- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 20, 2005

NEW YORK — 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.

The 54-page anxiously awaited accounting of the Feb. 14 car bombing that killed Mr. Hariri and 20 others was released last night in New York — nearly midnight in Beirut and Damascus.

Anticipation of the U.N. report has caused the Lebanese stock market to soar in recent days.

Lebanese police and soldiers have been deployed throughout the capital to maintain order in an increasingly tense environment.

Many Lebanese fear a revenge campaign by Syrian soldiers or loyalists.

“Given the infiltration of Lebanese institutions and society by the Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services working in tandem, it would be difficult to envisage a scenario whereby such a complex assassination plot could have been carried out without their knowledge,” wrote Detlev Mehlis, a German criminal investigator and head of the U.N. panel.

His team of investigators interviewed more than 400 witnesses and reviewed 60,000 pages of documents.

Because of questions remaining and the volume of information, Mr. Mehlis wrote that the investigation “must continue for some time to come.”

Earlier this week, Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora requested that the Mehlis investigation be extended until at least mid-December and that its mandate be expanded to include the killing of journalists and other prominent citizens.

Mr. Lahoud is known to be close to Damascus.

Mr. Hariri’s death touched off eight months of demonstrations and pent-up anger at the Syrian troops and intelligence agents who had operated openly in Lebanon for more than 20 years.

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.

Indeed, it did not appear to be a simple matter to kill Mr. Hariri, the enormously wealthy and, in some quarters, still very popular politician.

Mr. Hariri traveled with private security, and on the morning of Feb. 14, the group was in a convoy of Mercedes sedans and a Chevrolet sport utility vehicle with communications-jamming devices and guns, followed by an ambulance with paramedics.

Shortly after 2 p.m. on the day of the assassination, the report found, a white Mitsubishi van was videotaped by a bank’s security camera to be traveling just ahead of the Hariri convoy, but moving at one-sixth the speed.

A blast, presumably from the van, ripped an enormous hole in the street and injured scores of people nearby.

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