Syria agrees to handover suspects

IN THE eleventh hour, before the deadline set by German judge Detlev Mehlis leading the investigation into the killing of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri expired, Syria finally agreed to permit five of its citizens to be questioned at the United Nations (UN) headquarters in Vienna.

  • E-Mail
By  Massoud A. Derhally Published  December 4, 2005

IN THE eleventh hour, before the deadline set by German judge Detlev Mehlis leading the investigation into the killing of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri expired, Syria finally agreed to permit five of its citizens to be questioned at the United Nations (UN) headquarters in Vienna. The announcement came in the form of a press conference held by Syria’s deputy foreign minister, Walid Al Muallem accompanied by the Syrian Foreign Ministry’s legal advisor Riad Daoudi. The breakthrough came in the wake of mounting international pressure on Damascus, which had grown isolated since the unanimous passing of UN Security Council Resolution 1636, which threatens punitive sanctions if Syria is deemed noncompliant by the chief UN investigator. Intervention by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is believed to have played a major role in assuaging reservations of Mehlis and the UN investigating team, and swaying Syria to agree to the interviewing of the five individuals — believed to be officers suspected of involvement in the assassination of Hariri. Though Muallem refused to name those who flew to Vienna for questioning last Tuesday, it is widely believed they included: Brig. Gen. Rustom Ghazaleh, chief of military intelligence in Lebanon before the Syrian withdrawal last April; Brig. Gen. Bahjat Suleiman, Syria’s domestic intelligence chief; Brig. Jamaa Jamaa, a senior aide to Ghazaleh; Brig. Abdel-Karim Abbas of the intelligence’s Palestine department; and Brig. Zhafer Youssef, a communications expert. Some media reports had included Brig. Maher Assad, Syrian president Bashar Assad’s younger brother and head of the presidential guard, on the wanted list, as he was one of the individuals implicated in the unedited version of the Mehlis report that was leaked to the media. On November 27, Syrian television broadcasted a lengthy interview with a witness by the name of Husam Taher Husam who allegedly escaped from Lebanon to Syria. In the interview, Husam asserted he was interviewed by Mehlis and described the atmosphere at the headquarters of the UN investigation team at the Monterverde, on the east of Beirut, as dubious. Husam lambasted the UN investigating team in addition to the Lebanese minister of interior Hasan Saba and Lebanese journalist Fares Khashan of Future TV, owned by the Hariri family. He claimed he was tortured and so gave false testimony to the Mehlis investigation team. He then recalled various accounts, one in which he was instructed to question Lebanon’s former general security chief Jamil Al Sayed, currently under arrest along with three other security chiefs. Husam also claimed that Saad Hariri, son of the former Lebanese premier — currently visiting Latin America — had met with him several months before and offered him US$1.3 million in exchange for him testifying against Syrian officials. Husam alleged that Hariri had also offered to provide him with a new identity and take up costs for plastic surgery. Hani Hammoud, a close aid to Hariri, vehemently refuted the claims of Husam. Speaking to Future TV, Hammoud said Hariri had never met Husam, adding the allegations are a “desperate attempt by desperate people to mislead the investigation and public opinion.” For its part, Syria wants the German prosecutor to revise his report on the murder of the former Lebanese premier in light of the statements made by Husam. Meanwhile another witness in the assassination of Hariri investigation, who owned a mobile telephone business and was questioned by the Mehlis investigation team, died in a mysterious road accident that left him beheaded — raising suspicions of foul play. As Arabian Business went to press, there were reports that the Lebanese government was planning to ask the UN to extend Mehlis’s mandate, which requires him to report back to the UN Security Council by December 15. This is in addition to plans to form an international tribunal to try Hariri’s suspected assassins, according to the Lebanese daily An Nahar. The only venue mentioned so far for such a tribunal is Moscow, a close ally of Syria. The investigation continues.

Add a Comment

Your display name This field is mandatory

Your e-mail address This field is mandatory (Your e-mail address won't be published)

Security code