DAMASCUS,(Reuters) – Syrian Interior Minister Ghazi Kanaan”s body was moved to his hometown on Thursday for a low-key funeral, a day after he killed himself with a bullet to the brain.
Damascus Attorney General Mohammed al-Loji said forensic examinations and a probe of his office had concluded that he shot himself in the mouth with his own pistol in his office.
He said Kanaan”s assistant had heard a faint shot and entered the major-general”s office to find him lying on the floor behind his desk, still breathing, with his pistol in his hand. He died in hospital.
Syrian newspapers reported Kanaan”s death on their front pages but ventured no motive for his apparent suicide, three weeks after he was questioned by U.N. investigators probing the assassination of Lebanese former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.
In line with the tradition of Syria”s state-controlled media, dailies gave prominence to remarks by President Bashar al-Assad, this time a CNN interview in which he said Syria was not involved in Hariri”s killing and that he could never have ordered it.
The death of Kanaan, Syria”s top official in neighbouring Lebanon for 20 years until 2002, came little over a week before U.N. investigators are due to present their findings on Hariri”s February killing in a massive bomb blast in Beirut.
Already under pressure from the United States which accuses it of allowing fighters into Iraq, Syria has grown increasingly nervous over Lebanese and international charges it is linked to Hariri”s death.
CONVOY OF CARS
In his first reference to the possibility that Damascus might cooperate with a potential international tribunal into Hariri”s murder, Assad told CNN if the killing was carried out without his knowledge the culprit would be tried for treason.
"If it happened then it”s treason," Assad said, hours before news of Kanaan”s death broke. "If (Syrians) are implicated they should be punished. International (court) or Syrian, whatever."
An ambulance adorned with flowers took Kanaan”s body from the private Shami hospital in central Damascus to his birthplace of Bhamra, in northern Syria, where he will be buried later on Thursday, witnesses said.
Senior military and security officials along with Prime Minister Naji al-Otari and Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shara were present at the hospital to pay their respects before the body left in a convoy of cars for his final resting place.
According to Muslim tradition, victims of suicide are given low key funerals.
Around an hour before he died, the 63-year-old called Voice of Lebanon radio to apparently give his last testimony, denying a media report that he had shown investigators photocopies of cheques signed to him by Hariri and defending Syria”s role in Lebanon, where it kept troops for 29 years until April.
Kanaan was the head of Syrian military intelligence in Lebanon from 1982 until 2002. He was appointed interior minister in 2004. In 2002, he was appointed as chief of the Syrian Political Security Directorate.
Syria was the main powerbroker in Lebanon after the end of its 1975-1990 civil war. It was forced to relinquish its grip amid international and local uproar over Hariri”s killing.