TRIPOLI, Libya - The only man convicted in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing has returned home to Libya to die after Scotland released him from prison Thursday.
The decision outraged relatives of the 270 people killed when the jetliner blew up over a Scottish town.
President Barack Obama said the decision to free terminally ill Abdel Baset al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds was a mistake and
warned Libya not to give him a hero's welcome.
But thousands were on hand to greet him warmly when his plane
from Scotland touched down at a military airport in Tripoli.
There was a festive atmosphere with some wearing t-shirts with
al-Megrahi's picture. Others waved Libyan and Scottish flags while
Libyan songs blared.
Many here see al-Megrahi as an innocent scapegoat of the West.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton issued a statement saying she is "deeply disappointed" by the Scottish authorities' decision. She noted that the Dec. 21, 1988 bombing over Lockerbie killed 270 people, including 189 Americans. Al-Megrahi had served eight years of a life sentence in Scotland.
"We have continued to communicate our long-standing position to U.K. government officials and Scottish authorities that al-Megrahi should serve out the entirety of his sentence in Scotland," Clinton said.
Crowley told reporters that the administration will closely watch how al-Megrahi is received in Libya and that his reception may affect U.S.-Libyan relations.
Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J., issued a statement calling the Libyan's release "unconscionable."
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the United States had repeatedly asked Scotland to keep al-Megrahi in custody. Gibbs said: "On this day, we extend our deepest sympathies to the families who live every day with the loss of their loved ones."
Attorney General Eric Holder released a statement saying he was "extremely disappointed" with the release.
"The interests of justice have not been served by this decision," he said. "There is simply no justification for releasing this convicted terrorist whose actions took the lives of 270 individuals, including 189 Americans."
Holder said al-Megrahi "did not show and has not shown compassion for innocent human life, and as we communicated to the Scottish authorities and the U.K. government, it continues to be our position that he should have been required to serve the entire sentence handed down for his crimes."