By BEN McCONVILLE
Associated Press Writer
EDINBURGH, Scotland (AP) _ A court refused Friday to release from prison a cancer-stricken Libyan man convicted of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie.
The Court of Criminal Appeal in Scotland acknowledged that Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi’s cancer was incurable, but it said he could not be freed on bail pending an appeal of his life sentence for the bombing that killed 270 people, most of them American.
Al-Megrahi’s lawyers argued that their client should be released because he recently was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and the disease has spread.
“While the disease from which the appellant suffers is incurable and may cause his death, he is not at present suffering material pain or disability. The full services of the National Health Service are available to him, notwithstanding he is in custody,” the three judges stated in a written opinion. They said if al-Megrahi’s condition worsens, they might reconsider their decision.
Al-Megrahi, 56, and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah were prosecuted in The Hague in 2001 for the bombing. Fhimah was acquitted.
Al-Megrahi lost one appeal but has been granted another one. The court is expected to hear the second appeal next year.
Al-Megrahi did not appear in court Friday. In a statement released through his legal team, al-Megrahi said, “I am very distressed that the court has refused me bail pending the hearing of my appeal and the chance to spend my remaining time with my family.”
The statement added: “I wish to reiterate that I had nothing whatsoever to do with the Lockerbie bombing and that the fight for justice will continue regardless of whether I am alive to witness my name being cleared.”
The Libyan government has agreed to pay more than $2 billion in compensation to victims’ families as part of leader Moammar Gadhafi’s campaign to end years of international isolation. But doubt remains over who carried out the bombing, Britain’s deadliest terrorist attack.
Al-Megrahi’s lawyers have claimed British and U.S authorities tampered with evidence, ignored witness statements and steered investigators away from evidence that the bombing was an Iranian-financed plot carried out by Palestinians to avenge the shooting down of a civilian Iranian airliner by U.S forces several months earlier.
Relatives of the victims of Pan Am 103 were divided over al-Megrahi’s conviction. Some British families have said they think he is innocent, but relatives of U.S. victims have said he is guilty and should remain in jail.
Dr. Jim Swire, a spokesman for a group of the British relatives, said it was “tragic” that Scottish justice had “missed a golden opportunity to display mercy.” Swire’s daughter, Flora, 24, was a passenger on the downed flight.
But Bob Monetti, of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, whose son Rick was killed, told the BBC before the judgment that al-Megrahi should remain in jail. “I have been really upset because most of the people in Scotland seem to have a different opinion on the whole thing,” he said.
Dan Cohen of New Jersey, whose daughter Theodora was aboard flight 103, said he was “extremely relieved” at the judges’ decision.
“This is a very tough anniversary coming up — the 20th — and it is very important that he will still be in jail for it,” Cohen said.
Associated Press Writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.
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Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.