NEWARK, New Jersey – Relatives of Americans killed when Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland, plan to converge on New York City in September to protest Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's speech at the United Nations.
Family members are furious that convicted Libyan bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi was released from a Scottish prison Thursday and was greeted in Libya by cheering crowds. He and his family also met later with Gadhafi.
Susan Cohen, whose 20-year-old daughter, Theodora, died in the attack, called the release "a triumph for terrorism" and said Gadhafi is to blame.
"Look what we've come to be, a man blows up an American plane and now here he (Gadhafi) is rolling into New York in triumph," she said, adding sarcastically, "That's wonderful. Makes the world safer, doesn't it?"
In a Friday meeting with al-Megrahi broadcast by Libyan state television, Gadhafi praised Scotland's "humane decision" to free the prisoner. He compared al-Megrahi's return to his government's 2007 release of five Bulgarian nurses and a naturalized Palestinian doctor accused of deliberately infecting hundreds of Libyan children. The nurses denied the charges and said they were tortured into confessing.
Gadhafi noted there were no such widespread concerns for the families of the infected children when the nurses returned home to a hero's welcome.
Cohen, of Cape May Court House, New Jersey, said al-Megrahi's release is a major concession to Gadhafi, who she said wields increasing power through lucrative oil contracts with Western nations. Cohen, like several victims' family members, said she's disappointed that President Barack Obama's administration is not taking a harder line.
"The fact is, every time this kind of appeasement happens, it really endangers the innocent public," Cohen said. "What would any terrorist think looking at this? How scared would you be?"
Scottish officials said al-Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence officer, has advanced prostate cancer and was given only months to live. They said they were bound by Scottish rules of compassion to release him, although he had served only eight years of a life sentence.
Frank Dugan, president of the group Victims of Pan Am Flight 103, said members didn't spend much time discussing al-Megrahi's release or the welcoming reception he received during a two-hour conference call the group held Friday night.
"We didn't focus on that — it just turns our stomach to see that," Dugan said in an interview after the call. "We were led to believe there wouldn't be any 'dancing in the end zone,' as I call it, but that's what happened."
Instead, members focused on logistics for the Gadhafi protest, tentatively planned for Sept. 23, along with plans for the upcoming 21st anniversary of the Dec. 21, 1988, bombing, which killed 270 people. The anniversary event will be held at Syracuse University, where 35 of the victims went to school.
"These are the things we're working on, things that are important to us," Dugan said, adding that no final plans have been made for the Gadhafi demonstration.
Dugan said earlier his group had been receiving calls from a wide variety of organizations that plan to join the protest. Cohen said she had even been contacted by a local group of Scottish immigrants who planned to protest their government's actions on behalf of the Pan Am families.
Dugan did not lose any family members on the flight but joined the victims group after serving on the commission appointed by former President George H.W. Bush that investigated the bombing.