BEIRUT, (Reuters) – A U.N. inquiry into the murder of Lebanese former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri will summon more Syrian witnesses in the next few days, its chief investigator Detlev Mehlis was quoted on Saturday as saying.
In an interview published in Lebanon”s al-Mustaqbal newspaper, which was owned by the murdered ex-premier, Mehlis said he would ask Syria in the next few days if U.N. investigators could question new Syrian witnesses in Vienna, but did not identify them.
International investigators questioned five Syrian officials in the Austrian capital this week in connection with the Feb. 14 truck bomb that killed Hariri and 22 other people in Beirut.
Neither Syria nor the United Nations has identified the five but diplomatic sources say they included senior Syrian security officials, including Lieutenant-General Rustom Ghazali, Syria”s former intelligence chief in Lebanon, and his aide Jamae Jamae.
Mehlis said the Vienna interviews had been more fruitful than a series of earlier interrogation sessions in Damascus.
"The questioning was extensive and we received interesting information," the Arabic-language daily quoted him as saying.
The German prosecutor did not say whether he would ask Damascus to detain any Syrian officials as a result of the questioning.
In an interim report in October, Mehlis implicated senior Syrian security officials and their Lebanese allies in the murder and requested more cooperation from Damascus.
Syria has strongly denied any role in the murder but the report prompted a unanimous Security Council resolution threatening Damascus with unspecified action if it failed to cooperate with the investigation.
Mehlis also told the Arabic newspaper al-Hayat in comments published on Saturday that he would ask a Syrian witness who withdrew his testimony to clarify his statement to investigators.
Hosam Taher Hosam accused Lebanese officials on Syrian state television last month of threats, bribery and torture to induce him to testify falsely against Syria, saying the inquiry”s initial findings rested largely on his lies.
Al-Hayat quoted Mehlis as saying Hosam”s accusations did not undermine the investigation because "other witnesses confirmed his statement and we still hold the information and it is naive to believe that any part of the report was based on his testimony".
Mehlis, who is due to present his findings to the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday, left Lebanon on Saturday.
Lebanon has asked the United Nations to extend the inquiry for a further six months but Mehlis is stepping down when its initial six-month mandate expires this month.