UNITED NATIONS, (Reuters) – The inquiry into the murder of a former Lebanese prime minister is turning up significant links between Hariri’s death and 14 other later attacks in Lebanon, the chief investigator said on Tuesday.
Serge Brammertz, who leads the U.N. investigation into the February 2005 assassination of Rafik al-Hariri, also said his probe continued to make numerous demands for interviews and evidence on Syria, which was cooperating in a “generally satisfactory” manner.
Investigators conducted six interviews and held five meetings with relevant Syrian officials in recent months, he said in his latest progress report to the Security Council. They also sought from Damascus “information, artifacts, electronic media and documentation about certain individuals and groups,” he said. “The level of assistance provided by Syria during the reporting period remains generally satisfactory. The commission will continue to request Syria’s full cooperation, which remains crucial to the swift and successful completion of its work,” he said.
Hariri, who became a critic of Syria’s decades-long domination of Lebanon shortly before his death, was killed along with 22 others by a huge bomb on Feb. 14, 2005 as his motorcade traveled along a Beirut street.
Syria denies involvement in the attack, which took place after Hariri accused Damascus of meddling in Lebanese politics. Street protests in Lebanon after the killing prompted Syria to withdraw forces that had been in the country for 22 years.
The Security Council, which created the U.N. commission to investigate Hariri’s death, later asked it to look into 14 other apparently politically motivated attacks that followed, seven of which ended in deaths.
It recently added to the team’s workload the Nov. 21 slaying of anti-Syrian Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel. “The commission’s work on the 14 cases continues to elicit significant links between each case and to indicate links to the Rafik Hariri case,” Brammertz said.
The findings suggest six of the attacks targeted individuals with known political leanings while the other eight aimed to “spread fear among the population” and “destabilize the security situation,” he said.
Brammertz, known for being tight-lipped in his public statements, said his work was now reaching a critical stage requiring him to say even less about his activities.
The current political turmoil in Lebanon, where the pro-Syrian opposition, led by Hezbollah, has declared the anti-Syrian government led by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora to be illegitimate, may make it even harder for witnesses to come forward in the already politically sensitive inquiry, he said.
The latest evidence gathered by the commission staff strongly suggested the bomb that killed Hariri was set off by a man standing right next to, or who was inside, the Mitsubishi van where the explosive was believed hidden, Brammertz said.
Previous commission reports had referred to the man now seen as the presumed suicide bomber as in his early 20s and not of Lebanese origin, due to a particular characteristic of a tooth found at the site.
Further analysis of the tooth and the chemical composition of 33 other bits of his DNA “show that the individual did not spend his youth in Lebanon but was situated there in the last two to three months before his death,” Brammertz said. His investigators were now trying to identify the area where he had lived during the previous 10 years, he said.