The families of the victims of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing decried the decision to release the Libyan terrorist convicted of killing 270 people, calling it one of the most "heartbreaking" injustices the world has ever seen.
Scotland's justice minister announced Thursday that Abdel Baset al-Megrahi — the sole person convicted in the December 1988 midair bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 — is freed from a Scottish prison on compassionate grounds.
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said the former Libyan secret service agent, who was serving a life sentence, has terminal prostrate cancer and is allowed to die in his homeland — despite protests from the U.S. and victims' families.
The private jet of Libya's leader, Muammar al-Qaddafi, collected al-Megrahi at Glasgow Airport after his release Thursday.
"I cannot imagine having compassion for a mass murderer and terrorist who killed 270 people," said Susan Cohen of Cape May Court House, N.J., whose 20-year-old daughter, Theodora, died in the blast. "My daughter is dead. She is the one who deserves compassion."
"The Scots have folded very cowardly," she said. "The only sliver of justice we had was al-Megrahi — and now we don’t even have that."
Pan AM Flight 103 — which was carrying mostly Americans from London to New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport — broke into pieces as it up flew over Scotland, on December 21, 1988. All 259 people on the airliner and 11 on the ground were killed when the jet crashed into the town of Lockerbie.
Among the victims were 35 students from Syracuse University, four from Colgate University and four from Brown University — all going home after a semester abroad in London. The average age of the passengers was 27.
Investigators ruled that a plastic explosive planted inside a Toshiba tape recorder punched a 20-inch-wide hole on the left side of the plane's fuselage.
On Jan. 31, 2001, Al-Megrahi was convicted by a panel of Scottish judges of 270 counts of murder for his part in the bombing. Another defendant — Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah — was acquitted.
"It's absolutely heartbreaking," Stan Maslowski of Haddonfield, N.J., said of Thursday's release of Al-Megrahi.
Maslowski's 30-year-old daughter, Diane, died in the bombing. "We've lived through this for 21 years. We’ve never had justice."
Maslowski's daughter, who was returning home for Christmas, was an assistant vice president and trader in the international fixed income department for Drexel Burnham Lambert, based in London. Maslowski and his wife, Norma, recounted speaking with their daughter hours before her flight, recalling that she told them about a job interview she had lined up as a financial commentator for NBC News.
"She was a loving daughter, with so much ahead of her," he said.
Bob Monetti of Cherry Hill, N.J., whose son Rick also died in the bombing, blasted the media Thursday for its "constant" coverage of al-Megrahi, accusing the press of elevating him to celebrity status.
"I always thought compassion came after someone said 'forgive me.' Those are words I've never heard," he said.
Prior to al-Megrahi's release, victims' families said that Qaddafi would feel vindicated if the terrorist were allowed to return to Libya — and that the U.S. and other countries would have done little to intervene because of oil interests in the Middle East.
Libya's relations with the West have changed since al-Megrahi's conviction. Qaddafi, who owns the largest oil reserve in Africa, reconciled with the U.S. and its allies following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He renounced terrorism and voluntarily dismantled Libya's secret program to develop nuclear weapons — earning commitments from Britain and the United States to work together to contain the threat of international terrorism.
President Obama shook hands with Qaddafi in July as they posed for pictures ahead of a G-8 summit dinner hosted by Italian President Giorgio Napolitano. The diplomatic gesture was aimed at reaching out to controversial world leaders in an effort to improve the United States' standing around the world, which Obama says was damaged by former President Bush's unilateral diplomacy.
Qaddafi is expected to visit the U.S. in September to address the U.N. General Assembly in New York, U.N. diplomatic sources told FOX News.
"This is all about oil," Cohen said, adding that she believes Qaddafi, who lobbied for al-Megrahi's return, had a direct role in plotting the bombing.
Cohen expressed outrage at the U.S. government for its initial response to the bombing and failed attempts at keeping al-Megrahi imprisoned.
"I don’t think anybody ever really cared very much," she said, adding that it took George H. W. Bush six months to express his condolences to the victims' families after the bombing.
Democrats and Republicans, including Obama, former President George W. Bush, and former GOP presidential nominee John McCain, have all turned their backs on justice, Cohen said.
"He [Obama] shook Qaddafi's hand — the least he can do is shake mine," she said.
She said al-Megrahi's release sets a frightening precedent.
"You can blow up an American plane and you can get away with it. What does that say about us?" she asked.