Global Policy Forum

UN Probe Has Identified People

Associated Press
July 12, 2007

A U.N. inquiry has identified people who may have been involved in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and is investigating new information about the buyers of a van used in the bombing, the chief investigator said Thursday. Belgian prosecutor Serge Brammertz said a consolidation of information on Hariri's assassination and 17 other murders or attempted murders has helped identify "important aspects and individuals of common interest across several areas of the investigation."

Investigators have also "significantly narrowed down" their probe into possible motives for the assassination to Hariri's political and personal relationships with political leaders and officials in Lebanon, Syria and other countries, he said. Brammertz said the investigators' working hypothesis is that events surrounding the U.N. Security Council's adoption of a resolution in September 2004 aimed at preventing Lebanon's pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud from having a second term "played an important role in shaping the environment in which the motives to assassinate Rafik Hariri emerged." Lebanon's Parliament ignored the council and voted hours after the resolution was adopted to amend the constitution so Lahoud could keep his job.

The first U.N. chief investigator, Germany's Detlev Mehlis, said the killing's complexity suggested the Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services played a role in Hariri's assassination. Four Lebanese generals, top pro-Syrian security chiefs, have been under arrest for 20 months, accused of involvement in Hariri's murder. Brammertz has not echoed Mehlis' suggestion, and did not provide any clues to those who may have been involved. He said Syria and other state have continued to provide "mostly positive responses" to requests for assistance.

In his eighth report to the U.N. Security Council, Brammertz signaled for the first time that the U.N. International Independent Investigation Commission would be wrapping up its work and transferring its files and findings to the international tribunal, which the council unilaterally established on May 30 to prosecute suspects in the killings. He said the consolidated reports totaling more than 2,400 pages - including a 2,000-page report covering all areas of the Hariri investigation - were prepared to help ensure "a smooth handover at the appropriate time in the near future" to the new tribunal's prosecutor. The Security Council is scheduled to discuss the report on July 19, U.N. deputy spokeswoman Marie Okabe said.

In the process of consolidating the commission's work between March and June, Brammertz said, investigators had obtained "an up-to-date bird's eye view of the different strands of the investigations" which enabled them to draw up new work plans, totaling 150 pages, with key objectives. "The consolidation effort ... has helped identify a number of persons of particular interest who may have been involved in some aspect of the preparation and execution of the attack on Rafik Hariri or the other cases under investigation or could have had prior knowledge that plans to carry out these attacks were underway," Brammertz said. "The commission will pursue this line of inquiry as a priority in the coming months," he said.

The U.N. investigation has confirmed that a single blast from a Mitsubishi Canter van packed with 1,800 kilograms (3,960 pounds) of high explosives - a mix of RDX, PETN and TNT - was detonated at 12:55:05 p.m. on Feb. 14, 2005 "most likely" by a male suicide bomber, Brammertz said. "Ongoing efforts to determine the precise origin of the explosives and to ascertain possible forensic links with other cases will be pursued as priorities in the next reporting period," he said. As for the van, it left a Mitsubishi factory in Japan in February 2002 and was reported stolen in the city of Kanagawa, Japan, in October 2004, Brammertz said. It was then shipped to the United Arab Emirates and transported to a showroom close to Tripoli in northern Lebanon in December 2004 where it was sold. "The commission has recently acquired information regarding the sale of the van to individuals who could be involved in the final preparation of the van for the attack on Rafik Hariri," he said. "This line of inquiry is being pursued as a priority."

In previous reports, Brammertz said the suspected suicide bomber did not spend his youth in Lebanon but spent his last two or three months in the country. To determine the man's origins, the commission collected 112 soil and water samples from 28 locations in Syria and Lebanon, and 26 samples from locations in other countries which were not identified. Based on preliminary results, Brammertz said, the commission's experts believe the man was probably between 20 and 25 years old, with short dark hair, and lived in an urban environment for the first 10 years of his life and in a rural environment during the last 10 years of his life. The commission has also been able "to establish a limited number of countries where the suicide bomber could come from," he said.

Brammertz said the commission was also able to confirm previous conclusions that Ahmed Abu Adass, a Palestinian who lived in Lebanon, "is not the suicide bomber" despite his appearance on a video tape claiming responsibility for the attack that killed Hariri and 22 others. The commission is continuing to investigate two possible hypotheses - that Abu Adass "was forced or duped" into recording the video claim and then killed, or that he "willingly recorded the video together with individuals belonging to a wider extremist group" he said. The group may have come together to film the claim of responsibility, acquire the Mitsubishi van and have it prepared with explosives, identify a suicide bomber, and assist in delivering him and the bomb to the scene of the crime, Brammertz said. "In this regard, the commission has established that some of Ahmed Abu Adass' associates had links to networks involved in extremist activities in Lebanon and elsewhere in recent years," he said.

Brammertz noted that the commission has acquired more than five billion records of telephone calls and text messages sent through cell phones in Lebanon, communications data from a number of other countries, and "a very large number of detailed subscriber call records." Based on its recent consolidation efforts, he said the commission "has confirmed and advanced its earlier conclusions that individuals using six mobile cellular telephone SIM cards acted in a coordinated manner to conduct surveillance on Rafik Hariri in the weeks prior to his assassination." "A detailed analysis of the use of these cards on the day of the assassination indicates that these individuals played a critical role in the planning and execution of the attack itself, as demonstrated by their movements and call patterns," he said. Brammertz said the commission has established the origin of the SIM cards and is finalizing its understanding of the circumstances surrounding their sale.

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