Saturday, February 19, 2005

BEIRUT — The assassin who killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri traveled from Iraq through Syria to carry out the attack, according to the Beirut judge leading the inquiry into the bombing.

Rachid Mezher, senior investigator for the Lebanese military tribunal, said the organizers had been recruited from Islamist groups linked to Syria and operating against the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.

Investigators believe that a suicide bomber drove an explosives-laden car into the 60-year-old billionaire’s convoy Monday, killing him and 16 others.

Judge Mezher said he believed that a video, in which Ahmed Abu Adas said the attack was the work of “Victory and Jihad in Greater Syria,” was a genuine claim of responsibility.

Judge Mezher’s opinion, however, is far from universally accepted.

Shortly after the attack, Justice Minister Adnan Addoum said the claim could be an attempt to mislead investigators, the Associated Press reported from Beirut.

Abu Adas, 23, a Palestinian Lebanese believed to have fled the country, attended two Beirut mosques known to be recruiting grounds for the Ansar al-Islam group linked to the Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi.

Investigators suspect that the mosques have ties to Sheik Abderrazak, a Damascus cleric who has helped terrorists travel through Syria to Iraq.

The Beirut attack bore similarities to suicide bombings carried out in Iraq by Zarqawi, who leads the al Qaeda organization in Iraq.

Abu Adas, who also spent time in Saudi Arabia, is thought to have fought in Iraq.

“We know that Adas had Saudi Arabian nationality and used his passport to travel to Iraq and Syria,” said Judge Mezher in an interview.

“The man converted to strict Muslim beliefs two years ago and returned to Lebanon only recently after traveling to Iraq.”

The regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad denies involvement in the attack and has rebuffed calls from Lebanese leaders and the United States to remove Syria’s 15,000 troops from Lebanon.

Syria has a long history, however, of using extremist groups in Lebanon as proxy killers.

Mr. Hariri, prime minister for 10 of the 14 years since the civil war ended, resigned last year after Syrian pressure led to the extension of the term of Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, his chief rival.

Previously pro-Syrian, Mr. Hariri had planned to campaign during May’s general election against Syrian influence.

Walid Jumblatt, now the leading Lebanese opposition leader, has accused Damascus of commissioning the attack on Mr. Hariri. He is now at the vanguard of a popular movement to force the Syrian troops out of Lebanon.

“He got killed and we are all on that list; there is no immunity,” Mr. Jumblatt said. “Syria is responsible. Who else? We don’t want to open war with Syria, but they must go out.”

Many Lebanese believe that Mr. Hariri’s death was commissioned by Syria’s Mukhabarat intelligence service, and they fear that the official Lebanese investigation will be a whitewash.

The AP reported yesterday that nobody answered at the door of Abu Adas’ family residence.

Several neighbors said Abu Adas was reclusive, did not have a job and prayed five times a day at a nearby mosque. The neighbors said he sported a beard and wore clothing similar to that worn by Muslim fundamentalists and had not been seen for several weeks, according to the AP.

Authorities had said they confiscated computers, tapes and documents. They said the man’s whereabouts were unknown, and that family members had been detained for questioning.

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