UNITED NATIONS (AP) – A U.N. inquiry has identified people who may have been involved in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and is investigating new information about the buyers of a van used in the bombing, the chief investigator said.
While not identifying anyone, Belgian prosecutor Serge Brammertz said investigators had “significantly narrowed down” possible motives for the slaying to Hariri’s political and personal relationships in Lebanon, Syria and other countries. He said investigators believe the U.N. Security Council resolution in September 2004 aimed at blocking Lebanon’s pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud from a second term “played an important role in shaping the environment in which the motives to assassinate Rafik Hariri emerged.”
Lebanon’s Parliament ignored the council and voted hours after the resolution was adopted to amend the constitution so Lahoud could keep his job.
Brammertz did not provide any clues to those who may have been involved. He also said Syria and other states continued to provide “mostly positive responses” to requests for assistance.
Syria, which many Lebanese have blamed for the assassination, strongly denies being involved. The first U.N. chief investigator, Germany’s Detlev Mehlis, previously said the plot’s complexity suggested that Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services had a role.
Four pro-Syrian Lebanese generals have been under arrest 20 months for alleged involvement in the murder. Brammertz has not echoed Mehlis’ view.
In his eighth report, Brammertz signaled for the first time that the U.N. International Independent Investigation Commission would wrap up its work and transfer files and findings to the international tribunal established by the council on May 30 to prosecute suspects in the plot. He said information on the truck bombing that killed Hariri and 22 others in February 2005 has been consolidated into reports totaling more than 2,400 pages to help ensure “a smooth handover at the appropriate time in the near future” to the new tribunal’s prosecutor. The Security Council is scheduled to discuss the report on July 19, U.N. deputy spokeswoman Marie Okabe said.
Brammertz said the consolidation effort “helped identify a number of persons of particular interest who may have been involved in some aspect of the preparation and execution of the attack on Rafik Hariri” or “could have had prior knowledge” of the plot. The investigation confirmed that a single blast from a Mitsubishi Canter van packed with 3,960 pounds (1,800 kilograms) of high explosives was detonated “most likely” by a male suicide bomber, he said. He said investigators were still trying to pin down the precise origin of the explosives. He said the van had been stolen in Japan, shipped to the United Arab Emirates and transported to a showroom close to Tripoli in northern Lebanon in December 2004 where it was sold. “The commission has recently acquired information regarding the sale of the van to individuals who could be involved in the final preparation of the van for the attack on Rafik Hariri,” he said.
Brammertz also said investigators had determined that the suicide bomber was not Ahmed Abu Adass, a Palestinian living in Lebanon who appeared on a videotape claiming that he would carry out the attack that killed Hariri. He didn’t say how they reached that conclusion. He said it was possible that Abu Adass “was forced or duped” into recording the video and then killed or that he “willingly recorded the video together with individuals belonging to a wider extremist group” involved in the assassination.
The commission confirmed that individuals using six cell phone SIM cards “acted in a coordinated manner to conduct surveillance on Rafik Hariri in the weeks prior to his assassination,” Brammertz said.
“A detailed analysis of the use of these cards on the day of the assassination indicates that these individuals played a critical role in the planning and execution of the attack itself, as demonstrated by their movements and call patterns,” he said.