Syria involved in killing Hariri, says UN

The findings drew the first official link between Damascus and the killing of the popular opposition leader.

The exhaustive report into the 14 February car bomb that killed Hariri and 20 others, issued to the UN Security Council late yesterday, will almost certainly inflame tensions in the region.

The council, which is likely to use the report to pressurise Syria to ease its continued influence on Lebanon, is scheduled to discuss the report on Tuesday and may consider sanctions against Syria. Late next week, it will also receive a report from Terje Roed-Larsen, the UN special envoy on Lebanon-Syria, about disarming Lebanese militias.

While the report from chief investigator Detlev Mehlis stopped short of fingering Syrian President Bashar Assad or his inner circle, it accused Syria of failing to co-operate and said the plot to kill Hariri must have had the blessing of Syrian security officials.

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.

The report includes a single reference to Assef Shawkat, Assad's brother-in-law and the Syrian intelligence chief. According to one witness, Shawkat forced a man to tape a claim of responsibility for Hariri's killing 15 days before it occurred.

That tape was aired on the al-Jazeera satellite channel the day of the blast but was discredited by Mehlis' investigators as an apparent attempt to divert attention from the real perpetrators. The man who made the tape, a Palestinian named Abu Adass, left his home on 16 January and was thought to have been taken to Syria, where he disappeared.

Mehlis was careful not to assign blame but cites witness testimony that strongly implicates several officials as conspiring to assassinate Hariri. Lebanon has already arrested four of them, all Lebanese generals close to Syria.

The report also raised questions about Lebanon's pro-Syrian president, Emile Lahoud, who received a phone call minutes before the blast from the brother of a prominent member of a pro-Syrian group, who also called one of the four arrested generals, Raymond Azar.

Those leads and many others still must be followed up before all the details of Hariri's killing will be known, Mehlis said. He asked for more time to work with Lebanese investigators, and in a letter accompanying the report, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he would extend Mehlis' investigation until 15 December.

In one of the most critical parts of the report, Mehlis said that Syria must cooperate if the continued investigation is to succeed. He accused Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa of having lied in a letter sent to Mehlis' commission, though he doesn't give details.

"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.

There wasn't a single reference in the report to Syria's Interior Minister Ghazi Kenaan, who had been questioned by Mehlis' team. Syria said he committed suicide last week, but many Lebanese have called the circumstances suspicious.

The US 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."

US 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 community."

Earlier this week, a US official and two UN 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 militias.

Hariri's death led to demonstrations against Syria and magnified the international pressure on Damascus to withdraw its troops, which it eventually did.

In meticulous detail, the report documents how Hariri's movements and phone conversations had been monitored for months. It casts suspicion on a decision by one of the four arrested Lebanese generals, Ali Hajj, to reduce Hariri's state security detail from 40 to eight in November, 2004.

Mehlis draws attention to Sheik Ahmed Abdel-Al, a prominent figure in the pro-Syrian Al-Ahbash Sunni Muslim Orthodox group, whom he called a "a key figure in an ongoing investigation." Abdel-Al had extensive contacts with top Lebanese security officials before and after the blast, and tried to hide information from investigators.

It was his brother who called Lahoud just before the blast.

The 53-page report goes on to outline Hariri's worsening relationship with Syrian officials and said the motive for his death appeared to have been political. Hariri had fallen out with Syria and eventually resigned in October, 2004, a month after a decision to change Lebanon's laws and extend Lahoud's term.

Pro-Syrian opponents had accused Hariri of being the driving force behind a UN resolution last September which unsuccessful attempted to stop Lebanon's parliament from extending the term of Lahoud, his longtime rival. The resolution also demanded the withdrawal of Syrian troops and intelligence operatives from Lebanon.

The report cites a witness as saying that Lebanese and Syrian officials had decided to assassinate Hariri about two weeks after the UN Security Council adopted the resolution.

One witness said that Brig. Gen. Mustafa Hamdan, another of the four generals under arrest, ended an October, 2004 conversation by saying: "We are going to send him on a trip, bye, bye Hariri."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Day In a Page

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

RuPaul interview

The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

Secrets of comedy couples

What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

The best swimwear for men

From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer
Mark Hix recipes: Our chef tries his hand at a spot of summer foraging

Mark Hix goes summer foraging

 A dinner party doesn't have to mean a trip to the supermarket
Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season

Aaron Ramsey interview

Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season
Community Shield: Arsene Wenger needs to strike first blow in rivalry with Jose Mourinho

Community Shield gives Wenger chance to strike first blow in rivalry with Mourinho

As long as the Arsenal manager's run of games without a win over his Chelsea counterpart continues it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men
The unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth - and what it says about English life

Unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth

Bournemouth’s elevation to football’s top tier is one of the most improbable of recent times. But it’s illustrative of deeper and wider changes in English life
A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms