UN team opens inquiry into Hariri murder

It's a white Mitsubishi Canter FH truck - 1995-96 model - a tarpaulin over the back to conceal the thousand kilograms of explosives that killed the Lebanese ex-prime minister Rafik Hariri and 20 others on 14 February.

Or that, at least, is what Detlev Mehlis, the head of the UN's International Investigation Commission, believes. In the picture, a photograph of a brand new lorry from what appears to be a Mitsubishi publicity brochure has the tarpaulin painted over it. On another mock-up, the tarpaulin is missing. "Has anyone information related to a vehicle of this kind, its owner, its whereabouts prior to 14 February 2004?" Mr Mehlis asked yesterday.

The commission was formally starting its investigation in Beirut with a team which will soon include investigators from Britain, Germany, Lebanon, Finland, Canada, Morocco, India, Chile, Kenya, Malawi, Austria, the Dominican Republic, Portugal, the Philippines, Denmark, Egypt, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, South Africa, Ukraine, the US and Zambia; which is, indeed, international.

It has, it appears, juridical powers and Mr Mehlis, who has been to Lebanon before - when he came to arrest the Palestinian believed to be responsible for the 1985 Berlin disco bombing - warned that any country which "does not provide [information] to the commission will bear the responsibility should we fail in our efforts to establish the truth".

German and Swiss explosives experts, he said, had now established "99.9 per cent" that the explosion that killed Mr Hariri was above ground and not detonated beneath the road.

Mr Mehlis did not know if the vehicle carrying the explosives was parked or being driven by a suicide bomber.

Nor did he know anything more than he had read in the local newspapers of men arrested in Syria who had allegedly confessed to Mr Hariri's murder - an intriguing tale, albeit one that Mr Mehlis is likely to take with a traditional sprinkle of Damascus salt on his tongue. Any arrests that had to be made would be by the Lebanese security authorities, and it was the Lebanese judicial authorities who would be involved in the inquiry.

Which is a bit odd - since the judicial authorities in Beirut have long been accused of working for the Syrians and because Mr Mehlis gently declined to reveal the wording of an understanding he had signed with those same authorities about the work of his commission. As they say, watch this space.

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