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French Version

Mehlis' report says top Syrian security officials approved Hariri's murder

UN Chief Investigator Detlev Mehlis said the decision to assassinate former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri could not have been taken without the approval top Syrian security officials and further organized with the “counterparts in the Lebanese security services.”

Mehlis, who presented his report to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, said in his report on the investigations his team conducted since June 16, 2005, that “witness statements who didn’t approach the authorities for lack of confidence told the commission” that Syria approved the killing of Hariri.

He also noted that the “Commission’s investigation has confirmed what many in Lebanon have long asserted, that senior Syrian intelligence officials had a powerful day-to-day and overall strategic influence on the governance of Lebanon.”

In his conclusion Mehlis wrote that the “structure and organization of the Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services in Lebanon at the time of the blast, including protocols for reporting, shows a pervasive impact on everyday life in Lebanon.”

Mehlis, who listened to depositions of various officials including Hariri’s own son Beirut MP Saad Hariri, came to the conclusion that “the evidence collected by the Commission point to the possibility that Syrian officials were involved in the assassination of Mr. Hariri. When the Commission attempted to get the cooperation of the Syrian Government in pursuing these lines of the investigation, the Commission was met with cooperation in form, not substance.”

He also noted the rocky relation between Hariri and the Syrian officials most notably Syrian President Bashar Assad, Foreign Minister Walid Moallem and Chief of Syrian Intelligence apparatus in Lebanon Rustom Ghazaleh.

Mehlis mentioned in his report that Hariri’s son said his father was threatened by Assad.

Saad said: “I discussed with my father, the late Rafik Hariri, the extension of President Lahoud’s term. He told me that President Bashar Assad threatened him telling him: “This is what I want. If you think that President Chirac and you are going to run Lebanon, you are mistaken. It is not going to happen. President Lahoud is me. Whatever I tell him, he follows suit. This extension is to happen or else I will break Lebanon over your head and Walid Jumblat’s. (…) So, you either do as you are told or we will get you and your family wherever you are.”

In his report, Mehlis also noted that Moallem thwarted the truth in his statement to the UN probe.

Mehlis explained: “The recorded interview clearly contradicts Mr. Al-Moallem’s witness interview of 20 September 2005 in which he falsely described” his 1 February meeting with Hariri as “friendly and constructive” and avoided giving direct answers to the questions put to him.

Moallem’s taped conversation with Hariri according to the report: clearly showed “Al-Moallem telling Hariri: we and the [security] services here have put you into a corner.”

Ghazaleh also gave falsified statements to the UN probe when he said that he met Hariri twice on August 26 2004 in Anjar before and after Hariri’s meeting with Assad.

Ghazaleh said he had discussed Hariri’s meeting with Assad and that “Hariri looked relaxed. Prime Minister Hariri said that his meeting with President Bashar Assad was cordial and brief. According to Prime Minister Hariri, President Assad told him: Abu Bahaa, we in Syria have always been dealing with you as a friend and as the Prime Minister of Lebanon. Today, I am also dealing with you as a friend and as the Prime Minister of Lebanon. We are of the view that it is in the interest of Lebanon to maintain the continuity of the regime by extending the term of office of President Lahoud. As a friend, we would like you to clarify your position regarding this matter. We are in no hurry to know the answer, and you may wish to think about it at your convenience.”

In his taped meeting with Al-Moallem, Hariri had said that Assad did not address him as Prime Minister or “as Rafik or anything of that kind. He just said: “I have decided.” I was totally flustered, at a loss. That was the worst day of my life.”

“He did not tell me that he wished to extend Lahoud’s mandate. I was not treated as a friend or an acquaintance.”

In a rare insight of the life Hariri led before he was assassinated the report details the “permanent” monitoring that he was under, especially after his security was diminished by orders from his former bodyguard Hajj.

“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 re-write the history of Lebanon.”

But the report clearly states that the four imprisoned Lebanese generals cooperated and plotted the murder, also naming the head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command Ahmad Jibreel and former MP Nasser Kandil.

Qandil was among the first to be questioned as a suspect by the UN team.

The report states: “General Jamil Al-Sayyed, according to the witness, cooperated closely with General Mustapha Hamdan and General Raymond Azar in the preparation of the assassination of Mr. Hariri.

“He also coordinated with General Ghazali (and, among others, people from Mr. Ahmad Jibreel in Lebanon). General Hamdan and General Azar provided logistical support, providing money, telephones, cars, walkie-talkies, pagers, weapons, ID-cards etc. Those who knew of the crime in advance were among others, Nasser Kandil and General Ali Al-Hajj.”

In further suspicion cast over Lahoud’s role in the murder, the report states that “another witness approached the Commission and stated that he had met with General Hamdan in the middle of October 2004. General Hamdan talked very negatively about Mr. Hariri accusing him of being pro-Israeli. General Hamdan ended the conversation by stating: “We are going to send him on a trip, bye, bye Hariri”. After the assassination, the witness was strongly reminded not to discuss this conversation with anyone.”

The report further states that one man who had been first questioned as a witness “but later as a suspect was Sheikh Ahmad Abdel-Al, a prominent figure in the Al-Ahbash,” Association of Islamic Philanthropic Projects.

The report states that “it does not appear that any other figure is as linked to all the various aspects of this investigation as Abdel-Al.”

Again linking it to Lahoud, the report says: “Abdel-Al has been in frequent contact with Mahmoud Abdel-Al, his brother, who is also active in Al-Ahbash. Mahmoud Abdel-Al’s telephone calls on 14 February are also interesting: he made a call minutes before the blast, at 1247 hrs, to the mobile phone of Lebanese President Emile Lahoud and at 1249 hrs had contact with Raymond Azar’s mobile telephone.”

Mehlis concluded that the course of investigations should not stop there and that there should be a follow-up on the “investigation of the prepaid telephone cards.”

According to him, “it is one of the most important leads in this investigation in terms of who was actually on the ground executing the assassination. This is a line of investigation that needs to be pursued thoroughly.”

Also late Thursday night Annan expressed in letter addressed to the president of the UN Security Council his “intention to extend the mandate of the Commission until 15 December 2005 in accordance with paragraph 8 of resolution 1595 (2005).”

Annan explained: “During this period the Commission would continue its investigation of the crime and assist the Lebanese authorities to further the investigation. This extension was also requested by His Excellency, Mr. Fuad Siniora, the President of the Council of Ministers of the Lebanese Republic, in a letter to me dated 13 October.” Mehlis also accused the Lebanese authorities of “negligence to undertake proper investigative measures and a full-scale professional crime scene examination immediately after the blast.”

He added that this “has made it difficult to resolve key questions regarding the execution of the bombing, such as the type of explosive used, or may have resulted in the potential loss of important evidence, such as useful CCTV videos.” Mehlis added: “It would not have been difficult for individuals outside of Hariri’s “inner circle” to predict the route that his convoy would follow on 14 February 2005. The Mitsubishi Canter van shown on the HSBC bank CCTV security system was the carrier of the explosives.” After the blast which killed Hariri and 21 other people, there were orders given by top Lebanese officers to clean the crime site after removing the burnt cars of Hariri’s convoy and closing the crater the blast caused in preparation to open the road.

According to the report, former head of the Surete General, General Jamil Al-Sayyed, who is currently arrested in suspicion of having a hand in Hariri's assassination, gave a contradictory statement to that given by head of the Presidential Guards General Mustapha Hamdan.

Sayyed’s statement had told the investigators that he read in the newspaper about the removal of the motorcade vehicles and “called General Ali Al-Hajj, the Head of the ISF and asked what was going on? Al-Hajj replied that two teams were working on clearing the road which would be reopened. In response to a direct question, Al-Hajj stated that the orders came from Mustapha Hamdan, the Commander of the Presidential Guard.”

In his statement Hamdan denied giving any orders saying he had no authority to do so.

Another “witness” who later became a suspect, Zuhir Ibn Mohamed Said Saddik, has given detailed information to the Commission about the crime, in particular insofar as the planning phase is concerned.

Siddik is believed to have a hand in the crime and also for lying to the UN probe. But as conflicting statements emerged from that meeting, the UN report states that Syrian officials had attempted to “mislead the investigations.” “The Commission has concluded that the Government of Syria’s lack of substantive cooperation with the Commission has impeded the investigation and made it difficult to follow leads established by the evidence collected from a variety of sources.”

“If the investigation is to be completed, it is essential that the Government of Syria fully cooperate with the investigating authorities, including by allowing for interviews to be held outside Syria and for interviewees not to be accompanied by Syrian officials.” Mehlis also pointed out that Syrian PM Farouk Sharaa had lied to the UN probe in attempts to "mislead the investigation."

Beirut 21-10-2005
Daily Star
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