EDINBURGH, Scotland — The sole man found guilty in the 1988 airplane bombing over Lockerbie is dropping his appeal against conviction, his lawyers said Friday – removing an obstacle to his possible transfer to Libya but disappointing campaigners who believe he is innocent.
Abdel Baset Ali al-Megrahi's lawyer Tony Kelly said his client, who is terminally ill with prostate cancer, had filed papers to drop his appeal because his health had deteriorated.
"His condition has taken a significant turn for the worse in recent weeks," the lawyer said.
British broadcasters this week said without citing sources that al-Megrahi had been given just months to live and would be released early from a Scottish prison on compassionate grounds.
The Scottish government said it has yet to decide on his motion for early release. They are also considering a motion to allow al-Megrahi to serve the rest of his sentence in Libya.
The former Libyan secret service agent was convicted for the December 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103 that killed 270 people – most of them Americans. It was the deadliest terrorist attack ever committed in Britain.
He was arrested in 1991 and held under house arrest in Libya until handed over in 1998 to Britain. He was convicted in 2001 by a special Scottish court set held at Kamp van Zeist in the Netherlands. The current legal action is his second appeal.
Al-Megrahi was told earlier this year he must drop the appeal against his conviction before he could be considered for a prison transfer to Libya. No transfer can occur while legal proceedings are ongoing.
He would not have to drop his appeal, however, to be freed on compassionate grounds.
Relatives of some Lockerbie victims have reacted angrily to suggestions the bomber could be freed.
Susan Cohen of Cape May Court House, New Jersey, whose 20-year-old daughter, Theodora, died in the attack, said the idea that al-Megrahi could be freed was a nightmare.
"This is total, pure, ugly appeasement of a terrorist dictator and a monster," Cohen said, arguing that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi would feel vindicated if the convicted bomber could return to Libya.
Other relatives remain convinced al-Megrahi was not behind the bombing. His lawyers have said the attack was actually the result of an Iranian-financed Palestinian plot.
Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora died on Flight 103, had said Thursday that his greatest fear was that the appeal would be dropped and therefore the truth about the bombing would never be known.
Some campaigners said they believed the Libyan had been pressured to abandon his appeal to prevent new evidence about the bombing being revealed in court.
Robert Black, a lawyer who helped set up the special court, said a deal may have been struck to prevent new evidence being heard at the appeal.
"I think there has been strong pressure from the justice department and the Crown Office (prosecutors) to get this appeal abandoned," he said. "Now legitimate concerns about this conviction will not be heard in court. They did want the appeal to be completed."
Christine Grahame, a lawmaker at the Scottish Parliament who visited al-Megrahi in prison, said there were "a number of vested interests who do not want to reveal the truth behind Lockerbie."
"He always told me his first priority was to prove his innocence, so I am surprised he has dropped the appeal and that's why I believe he has been leaned on," she told the BBC.
The Libyan government applied in May to have al-Megrahi repatriated under a prison transfer agreement it has with Britain.
Separately, al-Megrahi applied in July for release on compassionate grounds, claiming he is terminally ill with prostate cancer.
A judge is expected Tuesday to review al-Megrahi's request to drop the appeal. Al-Megrahi will not attend the hearing.
Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill is due to rule the same day on whether al-Megrahi should remain in a Scottish jail, be freed on compassionate grounds or be transferred to Libyan custody.
A spokeswoman for the Scottish government said the timing was a coincidence.
Al-Megrahi's trial and conviction led to a major shift in Libya's relationship with the West.
Gadhafi engineered a rapprochement with his former critics following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He renounced terrorism, voluntarily dismantled Libya's secret nuclear program, accepted his government's responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing and paid compensation to the victims' families.