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US asked Scotland not to release Lockerbie bomber, letter reveals

The US asked Scotland to keep the Lockerbie bomber in prison, but said releasing him on compassionate grounds would be preferable to a prison transfer, a letter released by Washington has revealed.

Abdelbasset al-Megrahi was the only person convicted of murdering 270 people in the 1988 bombing of PanAm flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

He was freed on compassionate grounds last year because he was terminally ill and was said to have months to live. However, nearly a year after he was released and sent home to Libya to die, he remains alive.

The US has put pressure on London to hold a full inquiry into the "oil for terrorists" scandal. The US Congress is holding a hearing on Thursday to investigate allegations that BP lobbied British ministers to secure the Libyan intelligence officer's release in return for a deal that would allow the oil company to drill off Libya's coast.

The Aug, 2009 letter to Alex Salmond, Scotland's First Minister, said Megrahi should only be released on compassionate grounds on two conditions: that there was no doubt that he had only weeks to live and that he remain in Scotland.

The letter, released by the US embassy in London, said: "The US is not prepared to support Megrahi's release on compassionate release or bail.

"Nevertheless, if Scottish authorities come to the conclusion that Megrahi must be released from Scottish custody, the US position is that conditional release on compassionate grounds would be a far preferable alternative to prisoner transfer, which we strongly oppose."

The letter gave warning that his release would lead to a "welcoming reception" - as turned out to be the case - that "would be extremely inappropriate given Megrahi's conviction for a heinous crime that continues to have a deep and profound impact on so many".

"As such, compassionate release or bail should be conditioned on Megrahi remaining in Scotland," the letter concluded.

Parts of the letter had been leaked in an attempt to show that Washington's strong objections to the decision to send Megrahi back home to Libya were inconsistent with the American position at the time.

The State Department decided to make the rare move of releasing the letter in full in a bid to reject that claim.

Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, denied that the letter revealed any inconsistency in Washington's continued statements opposing the decision by the Scottish Executive.

"The preference that was enunciated in this letter was that Megrahi should not be released," he said.

© Telegraph.co.uk