- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 14, 2006

NEW YORK — The chief U.N. investigator into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri told the Security Council yesterday that he was seeking links between that death and the killings of 14 other critics of the Syrian regime.

Serge Brammertz also asked for an extension and expansion of his mandate and said he had received generally satisfactory cooperation from Syria.

The international inquiry has already determined many of the facts behind the Feb. 14, 2005, assassination of Mr. Hariri, which also killed 22 others, Mr. Brammertz said in a report to the council. However, the identities of the people or groups behind it are still largely unknown.

He said his group’s probes of the 14 other killings — all believed to be connected to the victims’ outspoken rejection of Syrian interference in Lebanon — were largely stalled.

Mr. Brammertz said he has been examining the cases with two objectives — to solve the individual murders, and to establish any connections among them.

“Analytically, the cases can be linked in a number of different ways and from varying perspectives, notably in the similarities in the modus operandi, and their intent.” he said, “However, in terms of evidence, none of the cases is developed to an extent that would allow identification and linking of perpetrators.”

The Security Council is expected today to extend the inquiry for another year, and to authorize its staff to help Lebanese authorities investigate other “terrorist attacks” committed since Oct. 2004.

Mr. Brammertz, a former Belgian prosecutor who took up the inquiry six months ago, said the Syrian government has “generally responded to all requests in a timely manner.” His predecessor, Detlev Mehlis of Germany, had more difficulty with Damascus.

The government of Lebanon has been supportive of the commission’s work and has actively sought U.N. legal assistance to set up a hybrid court of international and Lebanese judges to try the perpetrators.

Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Program for Human Rights Watch, said he is delighted that the Lebanese authorities want to bring international law to the Middle East, a region where few countries have signed onto the International Criminal Court or other international legal mechanisms.

“If they are all linked, the 14 and the Hariri killings, and if they are part of a systematic plan by a group or a government, they would be crimes against humanity,” Mr. Dicker said.

“Look at the definition: It includes murder committed as part of a systematic or widespread attack on a civilian population [or] as part of a plan or policy of a group to advance its objectives. The stakes here are really quite historic in terms of an internationalized court.”

The 14 assassinations over the last two years have targeted critics of Syrian interference, including two journalists, human rights advocates and Lebanese lawmakers.

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