Saying that his investigation has reached a “critical stage,” Belgian prosecutor Serge Brammertz says that he has now identified suspects in the killing of ex-Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and has also made connections between that crime and 14 other politically motivated killings over the past 2 years:
The U.N. probe into ex-Premier Rafik Hariri’s assassination has now identified suspects and witnesses and found possible links to 14 other murders or attempted killings in Lebanon over the past two years, chief investigator Serge Brammertz said.
Brammertz, a Belgian prosecutor, said his investigation has reached “a critical stage.”
In its fourth report to the U.N. Security Council issued Tuesday, the International Independent Investigation Commission which Brammertz heads provided new evidence and tantalizing clues about the suicide bombing that killed Hariri and 22 others on Feb. 14, 2005.
Brammertz said his investigators have now identified a number of suspects and witnesses but agreed with Lebanon’s prosecutor general that none of their names should be made public to avoid prejudicing any trial.
“The commission has reached a critical stage in its investigations, and with this in mind, the commission and the prosecutor general of Lebanon believe that placing information concerning witnesses and suspects in the public domain would be contrary to the principles of fairness and justice,” Brammertz said.
He also revealed that the commission’s work on 14 other cases of murder and attempted murder since October 2004 “continues to elicit significant links between each case, and to indicate links to the Rafik Hariri case.”
While not revealing the names of any suspects, Bramertz’s predecessor Detlev Mehlis, in his first report to the United Nations on behalf of the Commission, did in fact reveal several Syrian suspects in the killings. The information was later redacted at the request of the American State Department according to a report in the Daily Star at the time. Other reports indicate that Kofi Annan himself requested that the names be squelched. But the names were out in the open nonetheless, thanks to a mistake in releasing the report in Microsoft Word format. And, if the witnesses can stay alive until the Tribunal hears from them, the world will indeed be shocked to discover that Syrians at the highest levels of government not only knew of the plot to kill the beloved Hariri but actively planned and participated in the murder.
Some of the Syrian government officials named in the Mehlis report are:
* Maher al-Assad, brother of President Bashar Assad
* Assef Shawkat, Syrian President Bashar Assadâ€™s brother-in-law and head of Syrian intelligence;
* Bahjat Suleiman, a high ranking Syrian intelligence officer;
* Ghazi Kenaan, the former Syrian Interior Minister and commander of Syriaâ€™s intelligence apparatus in Lebanon between 1982 and 2002.
President Assad himself threatened Hariri personally in a meeting just weeks prior to the assassination according to Saad Hariri, the ex-Prime Minister’s son and current leader of March 14th Forces in Parliament:
Saad said: â€œI discussed with my father, the late Rafik Hariri, the extension of President Lahoudâ€™s term. He told me that President Bashar Assad threatened him telling him: â€œThis 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 Jumblatâ€™s. (â€¦) So, you either do as you are told or we will get you and your family wherever you are.â€
(Here is a link to the unexpurgated Mehlis Report)
Besides President Assad, Hariri was warned by Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister and former Ambassador to Washington Walid Mouallem, in a meeting just days before the assassination, who told him that Syrian security services had him â€œcorneredâ€ and not to â€œtake things lightly.â€ The former Prime Minister said after the meeting that â€œit was the worst day of his life.â€
In addition to the Syrians, four Pro-Syrian Lebanese generals have been in jail for 15 months, suspected of being involved in the conspiracy. There are also indications that perhaps even one or more of Hariri’s bodyguards may have been involved, given that the assassins knew precisely when Hariri would be passing the King George’s hotel, in front of which the massive truck bomb was detonated killing 22 others in addition to the ex-Prime Minister.
The investigators have discovered that a team of bombers used aliases and six cell phones to communicate on the day of the Hariri bombing and there were indications that they had significant knowledge about security measures.
“The location of the telephones when used, and the purposes for which some of the linking numbers were used have revealed the high degree of security-aware behavior exhibited by individuals under investigation,” Brammertz said.
One of those cell phones was used by a mysterious Lebanese who has connections to President Lahoud:
One shadowy Lebanese operative appears to have been a conduit for several of the factions involved in the killing. Sheikh Ahmad Abdel-Al, a prominent figure in the Al-Ahbash, Association of Islamic Philanthropic Projects, and a close friend to President Lahoud, 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 the mobile telephoneone of one of the Lebanese Generals implicated in the plot, Raymond Azar.
