BENGHAZI, Libya - Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence officer who was the only person ever convicted in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, died at home in Tripoli Sunday, nearly three years after he was released from a Scottish prison to the outrage of the relatives of the attack's 270 victims. He was 60.
Scotland released al-Megrahi on Aug. 20, 2009, on compassionate grounds to let him return home to die after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. At the time, doctors predicted he had only three months to live.
Anger over the release was further stoked by the hero's welcome he received on his arrival in Libya — and by subsequent allegations that London had sought his release to preserve business interests in the oil-rich North African nation, strongly denied by the British and Scottish governments.
Al-Megrahi insisted he was innocent, but he kept a strict silence after his release, living in the family villa surrounded by high walls in a posh Tripoli neighborhood, mostly bedridden or taking a few steps with a cane. Libyan authorities sealed him off from public access. When the one-year anniversary of his release passed, some who visited him said al-Megrahi bitterly mused that the world was rooting for him to die.
His son, Khaled al-Megrahi, confirmed that he died in Tripoli in a telephone interview but hung up before giving more details.
Saad Nasser al-Megrahi, a relative and a member of the ruling National Transitional Council, said al-Megrahi's health had seriously deteriorated in recent days and he died of cancer-related complications.
Al-Megrahi passed away at his Tripoli home on Sunday morning, according to another NTC member, Moussa al-Kouni.
To the end, al-Megrahi insisted he had nothing to do with the bombing, which killed 270 people, most of them Americans.
"I am an innocent man," al-Megrahi said in his last interview, published in several British papers in December. "I am about to die and I ask now to be left in peace with my family."
The father of one of the Lockerbie victims said al-Megrahi's death was "to a degree a relief" and insisted that his 2009 release from jail was a political deal.
"If he had been that bad three years ago, he wouldn't have lived this long. It was a political deal," said Glenn Johnson of Greensburg, Pa, whose 21-year-old daughter Beth Ann Johnson was killed in the bombing.
Al-Megrahi's death, which came seven months after ousted leader Moammar Gadhafi was killed, leaves many unanswered questions that have surrounded the Lockerbie case, despite the conviction.
A spokesman for some British families who lost loved ones in the bombing said he always believed al-Megrahi was innocent.
"His death is to be deeply regretted," David Ben-Ayreah said. "As someone who attended the trial I have never taken the view that Megrahi was guilty. Megrahi is the 271st victim of Lockerbie."
The U.S., Britain, and prosecutors in his trial contended that he did not act alone and carried out the bombing at the behest of Libyan intelligence. After Gadhafi's fall, Britain asked Libya's new rulers to help fully investigate but they put off any probe.
They also rejected Western pressure to jail or return al-Megrahi.
"He is between life and death, so what difference would prison make?" his brother, Abdel-Nasser al-Megrahi, said at the time.
Little was known about al-Megrahi. At his trial, he was described as the "airport security" chief for Libyan intelligence, and witnesses reported him negotiating deals to buy equipment for Libya's secret service and military.
But he became a central figure in both Libya's falling out with the West and then its re-emergence from the cold.
To Libyans, he was a folk hero, an innocent scapegoat used by the West to turn their country into a pariah. The regime presented his handover to Scotland in 1999 as a necessary sacrifice to restore Libya's relations with the world.
In the months ahead of his release, Tripoli put enormous pressure on Britain, warning that if the ailing al-Megrahi died in a Scottish prison, all British commercial activity in Libya would be cut off and a wave of demonstrations would erupt outside British embassies, according to leaked U.S. diplomatic memos. The Libyans even implied "that the welfare of U.K. diplomats and citizens in Libya would be at risk," the memos say.
But in the eyes of many Americans and Europeans, he was the foot-soldier carrying out orders from Gadhafi's regime. Tony Blair, Britain's prime minister at the time of the conviction, said the verdict "confirms our long-standing suspicion that Libya instigated the Lockerbie bombing."
The bombing that blew up Pan Am Flight 103 on Dec. 21, 1988, over Lockerbie, Scotland was one of the deadliest terror attacks in modern history. The flight was heading to New York from London's Heathrow airport and many of the victims were American college students flying home to for Christmas.
Gadhafi handed over al-Megrahi and a second suspect to Scottish authorities after years of punishing