U.N.: Syria, Lebanon Involved in Slaying
U.N.: Syria, Lebanon Involved in Slaying
By EDITH M. LEDERER and NICK WADHAMS, Associated Press
Writers 17 minutes ago
UNITED NATIONS - High-ranking Syrian and Lebanese
security officials plotted the assassination of former
Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in a complex
operation that needs further investigation, a U.N.
probe concluded Thursday.
The investigative report was the first official link
between government officials in Damascus and the car
bomb that killed Hariri and 20 others on Feb. 14 and
was almost certain to increase already heightened
tensions in the region.
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 said.
U.N. officials gave investigators two more months to
pursue the probe and set Security Council debate on
the report for Tuesday.
Questions were also raised about Lebanese President
Emile Lahoud, Syria's staunchest ally. He received a
phone call minutes before the blast from the brother
of a prominent member of a pro-Syrian group a call
that should be part of a further investigation, the
The strongly worded report by chief investigator
Detlev Mehlis didn't call for the arrest of any
Syrians, but it was highly critical of the Syrian
government. 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.
Earlier this week, a U.S. official and two U.N.
diplomats said the United States and France were
preparing new Security Council resolutions critical of
Syria over its alleged involvement in the
assassination and alleged arms funneling to Lebanese
U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said shortly after the
report's release that the United States has
"considered various contingencies" but would decide
what to do next only after it had read the report and
consulted with "other interested governments."
Later, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack
said: "An initial reading of the report indicates some
deeply troubling findings and clearly the report
requires further discussion by the international
The 53-page report painstakingly outlines Hariri's
relationship with Lebanese and Syrian officials, and
the events leading up to the assassination, which it
said appeared to have been political. The report was
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
The report said the intelligence services of Syria and
Lebanon kept tabs on Hariri before his assassination
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
assassinate 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
Mehlis' team had already named Hamdan and three other
Lebanese generals, all close to Syria, as suspects in
the assassination, and Lebanon has arrested them.
The report said there are no indications that Ahmed
Abu Adass, a Palestinian who claimed responsibility
for the bombing in a videotape aired on Arab satellite
channel al-Jazeera shortly after the attack, drove a
truck containing the bomb that killed Hariri.
It said evidence shows he was taken to Syria, where he
has disappeared. The report said one witness claimed
to have seen Abu Adass outside Ghazali's office in
Another claimed he is imprisoned in Syria and was
forced to record the videotaped claim at gunpoint in
Damascus 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 Syria's cooperation in form but not
substance "has impeded the investigation and made it
difficult to follow leads established by the evidence
collected from a variety of sources."
He called for the investigation to be extended with
Lebanese judicial and security authorities in the
"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 said he would extend
Mehlis' investigation until Dec. 15, which would allow
the team to continue its work and help the Lebanese
Several lines of investigation still need to be
pursued, Mehlis said. They include jamming devices in
Hariri's convoy that were functioning at the time of
the bombing. It appears there was interference with a
telecommunication antenna at the crime scene at the
time Hariri was killed, Mehlis wrote.
In Lebanon, authorities had increased security ahead
of the report's findings. Many there blame Syria for
Hariri's assassination. Syria has denied involvement
and so have the four Lebanese generals.
Hariri's death led to demonstrations against Syria and
magnified the international pressure on Damascus to
withdraw its troops, which it eventually did. The
Security Council approved a probe into Hariri's
assassination on April 8.
The report said a Syrian witness living in Lebanon who
claimed to have worked for Syrian intelligence in
Lebanon told the commission that "senior Lebanese and
Syrian officials decided to assassinate Rafik Hariri"
about two weeks after the U.N. Security Council
adopted a resolution in September 2004 demanding the
withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon.
The witness, who was not identified, claimed a senior
Lebanese security official went to Syria several times
to plan the crime. At the beginning of January 2005, a
high-ranking Syrian officer posted in Lebanon told the
witness that "Hariri was a big problem to Syria."
"Approximately a month later the officer told the
witness that there soon would be an `earthquake' that
would re-write the history of Lebanon," the report
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.
Minutes before the bomb went off, Mahmoud Abdel-Al,
the brother of Sheik 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 Muslim Orthodox
group and the report called the sheik "a key figure in
an ongoing investigation."