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U.N.: Syria, Lebanon Involved in Slaying

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20051021/ap_on_re_mi_ea/lebanon_hariri_probe;_ylt=AiL4qZsPTcui150yZ1VdvHqs0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTA3b3JuZGZhBHNlYwM3MjE- U.N.: Syria,
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 20, 2005

      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
      report said.

      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
      17 countries.

      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
      December 2004.

      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."
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