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Inquiry shows Hariri’s killers still able to strike

Times Staff Writer

A U.N. inquiry into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri has identified new suspects and found that the perpetrators are highly organized, professional and still able to strike in Beirut.

In his latest report on the investigation into the 2005 killing and 18 possibly related political slayings, Belgian prosecutor Serge Brammertz said his team had drawn preliminary conclusions about a network that had targeted Hariri and others who opposed Syria’s continued influence in Lebanon.

Brammertz was careful to avoid explicit accusations or name suspects, though the report seems to suggest that Syrian and Lebanese security agents -- whether rogue or official -- worked together to target those who were slain. It also includes the possibility that extremist groups were involved. The report said the investigators were taking special precautions to protect witnesses and stem leaks about their conclusions because Lebanon’s political environment is so volatile.

Tensions are rising over the failure to elect a successor to pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, whose term expired last week, and Brammertz warned that “the prospect of a rapid deterioration cannot be excluded.”

Hariri had resigned as prime minister in protest over Syrian involvement in Lebanon before he and 22 others died in a suicide car bombing in Beirut on Feb. 14, 2005. Investigators’ early findings linked Syrian and Lebanese security officials to the blast, though Syria has denied involvement. The public uproar after his killing caused Syria to pull out its army and intelligence officials.

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Brammertz said that after a slow start, Syria has cooperated with the investigation. The team’s interviews of senior Syrian and Lebanese officials “allowed the commission to deepen its understanding of the level of cooperation which existed between Syrian and Lebanese security agencies during the period of interest,” the report said.

“The commission notes that evidence uncovered in the Hariri and some of the other attacks, including the recent assassination of Antoine Ghanem, confirms the fact that the perpetrators had and still have advanced and extensive operational capacities available in Beirut,” the report said.

Ghanem, an anti-Syrian Christian member of parliament, was killed by a car bomb in September.

The investigators have conducted 200 interviews, sorted through millions of phone records and discovered surprising details through forensic evidence.

The report’s description of advanced eavesdropping and surveillance capabilities suggests an organized, possibly official network.

Tests on the suicide bomber’s remains turned up some clues about his background. Experts were able to determine that he did not come from Beirut. A specific type of lead that is used in ammunition was detected in his body, suggesting that he lived near a conflict area or a military base as a young man, the report said.

They also concluded that the killers were able to put their targets under surveillance quickly, eavesdrop on phone conversations and carry out complicated preparations for attacks.

The report is Brammertz’s last for the commission, created by the Security Council.

When his term expires at the end of the year, he will be replaced by Canadian prosecutor Daniel Bellemare. On Wednesday, the Security Council approved Brammertz as the new chief prosecutor for the Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. He will replace Carla Del Ponte on Jan. 1.

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maggie.farley@latimes.com


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