DAMASCUS, Syria, AP -Syria”s interior minister, one of several top officials caught up in the U.N. investigation into the slaying of Lebanon”s former prime minister, died Wednesday. The country”s official news agency said he committed suicide in his office.
The death — just days before the final U.N. investigation report is due — was a new and startling sign of turmoil in Syria, whose authoritarian regime is girding for the chance that the U.N. report might implicate high-ranking officials in the assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri. He was killed by a bomb in February as his convoy drove through Beirut.
"Interior Minister Brig. Gen. Ghazi Kenaan committed suicide in his office before noon," the Syrian Arab News Agency reported. "Authorities are carrying out the necessary investigation into the incident."
The news agency did not mention the U.N. investigation, which is due to issue its report by Oct. 25.
Hours before he died, Kenaan contacted a Lebanese radio station and gave a statement, concluding with the words: "I believe this is the last statement that I could make." He asked the interviewer to pass his comments to other media.
The interior minister in Syria controls the police, but before he was promoted to this position in 2003, Kenaan was Syria”s intelligence chief in Lebanon, presiding over Syria”s control of its western neighbor.
Lebanese newspapers have reported that he was among seven senior Syrian officials questioned last month by the U.N. team investigating Hariri”s murder. The other officials included Syria”s last intelligence chief in Lebanon, Brig. Gen. Rustum Ghazale and his two aides.
The investigators have named as suspects four Lebanese generals who are close to Syria; they are under arrest.
Many Lebanese believe Syria played a role in Hariri”s killing. The Syrian government has denied any involvement, but Syria dominated Lebanese political life until mass demonstrations and international pressure forced it to withdraw its troops from Lebanon at the end of April.
The big question in Syria is how long President Bashar Assad can last if the probe indicates his government played a part in Hariri”s death.
The regime is not very popular, but it has little opposition and any revolt would likely be pinned on the United States, which Syrians blame for the bloody insurgency in neighboring Iraq.
The potential suspects, according to Arab media reports, include senior Syrian security officials, members of Assad”s inner circle or even relatives. Some Assad family members hold powerful positions in the intelligence and security services.
Syria is reportedly planning a diplomatic offensive to discredit the report, which would include reaching out to China, India and Russia to help block a U.N. resolution and possible sanctions.