The US President’s criticism of the “mistake” added to a growing backlash against the Scottish decision to free on compassionate grounds the biggest mass murderer in British legal history.
Hours after the Scottish National Party administration in Edinburgh announced its decision, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, the only man convicted of the 1988 atrocity, flew home to the Libyan capital, Tripoli, where thousands waited to greet him.
Scottish and Libyan flags were waved, creating a festive atmosphere. Megrahi left the plane in a dark suit to be greeted by relatives and the Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi’s son, Saif al Islam Gaddafi.
The former intelligence agent has terminal prostate cancer and has less than three months to live. Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish justice minister, said freeing him showed Scotland’s “humanity”.
Despite his illness, Megrahi, 57, walked unaided up the steps of a plane at Glasgow airport.
After he left Scottish soil, Megrahi, who has served eight years of a 27-year sentence, released a statement protesting his innocence and expressing his “sympathy” for the families of the 270 people he was convicted of killing. The US government condemned the decision to release him, as did American relatives of some of the victims. One US Senator said that by releasing Megrahi, Scottish ministers had increased the threat of international terrorism. Internet campaigners threatened a US boycott of Scottish products.
Mr Obama said: “We have been in contact with the Scottish government, indicating that we objected to this and we thought it was a mistake.”
Gordon Brown’s government declined to comment but David Cameron, the Conservative leader, said it was “wrong”.
“This man was convicted of murdering 270 people,” he said. “He showed no compassion to them, they weren’t allowed to go home and die with their relatives in their own bed. This is a bad decision.”
The Scottish Parliament will be recalled from its summer break next week to debate the issue. At a press conference announcing his decision, Mr MacAskill tried to shift the blame on to London saying the Government had not expressed an opinion on Megrahi’s fate.