WikiLeaks: Britain feared Gaddafi’s wrath

December 8th, 2010 - 5:42 pm ICT by IANS  

Gordon Brown London, Dec 8 (IANS) Britain feared that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi would take harsh action against its interests if the Lockerbie bomber was not released, according to the US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks.

Sir Vincent Fean, the Britain’s ambassador to Tripoli at the time, also warned that continuing to hold Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi in a prison in Scotland could have “disastrous implications for British interests in Libya”, the Daily Telegraph reported.

Al-Megrahi was jailed in 2001 for the Lockerbie air tragedy in which 270 people died in 1988. The 57-year-old Libyan was freed by the Scottish government on compassionate grounds in August 2009 after medical experts said he had only three months to live.

The warnings about damage to British interests were contained in secret messages sent from US embassy staff in Tripoli in August 2009, and produced in Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine following the WikiLeaks disclosure.

One cable said: “The British ambassador expressed relief that Megrahi likely would be returned to Libya under the compassionate release programme.”

“He noted that a refusal of Megrahi’s request could have had disastrous implications for British interests in Libya.”

Then the cable appeared to quote the ambassador saying: “They could have cut us off at the knees, just like the Swiss.”

The warning is thought to refer to Gaddafi’s call in 2008 for a jehad against the Switzerland when police arrested his son Hannibal and daughter-in-law Aline Skaf.

The couple were released and charges relating to an altercation with their servants dropped. However, Libya responded by withdrawing billions of dollars from Swiss banks, cutting off oil supplies, denying visas and recalling diplomats.

At the time of the release of Al-Megrahi in August 2009, then prime minister Gordon Brown insisted that the British government had played no role in the release.

On Wednesday, Jack Straw, who was Justice Secretary at the time of Al-Megrahi’s release, told Radio 4’s Today programme that the “breathless leaks” had not “added anything at all to anyone’s understanding”.

He said: “It’s a matter of record that I signed up to a Prisoner Transfer Agreement with Libya but the PTA was never the vehicle for Al-Megrahi’s release.”

Straw said: “He was released under long-standing Scottish law on compassionate grounds.”

Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister, dismissed the leaks as “diplomatic tittle-tattle” but added that they did serve to vindicate the thinking behind the decision.

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