Connections to the 14 other politically inspired murders in Lebanon reveal a systematic campaign by the Syrians to strike fear into anyone who would oppose their rule in Lebanon as well as an effort to destroy organized efforts to kick the Syrians out of the country:
The report said some of the victims of the targeted attacks were directly or indirectly linked to the March 14 Forces. Samir Kassir, Gebran Tueni, George Hawi and Marwan Hamadeh were associated with it in one context or another.
It said another link between Marwan Hamadeh, Rafik Hariri, Samir Kassir and Gebran Tueni was their association with An Nahar newspaper.
Some of the victims were also connected to each other or to Rafik Hariri through family ties, friendship or other personal association, the report added.
Brammertz said 240 “exhibits” related to the killing have been sent to a laboratory for forensic research and analysis.
Among the forensic exhibits being analyzed are body parts of the suspected suicide bomber, who, according to the Lebanese Medical Examiner was Palestinian. This points to another probable accomplice in the conspiracy; the notorious head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine â€“ General Command Ahmad Jibreel. The PFLP Commander has been a thorn in the side of Israel for many years and is the author of dozens of terrorist attacks directed against the Jewish state.
A Palestinian also made a videotape claiming responsibility for the attack:
Brammertz said the commission is also investigating Ahmed Abu Adass, a Palestinian who lived in Lebanon and appeared on a video tape claiming responsibility. The investigation “has elicited some useful information” from individuals associated with him in Lebanon and abroad.
A previous report from Brammertz in June said there was no evidence Adass was involved. But in Tuesday’s report, he said investigators were focusing on how Adass was chosen “for the role he played” and his alleged involvement with unnamed individuals in late 2004 and early 2005, when he disappeared.
(Here’s a link to the entire Brammertz Report)
I mentioned earlier the problem with keeping witnesses alive long enough to testify before the International Tribunal who will hear evidence connected with the assassinations. That’s because several witnesses have already disappeared or been murdered. It’s no wonder that Brammertz wants to keep much of his evidence hidden because revealing too much will give Syrian intelligence an idea of who might be squealing. This from the Wikpedia entry on the Mehlis Report:
In December 2005 the UN’s case against Syria came under scrutiny when a main witness of the Mehlis report (Hussam Taher Hussam) was publicly identified and dramatically recanted his testimony, claiming he had been bribed and tortured by Lebanese interests to testify against Syria.
However, the 10 December Mehlis report asserts receipt of “credible information that, prior to Mr. Hussam’s recent public recantation of his statement to UNIIC, Syrian officials had arrested and threatened some of Mr. Hussam’s close relatives in Syria.”
Similar circumstances surround Zuhair Ibn Muhammad Said Saddik, who was later revealed to be the unnamed primary witness in the report. He originally approached the commission with detailed information about the planning of the attack but then later changed his testimony and confessed to participating in the attack. In his testemony, Saddik said that senior Syrian and Lebanese officials had met in his apartment to plan the assassination. He is currently under arrest in Paris at the request of Mehlis for his possible involvement in the Hariri assassination.. Subsequent to this, the UN commission which had submitted the Mehlis report to the UN security council has raised serious doubts about the reliability and the credibility of the Siddik declaraions.
Nawar Habib Donna, a Tripoli cellphone dealer who sold five of the eight prepaid phone cards connected to the killing, was killed in an apparent car accident in November 2005.
Then there’s the case of the strange “suicide” of a key witness Ghazi Kanaan, the former Syrian intelligence chief in Lebanon. He gave some preliminary interviews to the Mehlis team but he died before a formal statement could be given. He was living in France at the time of his “suicide” and there has been ample speculation about who might have wanted him dead - including a bizarre plot involving Hafez al-Assad’s exiled brother who might have been manipulating Kanaan in order to oust current President Bashar. At any rate, is is thought that another reason (among many) that Assad wants the Tribunal squashed is that the investigation by both Mehlis and Brammertz will reveal internal Syrian power struggles and details of other plots.
But nothing will happen until the Lebanese Parliament approves the enabling legislation for the Tribunal to go forward. At the moment, given the political turmoil in Lebanon, that appears a long way off.