Senator Wants To Assess Lockerbie Bomber

A top American politician's calling for access to the Lockerbie bomber so they can assess his health themselves and question him over the bombing in 1988.

Senator Robert Menendez has written to US secretary of state Hillary Clinton urging her to ask Libya's Transitional National Council (TNC) to give American and international officials immediate access to Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.

He said Megrahi remains an "important source'' of information on the bombing and should be questioned about it.

The Libyan is the only person convicted of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103, which killed 270 people.

He was released from a Scottish prison two years ago on compassionate grounds after being diagnosed with cancer and returned to Libya,

Footage showing him looking ill and apparently close to death was aired on US news channel CNN this week.

In his letter, Mr Menendez said it has always been known that Megrahi did not act alone.

He wrote, "While news reports suggest that Megrahi may be nearing death, he remains an important source of information about the Pan Am bombing.''

He added, "We still do not know who ordered the bombing, who collected the intelligence to carry out the plan, who made the bomb and who - in addition to Megrahi - bears responsibility for this and other heinous attacks.''

He said it is "crucial'' that the TNC provides access to Megrahi and co-operates with any United States investigation into the Pan Am bombing.

The senator wrote: ``Given that we have been told before that Megrahi was near death when he actually was not, I urge you to call on the TNC to allow American and international officials access to Megrahi immediately in order to conduct an independent assessment of his health status.

Then, if or when feasible, begin direct questioning of Megrahi as to the involvement of others in the Pan Am 103 bombing.''

US Department of State spokeswoman Victoria Nuland was asked about a letter from Senator Menendez at yesterday's daily press briefing in Washington.

According to a transcript on the department's website, she was asked: ``Have you - or has the Secretary received a letter from Senator Menendez urging the Secretary to press the Megrahi family for access to Megrahi?''

She said that she had not heard of such a letter, but would take the question.

Ms Nuland was then asked, "Do you have a position on it? Would you, as a government, like to interview Megrahi, if it is possible, or at least assess the state of his health?''

She replied, "Well, as you probably know, and I think the Justice Department spoke to this yesterday after our briefing, the US indictment of al-Megrahi and Lamin Fhimah for the bombing of Pan Am 103 remains pending in US District Court, District of Columbia. The investigation of the bombing continues.

It remains open. District of Colombia. The investigation of the bombing continues. It remains open. The Justice Department has made no decisions. I would refer you to them with regard to where they think this case might go.''