BEIRUT, Lebanon, AP -The chief U.N. investigator into the assassination of a former Lebanese premier, armed with new powers from the Security Council, has summoned six senior Syrian intelligence officers for questioning, a Lebanese official said Saturday.
The officers include Syrian President Bashar Assad”s brother-in-law.
The official, close to the U.N. team investigating former Premier Rafik Hariri”s killing, said chief U.N. investigator Detlev Mehlis sent the summons to the Syrian government via the United Nations on Wednesday.
Mehlis has sent a letter to Secretary-General Kofi Annan demanding to question at least six Syrian officials, the official told The Associated Press. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media about this sensitive issue.
There was no immediate Syrian comment due to the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr.
The London-based pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat reported Saturday that Mehlis wanted to question six senior Syrian officers at the U.N. commission”s headquarters at the hilltop Monteverde Hotel east of Beirut, and not in Syria.
The Security Council this week adopted Resolution 1636, giving Mehlis the power to question any Syrian at a location and under conditions of his choosing.
Despite its declared readiness to cooperate with the U.N. probe into Hariri”s killing, the Syrian government, citing the country”s sovereignty, reportedly opposes allowing Syrian witnesses or suspects to be questioned by U.N. investigators outside Syria. It is particularly sensitive about Syrians being questioned in Lebanon because of concerns for their safety.
Al Hayat said the men Mehlis wanted to question included Assad”s brother-in-law, Gen. Assef Shawkat, chief of Syria”s military intelligence service; Maj. Gen. Bahjat Suleiman, former chief of Syria”s internal intelligence apparatus; and Brig. Gen. Rustum Ghazale, the Syrian intelligence chief in Lebanon when Hariri was assassinated.
The other three senior officers listed in the summons did not include Assad”s brother, Maher, whose name was mentioned, along with Shawkat, in Mehlis” report to the Security Council last month.
Lebanese Prosecutor-General Saeed Mirza declined to comment on Al Hayat”s report when contacted by the AP.
"I don”t know. You have to ask Mr. Mehlis," Mirza told the AP.
The Security Council resolution demanded that Syria cooperate more fully with the U.N. probe into Hariri”s killing or face "further action." The resolution requires Syria to detain anyone considered a suspect by U.N. investigators. It also would freeze assets and impose a travel ban on suspects named by the investigative commission.
The resolution came less than two weeks after Mehlis released his report concluding it was not likely that Hariri could have been killed without senior Syrian approval.
Syria dominated Lebanon for 29 years and was forced to withdraw its military in April under international pressure. The report accused Syria of not cooperating fully in the probe.
Syria repeatedly has denied any role in Hariri”s death, but its opponents in Lebanon accuse it of ordering the slaying because Hariri had increasingly resisted Damascus” control of Lebanon.