Mehlis Again Says Syria Was Behind Lebanon Assassination
Investigator Says Syria Was Behind Lebanon Assassination
By WARREN HOGE
Published: December 12, 2005
UNITED NATIONS, Dec. 12 - The German prosecutor conducting the United Nations investigation into the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri of Lebanon said today that fresh evidence reinforced his earlier judgment that Syria's intelligence services were behind the killing and that Syrian officials were obstructing his investigation.
Detlev Mehlis, the leader of the inquiry, said in his second report to the Security Council on the February killing that his investigation had gathered a wealth of new and specific evidence.
His report said the information "points directly at perpetrators, sponsors and organizers of an organized operation aiming at killing Mr. Hariri, including the recruitment of special agents by the Lebanese and Syrian intelligence services, handling of improvised explosive devices, a pattern of threats against targeted individuals and planning of other criminal activities."
Mr. Mehlis said that investigators had been continually slowed by "arduous discussions and considerable delay due to procedural maneuvering and sometimes contradictory feedback from the Syrian authorities."
The 25-page report endorsed a request from the government of Lebanon for a six-month extension of its work, saying that more time was necessary "given the slow pace with which the Syrian authorities are beginning to discharge their commitments."
Though Mr. Mehlis himself is stepping down, as planned, this week to return to his work in the Berlin prosecutor's office, the Security Council is expected to approve the extension, possibly as soon as Tuesday, when it is scheduled to be briefed by him.
The United Nations is actively looking for a successor to Mr. Mehlis, said the spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric.
Mr. Hariri, a Lebanese politician opposed to Syrian domination of his country, was killed along with 22 others when a bomb exploded as his convoy was moving along a street in downtown Beirut on Feb. 14.
Syria has repeatedly denied any involvement and claimed that it was cooperating with Mr. Mehlis.
The commission said it had now taken testimony from more than 500 witnesses, some of them people with significant new information on the killing. It said it had identified 19 suspects whom it suspected of direct participation in the crime or in "deliberate attempts to mislead the investigation as to its perpetrators."
It did not name them.
The report said that two witnesses had confirmed that all Syrian intelligence documents concerning Lebanon had been burned. The commission said it found that no material regarding the assassination of Mr. Hariri remained in the Syrian files.
The report said the commission had 93 people working on the case and was "in close association" with Interpol and compiling an extensive tracking database essential for corroborating leads.
It said that a series of bombings in Lebanon since the Hariri assassination had not been part of its investigation. But it said it had uncovered new evidence that a high-level Syrian official supplied arms and ammunition to people in Lebanon to stage terrorist attacks "in order to create public disorder in response to any accusations of Syrian involvement in the Hariri assassination."
Throughout the report, the commission cited situations where Syrian cooperation had been minimal and it praised, by contrast, the help given by Lebanese authorities
In a passage questioning Syria's commitment but extending to Damascus a further opportunity to prove its good intent, the report said that Syria should "respond to the commission in a timely way, fully and conditionally, before it is determined whether it is complying in full with the provisions of Resolution 1636."
That resolution, passed by 15-to-0 vote on Oct. 31, compelled Syria to stop obstructing the United Nations investigation and cooperate "fully and unconditionally" or face unspecified "further action."
Though the final text of the resolution dropped explicit threats of economic sanctions, it was adopted under the rubric of Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, which gives the Council the power to impose punishment, including international economic measures and the use of military force.
The Mehlis commission said it had developed evidence that the truck that may have carried the bomb was stolen in Japan and then shipped to Lebanon via the United Arab Emirates. It said that Japanese and Emirati authorities were assisting the probe.
It said it had discovered "stark evidence" of how thoroughly Syrian intelligence undertook widespread surveillance operations in Lebanon that included close monitoring of Mr. Hariri and wiretapping of his telephone conversations.
Four high-level officials of the Lebanese security and intelligence services arrested this fall remain in custody, and additional evidence against them has been gathered, the report said.
It said that Syria was apparently keeping two key witnesses, Ziad Ramadan and Khaled Midhat Taha, from the commission and had resisted requests to make them available.
It confirmed that it had questioned five prime suspects at United Nations offices in Vienna last week and said a sixth interview had been postponed. That person is widely believed to be Asef Shawkat, Syria's military intelligence chief, who is the brother- in- law of President Bashar al-Assad.
Mr. Shawkat's name appeared in a final draft of the original Mehlis report, published on Oct. 20, which concluded that there was "converging evidence" that the Hariri killing was a carefully planned terrorist act organized by high-ranking Syrian and Lebanese intelligence officers. The report was edited at the last moment for legal reasons to remove names.
The new report noted that Syria had set up its own judicial investigation but in a strong suggestion that Mr. Mehlis viewed this as a diversionary measure, it warned that the Syrian effort "cannot invalidate or substitute for" its own work.
Damascus has in the past month conducted a campaign to discredit the Mehlis commission with Syrian state television repeatedly broadcasting an interview with a Syrian witness, Husam Taher Husam, who recanted his testimony and said he had been bribed to incriminate Syrian leaders.
Mr. Mehlis said he viewed this as "at the least, an attempt to hinder the investigation internally and procedurally."