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October 21, 2005
Syria Knew About Hariri Assassination Plan: UN

The UN report into the assassination of Rafik Hariri accuses Syria's Assad dictatorship of knowledge of the plot before its execution, and also points a finger at long-time Syrian stooge Emile Lahoud, the current president of Lebanon. Lebanese officials expect the findings to cause some uproar in Beirut and have already deployed security forces to keep the peace:

Former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated with the full knowledge of Syrian security officials and their Lebanese allies, according to a U.N. report that also casts suspicion on Lebanese President Emile Lahoud. ...

Syrian President Bashar Assad earlier this week denied that Damascus had any connection to the assassination. But the report paints a detailed portrait of involvement by senior members of Syria's security and political apparatus and will give weight to efforts by Washington, Paris and London to sanction Syria in the U.N. Security Council.

The U.N. investigation notes that shortly before the fatal blast, Islamic militant Ahmad Abdel-Al, who is described as having ties to the Syrian authorities, telephoned Mr. Lahoud, among others. The international investigation notes that the crime had been prepared for several months by a well-connected group and that Mr. Hariri's movements were carefully monitored. His telephones had been tapped and his schedule scrutinized.

More figures get named than just Lahoud. The report notes the significance of a face-to-face meeting between Hariri and Bashar Assad, in which the latter tells the soon-to-be-deceased that he must comply with Syria's wishes to extend Lahoud's term in office or that Assad would "break Lebanon over your head". Immediately afterwards, Hariri told a Syrian deputy foreign minister that Syria would no longer rule Lebanon, whereupon the Syrian replied that Syrian intelligence had him under close surveillance and not to take them too "lightly".

Two weeks later, Hariri died in the car explosion.

It appears from the UN report that a number of high-level officials in both countries took part in this assassination:

The report listed several officials who witnesses alleged knew about or played an advance role in the assassination. They included Gen. Jamil Sayyed, Gen. Mustapha Hamdan, Gen. Raymond Azar -- senior Lebanese officials who have been arrested -- and Gen. Rustum Ghazali, Syria's most recent intelligence chief in Lebanon. The day before the assassination, the report said, witnesses allege that Ghazali met with the head of Hariri's protection detail, emerging "badly shaken."

Another witness said Hamdan had accused Hariri of being pro-Israeli and had said, "We are going to send him on a trip, bye, bye Hariri." After Hariri's assassination, the witness was "strongly reminded not to discuss the conversation with anyone," the report said.

The report also cited an allegation by one witness against Assad's brother-in-law, Maj. Gen. Asef Shawkat. The unidentified witness told the commission that Shawkat forced an Islamic militant, Abu Adass, to record a tape claiming responsibility for the bombing two weeks before it occurred, to create the misimpression that the attack was the act of a lone suicide bomber.

The heavy involvement of Lebanese officials will make this even more explosive in Beirut. The newly-minted independent democracy will face tough challenges in bringing these people to justice. Syria still exercises a great deal of political influence in Lebanon behind the scenes, and some of the people involved will hardly feel it necessary to leave quietly. If they remain, however, the crowds that brought democracy back to Beirut after thirty years of war might just take to the streets again to demand blood.

This UN report does make it almost impossible for the UN Security Council to dither any longer on this issue. The US-French effort to push devastating sanctions onto Assad's narrow shoulders should continue apace, and perhaps the report might even convince Russia and China to step aside and withhold their vetoes and protection from Assad. Dictatorships can't act this stupidly and still expect their allies to unquestionably endorse them forever.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at October 21, 2005 6:19 AM

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