UNITED NATIONS, (AP) – The chief investigator probing the assassination of Lebanon’s former prime minister asked for more time Tuesday to determine the membership of a terrorist network behind Rafik Hariri’s death.
Daniel Bellemare said that he has evidence of the network and its ties to some other attacks but he asked the U.N. Security Council to extend the investigation for six months because there is still work to do to put together the “big puzzle.”
“I cannot tell you next year at this time, or in six months, or in three months I will have results,” he told a news conference. “I can tell you though that we’ll use every possible effort and we will expedite the process.”
South Africa’s U.N. Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo, the current council president, said council members “were very happy not to press him on that because we leave that to him.”
Bellemare, a former Canadian prosecutor who took over as chief investigator in January from Belgian prosecutor Serge Brammertz, said he will maintain investigative powers when he becomes chief prosecutor of the international tribunal that will seek to indict those responsible for the February 2005 suicide truck bombing that killed Hariri and 22 others.
Four pro-Syrian Lebanese generals have been under arrest for almost two years for alleged involvement in Hariri’s murder. Syria denies any involvement, but the furor over the attack forced Syrian troops to withdraw from Lebanon after a 29-year presence.
He said the U.N. chief will determine later when the tribunal becomes operational.
“I will only state that the filing of eventual indictments will not be immediate after the establishment of the tribunal,” he told the council. “The admissible evidence will have to be carefully and objectively considered.”
In his first report to the council on March 28, Bellemare said investigators have evidence that Hariri was assassinated by a “criminal network” linked to some other terrorist attacks in Lebanon.
Eleven attacks have targeted politicians, journalists and security officials; nine involve bombings in public places. A total of 61 people were killed in the attacks and at least 494 injured.
Bellemare reiterated several times that “criminal network” has “to be used interchangeably with the word terrorist.”
He refused to give any details of the extent, nature or members of the network that assassinated Hariri — or the other terrorist attacks linked to the network.
Bellemare reiterated Tuesday that the top priority of the investigative commission now is to gather more evidence about the “Hariri Network,” including its scope, the identity of all its participants, their roles in other attacks, and links with people outside the network.
The chief investigator was also peppered with questions about French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner’s confirmation earlier Tuesday that Mohammed Zuhair Siddiq, a Syrian reputed to be a key witness in the Hariri assassination, had disappeared while under house arrest in France.
Bellemare said Siddiq had been interviewed by the commission but never replied to an offer to enter its witness protection program.
“I don’t know where he is,” Bellemare said. “As far as (what) the impact of his disappearance is, this will have to be assessed.”