Lawmakers say justice denied as Lockerbie bomber dies in Libya

Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence agent who was convicted of the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 and released from prison in 2008, died Sunday, sparking anger from American lawmakers who had sought for him to be returned to custody.

New York Sen. Charles Schumer (D) on CNN Sunday morning called al-Megrahi a “horrible man.”  “It would have been better had he not died in freedom, but died in prison. That's what he deserved, and I still believe that the Scottish government, perhaps with the participation of the British government, created a major injustice when they let him out,” Schumer said.

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The only legacy we have is in the memory of all those who were lost," Schumer said. "We have to just make sure we continue this battle against terrorism on airplanes. We made great progress and we have to keep it up."

The news of al-Megrahi’s death was confirmed by his son in a telephone interview, reported the Associated Press. 

Al-Megrahi was convicted in the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am flight bound from London to New York City. The explosion and crash of the airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland killed 270 people. 

He was released from prison in 2009 by Scottish officials on compassionate grounds after doctors diagnosed him with terminal cancer and said he had months to live. Al-Megrahi, who always maintained his innocence, returned to Libya to a hero's welcome.

The decision to release the convicted bomber had lead to anger from congressional lawmakers, with many suggesting his release was linked to British efforts to forge business ties with Libya.

After the overthrow of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, Schumer had led calls for the Obama administration to condition approval of the new Libyan regime on the Lockerbie bomber's return to prison.

In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last year, Schumer said that "long term support or recognition of the Libyan opposition movement" should be based on "on a public, enforceable commitment by the opposition" to send al-Megrahi to the United States to face trial before a criminal court.

Libya’s new government however rebuffed calls to return the convicted bomber to custody or reopen the Lockerbie investigation to identify other potential suspects.

Lawmakers on Sunday were quick to revisit the decision by Scottish authorities to release him from prison and suggested that possible accomplices would now escape justice.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) on CNN’s “State of the Union,” said she did not believe justice had been done after his release from prison and said she "wasn’t for him being extradited” back to Libya.

Boxer said she had spoken to families of victims of the plane bombing and that "they feel some type of closure, but they also believe there are more leads that need to be followed.” “We need to keep on searching,” she added. 

Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R), also on CNN, called the bombing an “an outrageous act” and said the investigation was still incomplete.  

“The fact that no one else has been convicted, that we didn’t have that kind of opportunity to find out that he was really let out of prison early, does leave a lot of questions,” she said.

In a statement, New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) said that al-Megrahi “died with American blood on his hands and will always be remembered as a murderer.” 

“It is shameful that he was released from prison and allowed to spend his final years at home where he was treated as a hero.  His death may bring some level of closure to the families of the victims, but his misdeeds will never be forgotten and our pursuit of justice will continue," he said.

Last August, presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney had also joined calls for the Libyan government to extradite al-Megrahi to the U.S. "so justice can finally be done."

This story was first published at 9:38 and has been updated.