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Syrian minister commits suicide

Kanaan said remarks on radio would possibly be his last statement.



Born in 1942 in the governorate of Lattakia.

Graduated from military school in 1965.

Member of Syria's Alawite minority and of its ruling Baath party.

Married, with four sons and two daughters.

Syria's top man in Lebanon, as military intelligence chief, from 1982 to 2002.

Headed Syria's Political Security Directorate until becoming Interior Minister in October 2004.

U.S. Treasury froze his assets this year "to financially isolate bad actors supporting Syria's efforts to destabilize its neighbors."

Questioned last month in U.N. probe into killing of Lebanese former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
(Source: Reuters)


Rafik Hariri

DAMASCUS, Syria (CNN) -- Syria's interior minister, who was head of the country's military intelligence in neighboring Lebanon for nearly 20 years, has committed suicide, officials said.

Ghazi Kanaan's death was reported Wednesday, days before the expected release of a United Nations report into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a prominent opponent of Syria's presence in Lebanon.

The 63-year-old Baathist major general died in a Damascus hospital of a gunshot wound to the head, according to the interior ministry and other government ministers.

The head of the intensive care unit at the hospital told CNN's Brent Sadler a small-caliber bullet went through the roof of Kanaan's mouth and exited through the back of his head.

Hours before his death, Kanaan had been interviewed by a Lebanese radio station after he called in to refute allegations that aired on Lebanese television Tuesday night that he had accepted bribes and payoffs while in the Lebanon post.

Kanaan told the anchorwoman at the Voice of Lebanon, a Christian radio station, that he had chosen to speak with her because he trusted her and wanted to clear his name after the report on NewTV, an independent television station.

"I want to clarify that what is being reported is baseless and all untrue," the interior minister said in a calm, firm voice.

Kanaan said he had nothing but good intentions for Lebanon and nothing against Hariri.

"I want to clarify that we have affection and mutual respect for our brethren (in) Lebanon and that was for everyone's advantage in order to pull out Lebanon from its crisis at that time," he said.

"We have served the interests of Lebanon with honor and all honesty."

Kanaan noted that Syria made sacrifices of blood for the cause of Lebanese unity and that Lebanon's liberation would not have been possible without Damascus.

And as if he already knew his fate, the interior minister told the anchorwoman that he was giving her this exclusive statement and he wanted her to pass it on to other Lebanese media "because I believe this is the last statement I can make."

Less than two hours later, he was dead.

An important political figure in Syria for more than 35 years, Kanaan was one of the most senior government officials to be interviewed by a German prosecutor heading the U.N. investigation into Hariri's killing. (Full story)

Those interviews took place about a week ago.

In his radio comments, Kanaan said he objectively answered all the questions posed to him by the investigators.

Many Lebanese said Syria ordered the car bombing that killed Hariri in February 2005 but Damascus has repeatedly denied any links.

The assassination sparked a wave of protests in Beirut that helped lead to Syria's announced withdrawal from the country in April.

Four pro-Syrian Lebanese generals have been arrested and charged in connection with Hariri's murder. (Full story)

A report from the U.N. probe is expected to be released within the next 10 days, and while it will mainly deal with the assassination itself, it is also expected to address the millions of dollars alleged to have changed hands in the corruption scandal.

Just before news of Kanaan's death, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad told CNN's Christiane Amanpour in an exclusive interview that Syria had no involvement in Hariri's death, and it was impossible for him to have ordered it.

But, he said, if the U.N. probe concluded that Syrians were involved, then they would be regarded as traitors and should be charged with treason and face punishment, either through the Syrian judicial process or by an international court.

"If indeed there is a Syrian national implicated, he would be considered as a traitor and most severely punished," Assad said.

Kanaan was the head of Syrian military intelligence in Lebanon from 1982 till 2002. He was appointed interior minister in 2004.

In July, the U.S. Department of the Treasury said it had frozen Kanaan's U.S. assets, alleging he was involved in Syria's military and security presence in Lebanon.

CNN's Sadler said Al-Assad's government was extremely shaken by the Kanaan's death. "Officials were incredulous at the news. He was the lynchpin of the Syrian security apparatus for more than two decades."

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