Second Report Mehlis upholds implication of Syria in Hariri killing

In his second report into the killing of former Lebanese prime minister Hariri, UN investigator Detlev Mehlis upheld his original thesis and implicated Syria in the assassination, as well as bringing new evidence to light that could be damaging to Damascus.

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By  Massoud A. Derhally Published  December 18, 2005

In his second report into the killing of former Lebanese prime minister Hariri, UN investigator Detlev Mehlis upheld his original thesis and implicated Syria in the assassination, as well as bringing new evidence to light that could be damaging to Damascus. The report, delivered to the UN Security Council last week, said new information gathered from one witness pointed “directly at perpetrators, sponsors and organisers of an organised 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”. It added: “The Commission has not found any significant evidence that alters the conclusion of probable cause which is set out in the previous report concerning the involvement of top ranked Syrian and Lebanese officials” in the killing of Hariri. The report also indicated the complicity of the Lebanese military intelligence services and Syrian security services in the tapping of Hariri’s telephone conversations, as well as those of a number of prominent figures in Lebanon. While the commission was able to examine some of the transcripts, and reviewed 26,000 pages of telephone conversations, some have been destroyed. It said it is in the process of trying to retrieve them. When asked to characterise the level of Syrian cooperation in the investigation, Mehlis told reporters: “We are not seeing full cooperation. Hopefully it will turn into full cooperation.” A total of 52 witness statements were taken from October 7 to December 10, while some 37,000 pages of documentation were entered into the case file, according to the report. In addition, the report disclosed that there are now 19 suspects in the investigation and said “there is reason to believe that these individuals may have been involved in some way in the planning or execution of this crime or engaged in deliberate attempts to mislead the investigation as to its perpetrators”. The 25 page report indicated Syria was stonewalling investigators with respect to their request to interview five officers that eventually flew to Vienna to be questioned at the UN headquarters earlier this month, and said: “It is up to the Syrian authorities to be more forthcoming in order to make headway in a process that will be most probably a long one if it is to be judged against the pace of progress to date.” The report did not indicate if the 19 suspects included the five Syrian officers that were questioned, but it said statements by two of the five officers interviewed in Vienna “indicated that all Syrian intelligence documents concerning Lebanon had been burned”. It added that Judge Ghada Murad, who heads the Syrian Special Investigation Commission set up to look into the killing, told the UN International Independent Investigation Commission (UNIIC) that “no material regarding the assassination of Mr. Hariri had been found in Syrian intelligence archives.” Syria lambasted the first report on the investigation and said it was politicised and lacked evidence. In the interim period between the first and second reports by the UN, the “masked witness”, Husam Taher Husam, whose testimony was cited in the first report, appeared in a press conference on Syrian television and recanted his statements. Syria, as a result, said this called into question the credibility of the UN report. But the Mehlis report raised question marks with respect to Mr. Husam’s recent appearance. It said he “provided to close friends an account of the assassination [of Hariri] that was similar to the account he provided to UNIIC”, before he left Lebanon to Syria. The report added that Mr. Husam’s recanting of his testimony on Syrian television was not what it appeared to be. The report said it has credible information that indicates, prior to Husam’s public recanting of his testimony, “Syrian officials had arrested and threatened some of Mr. Husam’s close relatives in Syria”. It added: “Preliminary investigation leads to a conclusion that Mr. Husam is being manipulated by the Syrian authorities, raising serious questions about whether the Syrian Judicial Commission is committed to conducting an independent, transparent, and professional investigation into this crime.” The commission said a number of new witnesses with important information regarding the assassination had come forward. Information from one witness, said the report, implicates Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services and “strengthens the evidence confirmed to date against the Lebanese officers in custody, as well as high-ranked Syrian officers”. The report also cited that after the assassination of Hariri, “a high level Syrian official supplied arms and ammunition to groups and individuals in Lebanon in order to create public disorder in response to any accusations of Syrian involvement in the Hariri assassination”. The scope of the investigation has also widened to include the UAE, from where it is believed the Mitsubishi Canter Truck laden with 1000kg of explosives that killed Hariri and 22 others last February, passed through after it was stolen from Japan on October 12, 2004. Meanwhile, France circulated a resolution in the UN Security Council, which was co-sponsored by the US and UK, to widen the investigation into Hariri’s death. At the request of the Lebanese government, the resolution added that all terrorist acts that have taken place in the country since October 2004 should be looked into, starting with the assassination attempt on Druze MP Marwan Hamadeh. Including that incident, Lebanon has seen 14 car bombs so far since that date. The most recent was the assassination of prominent lawmaker, journalist and publisher of the An Nahar daily newspaper, Gibran Tueni, a day after his return to Beirut from France. Meanwhile, Mehlis told the UN Security Council he plans to step down but to remain available for assistance when needed. His replacement is so far unknown, but there are indications that his deputy will fill the position.

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