Syria rejects UN report on Hariri slaying
Senior Syrian and Lebanese security officials plotted the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a U.N. probe has concluded.
The investigative report was the first official link between Syrian officials in and the car bomb that killed Hariri and 20 others over nine months ago. The decision to assassinate Hariri "could not have been taken without the approval of top-ranked Syrian security officials and could not have been further organized without the collusion of their counterparts in the Lebanese security services," the report noted.
According to the AP, the U.N. gave investigators two more months to continue the probe and set Security Council debate on the report for Tuesday.
There are also questions regarding the role of Lebanese pro-Syria President Emile Lahoud, a bitter foe of Hariri. He got a phone call minutes before the explosion from the brother of a well-known member of a pro-Syrian group, the report revealed. It said Mahmoud Abdel-Al, the brother of Sheikh Ahmed Abdel-Al, made a call to Lahoud's mobile phone and another to the mobile phone of Brig. Gen. Raymond Azar, then head of Lebanon's military intelligence. The brothers are both members of the pro-Syrian Al-Ahbash Sunni Orthodox group and the report called the sheikh "a key figure in an ongoing investigation." Speaking to Al Jazeera TV, Al-Ahbash spokesman denied any involvement in the killing of Hariri. He said that the phone call was not connected to political issues and of course not to Hariri.
The report by chief investigator Detlev Mehlis was critical of the Syrian regime. It accused Syrian authorities of trying to mislead the investigation, and directly accused Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa of lying in a letter sent to Mehlis' commission.
The 53-page report describes Hariri's relationship with Lebanese and Syrian officials, and the events leading up to his assassination, which it said appeared to have been political. The details in the report were based on the findings of an initial brief U.N. investigation, statements from 244 witnesses, crime scene exhibits, and the work of 30 investigators from 17 states. The report noted that a number of witnesses had voiced fears that they would be harmed for cooperating with the probe.
The report said the intelligence services of Syria and Lebanon kept tabs on Hariri before his slaying by wiretapping his phone, and there was evidence a telecommunications antenna was jammed near the scene of the car bomb.
The report quotes a Syrian witness living in Lebanon who claimed to have worked for Syrian intelligence in Lebanon as naming several officials who conspired to kill Hariri. They included Brig. Gen. Rustum Ghazale, the last Syrian intelligence chief in Lebanon who was in charge when Hariri was assassinated, and Brig. Gen. Mustafa Hamdan, who was Lebanese commander of the Presidential Guards Brigade at the time of the assassination. One witness quoted Hamdan as saying in October 2004: "We are going to send him on a trip, bye, bye Hariri." The witnesses were not identified.
The report said there are no indications that Ahmed Abu Adass, a Palestinian who claimed credit for the bombing in a videotape aired on Arab satellite channel al-Jazeera shortly after the blast, drove a truck containing the bomb that killed Hariri. It said evidence indicates he was taken to Syria, where he has disappeared. The report said one witness claimed to have seen Abu Adass outside Ghazale's office in December 2004.
Another claim is that Abu Adass is in fact imprisoned in Syria and was forced to make the videotape 15 days before Hariri's assassination by Syria's national intelligence chief Assef Shawkat, who is President Bashar Assad's brother-in-law.
Mehlis said the most likely scenario for the activation of the explosives was a suicide bomber. A slightly less likely possibility was a remote controlled device, he said.
Mehlis said Syria's cooperation "has impeded the investigation and made it difficult to follow leads established by the evidence collected from a variety of sources."
"If the investigation is to be completed, it is essential that the government of Syria fully cooperate with the investigating authorities, including by allowing interviews to be held outside Syria and for interviewees not to be accompanied by Syrian officials," Mehlis said.
In a letter accompanying the report, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan wrote he would extend Mehlis' investigation until Dec. 15.
As expected, Syria rejected the report. "I think the report is far from professional and will not lead us to the truth," Mehdi Dakhlallah, the Syrian information minister, said in an interview Friday on Al-Jazeera television.
He added the report, about which he had seen media reports but did not have an official text, was "100 percent politicized" and "contained false accusations." "It is a political statement against Syria based on allegations by witnesses known for their hostility to Syria," he added.