Syrian minister kills himself after UN quiz

Syria’s Interior Minister Ghazi Kanaan committed suicide in his Damascus office just weeks after he was quizzed by a UN investigator over the murder of former Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri.

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By  Published  October 16, 2005

Syria’s Interior Minister Ghazi Kanaan committed suicide in his Damascus office just weeks after he was quizzed by a UN investigator over the murder of former Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri. For many years Kanaan was a despised figure who was regarded as Syria’s most powerful intelligence chief in Lebanon, which was dominated by Syria until its military withdrawal earlier this year. The married father-of-six returned to Damascus in 2002 as political intelligence chief and joined the Syrian government cabinet last year as minister of the interior. A short statement from the country’s official Syrian Arab News Agency (Sana), released last week, read: “Interior Minister Brig Gen Ghazi Kanaan committed suicide in his office before noon.” It added the authorities were carrying out the “necessary investigation” into the incident. Hours before his death, Kanaan contacted Voice of Lebanon radio station and gave what he described as his “final statement”, adding: “I want to make clear that our relationship with our brothers in Lebanon was based on love and mutual respect... We have served Lebanon’s interest with honour and honesty.” The eagerly anticipated UN investigation report on Hariri’s assassination is expected to be published in less than two weeks. It is likely to implicate the shadowy Damascus-based intelligence regime in the bombing, which killed 20 people in central Beirut on February 14. Damascus has denied any involvement in the Hariri bombing, but it immediately came under heavy international pressure to relinquish its political and military control on Lebanon. The UN investigator, German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, questioned seven senior Syrian officials in Damascus during a visit at the end of September, it was reported by local media. Between the 1980s and his departure, Kanaan was Syria’s top official in Beirut, whom Lebanese leaders had to report to directly on political and security issues, correspondents say. The United States froze his assets there in July saying he had aided terrorism in Lebanon. Ghazi Kanaan was appointed interior minister in a major cabinet reshuffle in October 2004. Before joining the government, he was head of Syrian intelligence in Lebanon. The 63-year-old brigadier-general was born in the coastal governorate of Lattakia in 1942. After graduating from military college in 1965, he rose to become head of intelligence for the central region. Kanaan's rise to power culminated in him becoming a close aide to the late Syrian president, Hafez al-Assad, in the early 1970s. Like his predecessor at the Interior Ministry, Ali Hammoud, Kanaan had a lengthy career at the head of the Syrian intelligence services which were based in the country's neighbouring state, Lebanon. Between 1982 and 2002 he headed the security and intelligence branch in Beirut. Analysts say that made him the most powerful figure in Lebanon, to whom the country’s military and political leaders reported directly on all major issues. In 2002 he returned to Damascus to head the Political Security Branch, where he remained until his cabinet appointment. Although he left Lebanon three years previously, he was thought to have maintained his influence in the country until Syria completed the withdrawal of its forces in May this year.

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