When Scottish authorities granted a so-called compassionate release to convicted bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the Libyan spy held responsible for blowing Pan Am Flight 103 out of the sky over the town of Lockerbie and killing 270 people in December 1988, he was supposed to be dead of prostate cancer within three months.
Two years later, the 59-year-old Megrahi—who was flown back to Libya in one of Muammar Gaddafi’s private jets and given a triumphal welcome home by the leader himself—is still alive and living in a palatial villa in Tripoli.
But now he’s apparently doing as poorly medically as his embattled patron, Gaddafi, is faring politically, if you accept recent news accounts. Megrahi seems to be in a coma, on oxygen and an IV drip, and near death, according to a weekend report by CNN correspondent Nic Robertson, who managed to visit the bedridden patient and get video of the sleeping terrorist surrounded by his family.
But don’t believe your lying eyes, caution friends and relatives of Pan Am 103’s victims.
“We just don’t believe he is as sick as his family would like you to believe,” said Frank Duggan, president of the nonprofit Victims of Pan Am 103 Inc., which represents the families of the 190 Americans killed in the Boeing 747’s explosion. “His family is trying to make a sympathetic character out of an unrepentant, murderous monster. The CNN ‘exclusive exposé’ that they discovered his hiding place was total bullshit.”
Duggan claimed: “That reporter was invited to the house for the interview, as were SkyNews, the Telegraph, and other newspapers, and Megrahi's son was emailing all this information to the Libya shills in England and Scotland. I don’t believe CNN, and I certainly don’t believe SkyNews, who reported that Megrahi had died last year.”
Pan Am 103 widow Kathy Tedeschi, whose first husband Bill Daniels was a passenger on the doomed flight, is equally dismissive.
“I don’t believe for a minute that he is really at death’s door,” she told The Daily Beast. “I personally won’t believe anything about him until I know he’s in the ground or cremated.” Referring to the initial dire prognosis of the British doctors who examined Megrahi, who had been sentenced to life in prison, she added: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me … I watched that CNN thing through twice, and the reporter is climbing up and looking all over the place, and waiting a long time before the family let him in. That’s plenty of time to set the stage.”
In an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Monday night, Robertson acknowledged the possibility that reality might not be as it appeared.
“You know, when you go into a situation like that you always think in the back of your mind, are they faking it?” Robertson said. “I saw Megrahi two years ago … He looked much better back then than he does now. And I really got the impression that his family were tense, nervous.” He added: “You got the impression that they were very low at that moment, really just sort of sitting in the room there, waiting for him, in a way, to die.”
Robertson continued: “When you looked at his skin, it looked very thin. When you looked at his wrists, they looked very thin. This did seem to be a man who is perhaps on his last days. But not being a doctor, not doing proper medical checks, you cannot sort of say with a hundred percent certainty his real state of health here.”
Rabbi Stephanie Bernstein, whose husband, Michael, died on Pan Am 103, said that whatever the true state of Megrahi’s health, journalists and the new Libyan government must pore through the records left behind by fleeing Libyan intelligence operatives to identify everyone responsible for the bombing.
“When he dies, whenever that would be, he’s going to take with him some very specific knowledge,” Bernstein said from her home in Bethesda, Md. She added that she was less interested in having Megrahi extradited to the United States, as Sen. Chuck Schumer has demanded in recent days. “Having said that, I was watching a BBC report where the reporter had gotten stuff from Libyan intelligence—papers that showed intercepts from cell-phone calls and how they tracked them,” Bernstein said. “There’s a treasure trove of information there and we ought to be focused on finding out who else was involved in Lockerbie.”
Update: CNN’s statement regarding Nic Robertson’s story on Megrahi:
The idea that CNN was “invited” to the house is completely untrue and ridiculous. No one reached out to our team with any information about Megrahi’s location.
Nic Robertson had wanted to try to track down Megrahi for ages, but the Gadhafi regime forcibly kept journalists away from Megrahi’s house. He set out at 2pm Sunday to try to find his house, taking advantage of the new reality that the regime had fled. Nic thought they wouldn’t end up with much, since the rumor was that Megrahi had left Tripoli.
They went first to a Megrahi house being renovated. There was clearly no one there. So they went to his other house in the Damascus neighborhood. Nic had saved a Daily Telegraph photo that was believed to be Megrahi’s house taken in March. The team went into a corner shop in the neighborhood and got directions to the house. They were able to identify the house both from neighbors and the Daily telegraph photo. They knocked and waited for someone to answer.
To Nic’s surprise, he was invited in alone for two minutes to see Megrahi. Only Nic was invited in, and the crew stayed outside. Nic happened to have a camera in his pocket and was able to shoot the video. The visit extended to ten minutes before he had to leave.