U.N. probe links Syria to Hariri killing
Witnesses 'tried to mislead the investigation'
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UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- U.N. investigators have found "converging evidence" of Lebanese and Syrian involvement in the February killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a released report has concluded.
Shortly after the United Nations called on Syria to remove its troops from Lebanon, five senior officials -- including the brother of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad -- allegedly plotted to assassinate Hariri, a key mover in getting the U.N. resolution passed, according to the U.N. report.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reportedly told reporters that she was disturbed by the report and said the international community must hold Syria accountable. (Full story)
In an October 12 interview with CNN, the Syrian president denied reports -- recounted in Thursday's document -- that he had threatened Hariri. Al-Assad had demanded that the former premier support an extension of the term of Lebanon's president, Emile Lahoud, a staunch Syrian ally.
The president told CNN that any Syrian involved in the plot "would be considered as a traitor and most severely punished."
"It is treason," he said.
On Friday, Lahoud denied a claim in the report that he received a mobile phone call from a suspect named in the report minutes before the bomb blast that killed Hariri.
Lahoud's office, in a statement, called the claim "baseless" and said it is "part of the continuing campaigns that target the presidency and the president himself and the national responsibilities which he holds and will continue to hold during this delicate time in Lebanon's history."
The assassination sparked a wave of protests in Beirut that helped lead to Syria's announced withdrawal from the country in April.
Copy of report
CNN was able to obtain a copy of the report given Thursday to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Security Council members, which lists the names of the men accused of planning the February 14, 2005, bombing that killed Hariri and 22 other people.
The names were not in copies of the report released for general distribution.
In addition to Maher Assad, the Syrian president's brother, those investigating Hariri's death accused Assef Shawkat, the president's brother-in-law; Jamil al-Sayyed, head of Lebanese intelligence; Hassan Khalil, former head of Syrian intelligence; and Bahjat Suleyman, a personal friend of the Syrian president, as participating in planning the assassination.
A witness, who is Syrian but lives in Lebanon, and who claims to have worked for Syrian intelligence services in Lebanon, told investigators that about two weeks before Security Council Resolution 1559 was passed, the officials decided to assassinate Hariri.
"He claimed that a senior Lebanese security official (al-Sayyed) went several times to Syria to plan the crime," the report says, and one of the meetings was at the Presidential Palace.
"At the beginning of January 2005, one of the high-ranked officers told the witness that Rafik 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 rewrite the history of Lebanon," the report says.
Resolution 1559 called for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Lebanon, disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias, extending Lebanese government control over its territory, and free and fair elections without foreign interference. It also called on Lebanon to disband guerrilla groups.
In Washington, a State Department official told CNN the United States is "analyzing the report and talking about next steps with other members of the Security Council."
The official said the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton, is meeting with the coordinator of the report, German prosecutor Detleve Mehlis, Friday morning.
Bolton will also meet with representatives of the five permanent members of the Security Council to discuss options.
"The bottom line is, the council asked for this investigation and this is a clear judgment what went on," a U.S. official said. "We expect an appropriately serious council response."
Mehlis' investigative report states that "many leads point directly towards Syrian security officials as being involved with the assassination," and it calls on Damascus "to clarify a considerable part of the unresolved questions."
Syrian officials have denied any involvement in the assassination. But given Syrian domination of its allied government in Lebanon, "it would be difficult to envisage a scenario whereby such a complex assassination plot could have been carried out without their knowledge," Mehlis concluded in the report delivered to Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Mehlis' report found that Syrian authorities cooperated "to a limited degree" with the investigation, but several witnesses "tried to mislead the investigation by giving false or inaccurate statements."
"Obviously this shows a very serious and troubling connection between senior officials in Lebanon and Syria. While this isn't definite proof, the cited lack of cooperation by Syria underscores the importance of ensuring we do everything we can to ensure Syria complies with 1559 and provides backing to us to allow us to do that," the U.S. official said.
The report said the assassination came at a time of "extreme political polarization and tension."
"Accusations and counter accusations targeting mainly Mr. Hariri over the period preceding his assassination corroborate the commission's conclusion that the likely motive of the assassination was political," it said.
"However, since the crime was not the work of individuals but rather of a sophisticated group, it very much seems that fraud, corruption, and money laundering could also have been motives for individuals to participate in the operation."
Hariri served as Lebanon's prime minister five times, and political sources close to the former leader said he was planning to stage a political comeback by publicly supporting the growing opposition to Syria's role in Lebanon.
Syrian troops entered Lebanon in 1976, in the early days of that country's 15-year civil war. They remained for nearly 30 years, until pressure from Lebanese protests and the international community following Hariri's killing forced Damascus to pull its troops out in April.
The investigation already has led to the arrests and indictments of four pro-Syrian Lebanese security chiefs allegedly linked to the assassination. All four were interviewed by U.N. investigators during the probe, with their lawyers present, and denied any involvement, the report states.
The indictments were issued for Brig. Gen. Jameel al-Sayyed, former director of the Lebanese police; Gen. Ali al-Hajj, former former head of the country's internal security forces; Gen. Raymond Azar, former head of military intelligence; and Gen. Mustapha Hamdan, Commander of the Republican Guard Brigade.
In addition, Syrian Interior Minister Ghazi Kanaan was reported to have committed suicide the same day of al-Assad's denial -- just hours after calling a Lebanese radio station to challenge allegations that he was involved in Hariri's killing. He was one of several senior officials U.N. investigators questioned in August.
Investigation 'not complete'
The attack took several months to prepare and required detailed monitoring of Hariri's movements, and "could not have been taken without the approval of top-ranked Syrian security officials," the report found. In addition, the report states, it could not have been carried out "without the collusion of their counterparts in the Lebanese security services."
The U.N. probe concluded that the bomb used to kill Hariri was detonated above ground and used at least 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds) of military explosives. But investigators have not yet determined how the bomb was detonated.
The convoy Hariri traveled in used jamming devices to prevent bombs from being detonated by remote control, so a suicide bomber may have set off the explosion. But investigators said further investigation was needed to determine how the bomb was set off.
The report recommended that Lebanese authorities pick up the investigation from this point, with assistance from the international community.
During the four-month investigation, the report said, investigators interviewed more than 400 people and reviewed 60,000 documents.
"Yet, the investigation is not complete," the report said.
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