a similar request. Al-Megrahi, 57, was convicted in 2001 of taking part in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 on December 21, 1988. The airliner - which was carrying mostly American passengers to New York - blew up as it flew over Scotland. All 259 people aboard and 11 more on the ground died when the aircraft crashed into the Scottish town of Lockerbie.

A judicial review of al-Megrahi's case two years ago raised serious questions about the evidence used to convict him, spurring his appeal. But people with pending appeals cannot be transferred to another country - a fact that prompted al-Megrahi's request for permission to abandon his appeal. The Scottish court still has to hear a separate appeal by the government, which feels the bomber's 27-year minimum sentence is too short. Scotland's justice minister could, however, free the terminally ill al-Megrahi now on compassionate grounds - a prospect that has angered some of the victims' families. Margaret Scott, Al-Megrahi's lawyer, told the court that her client has advanced prostate cancer and had been given only months to live.

* AP

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