VIENNA, Austria (AP) – U.N. investigators began questioning five Syrian officials in the Austrian capital on Monday in connection with the assassination of former Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri, a diplomat said.
Tight security surrounded the closed-door inquiry. The diplomat spoke only on condition he not be identified. The interviews were expected to last until Wednesday.
Following protracted wrangling, Syria recently agreed to let United Nations investigators question officials outside of Syria about the Feb. 14 truck bombing that killed Hariri and 20 other people in Beirut. Syria has denied any role in the killing.
The suspects flew to Vienna on Sunday.
An interim U.N. commission report, released in October, implicated top Syrian and Lebanese security officials in Hariri”s death, but the investigation has run into a series of obstacles.
A Syrian witness recently recanted testimony that had implicated Syrian officials in Hariri”s killing. Lebanese opponents have dismissed that development as a Syrian ploy to undermine the U.N. probe, but Syria has demanded a re-evaluation of the inquiry”s initial findings.
Syria has attempted to portray chief investigator Detlev Mehlis” interim report as a document "politicized" by the United States to punish Syria for its positions on Lebanon, Iraq and the Palestinians.
Lebanon has demanded a six-month extension of the U.N. probe, which currently expires on Dec. 15. No decision has been made on the extension request.
The U.N. Security Council warned Syria to cooperate fully with the commission or face "further action," diplomatic code for sanctions.
Hariri”s death sparked a wave of mass protests which, combined with international pressure, forced Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon in April, ending a 29-year military presence in the country.