Friday, October 21, 2005

Mehlis Report: Shades of Grey

Top Syrian Seen as Prime Suspect in Assassination
By JOHN KIFNER and WARREN HOGE
October 21, 2005, NY Times

UNITED NATIONS, Oct. 20 - The United Nations investigation into the murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri of Lebanon is focusing on the powerful brother-in-law of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria as the main suspect, a diplomat with intimate knowledge of the inquiry said Thursday.

The diplomat spoke as a long-awaited United Nations report on the killing made public on Thursday said it was a carefully planned terrorist act organized by high-ranking Syrian and Lebanese intelligence officers.

Though the report did not include names, the diplomat said the investigators were focusing on Syria's military intelligence chief, Asef Shawkat, the president's brother-in-law.

"Their main lead is that he is the ringleader," the diplomat said. "This is where it is heading."

Detlev Mehlis, the United Nations investigator, has been given an extension until December to continue his inquiry. He said his commission had in four months interviewed more than 400 people, reviewed 60,000 documents and arrested four high-level officials of the Lebanese "security and intelligence apparatus."

"There is evidence in abundance," the diplomat said. "But to get every piece of the puzzle they need more time." He spoke on condition of anonymity because of what he described as the extreme sensitivity of the matter.

Mr. Shawkat is considered the second most powerful man in Syria and has been seen as a likely candidate to take over the country if the embattled Mr. Assad were removed from office.

The diplomat, describing Syria as a "country run by a little family clique," said the involvement of any one in Mr. Assad's inner circle would be a severe blow to the government.

"There is absolutely no doubt, it goes right to the top," he said. "This is Murder Inc."

In his report, Mr. Mehlis said the killing last February was carried out by "a group with an extensive organization and considerable resources and capabilities."

The report said, "There is converging evidence pointing at both Lebanese and Syrian involvement in this terrorist act."

The 54-page report said the crime had been planned "over many months" and that the movements of Mr. Hariri and the convoy he traveled in had been closely monitored with his "itineraries recorded in detail."

As evidence of the coordination, the report listed cellphone records that showed close street-by-street observation of his convoy by people planning the killing. It also said the telecommunications antenna near the crime scene had been tampered with.

Mr. Hariri and 15 others died when a bomb blew up his six-car convoy on a downtown Beirut street.

It said the van containing the bomb had earlier been seen in a Syrian military base in Lebanon.

Mr. Mehlis and his investigators spent several days in September interrogating Syrian security officials in a resort near the Syria-Lebanon border, and his report said that leads developed there "point directly towards Syrian security officials as being involved with the assassination."

Indications that the Mehlis report would reveal a Syrian role in the Hariri killing have focused pressure on Mr. Assad and caused intense anxiety in political circles in Damascus and Beirut.

As the investigation tightened this month, the Syrian interior minister, Ghazi Kanaan, who for two decades had called the shots in Lebanon as Syria's virtual proconsul, was found dead in his Damascus office, shot in the mouth with his own pistol.

Syria's official news agency announced that the death had been a suicide.

The United Nations investigators - as well as many Lebanese and Syrians - cast doubt on that account, suspecting instead that he was either killed by government agents or forced to kill himself under some threat.

Investigators had two theories, the diplomat said: "One was that he had either given information to Mr. Mehlis or was about to. The other was that he was involved in plotting a coup."

Reuters is reporting:
Lebanon and Syria both distanced themselves from the contents of the 53-page report by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis and his 30 investigators.

Hariri and 20 others were killed last February 14 by a bomb blast in Beirut that Mehlis said ``could not have been taken without the approval of top-ranked Syrian security officials and could not have been further organized without the collusion of their counterparts in the Lebanese security forces.''

Lebanese President Emile Lahoud's office said some information in the report was part of a campaign against him, while Syria said the report was politically motivated and untrue.

``The report is far from the truth. It was not professional and will not arrive at the truth but will be part of a deception and a great tension in this region,'' Syria's information minister, Mahdi Dakhl-Allah told Al Jazeera television.

The report said the probe was still incomplete and in an accompanying letter, released late on Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan extended the team's work until December 15.

One witness quoted in the report said Gen. Assef Shawkat, the brother-in-law of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, set up an Islamic militant, Ahmed Abu Adass, as a decoy to claim responsibility for the plot.

Shawkat, Syria's military intelligence chief, allegedly forced Adass to confess on a videotape two weeks before the assassination. But the suicide bomber was probably an Iraqi who thought he was killing Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a visitor in Beirut shortly before the bombing, the report said.

LEBANESE PRESIDENT GOT A CALL

Mehlis' report was the first official document to link Syria to the killing and was bound to heighten tensions in the region. Two anti-Syrian members of the Lebanese parliament immediately called for Lahoud to resign.

Lahoud, an ally of Syria, received a phone call minutes before the blast from the brother of a key figure in the plot, Ahmad Abdel-Al, who had phoned ``all the important figures in this investigation.'' Abdel-Al is a leader of a pro-Syrian Lebanese charity group.

The United States has been talking to France and Britain on possible U.N. Security Council resolutions critical of Syria over its alleged involvement in the killing and other meddling in Lebanon, despite the withdrawal of its troops last April.

After the report's release, U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said Washington would decide what to do in a few days but ''obviously'' had ``considered various contingencies.''

But Syria's Assad insisted last week that his country was ''100 percent innocent'' in the assassination.

However, Mehlis concluded the sophisticated plot took months of preparation and the motive was primarily political because of Hariri's opposition to Syrian domination of Lebanon. But it said some of the participants may have been motivated by ''fraud, corruption, and money-laundering.''

``Given the infiltration of Lebanese institutions and society by the Syrian and Lebanese intelligence 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,'' Mehlis wrote.

He said several Syrians interviewed had given false or inaccurate statements, including Foreign Minister Farouk al-Shara and his deputy, Walid al-Mualem.

According to one witness, a senior Lebanese security official went several times to Syria to plan the crime, meeting once at the Meridian Hotel in Damascus and several times at the Presidential Palace and the office of a senior Syrian security official. The last meeting was held 7-10 days before the assassination, the report said.

The report presented damning evidence on the four pro-Syrian Lebanese generals arrested and charged earlier in connection with Hariri's killing, on Mehlis' recommendation.

One witness approached investigators to say he had met one of the four, Gen. Mustapha Hamdan, commander of the Republican Guard Brigade, in October 2004.

'BYE, BYE HARIRI'

Hamdan talked very negatively about Hariri, accusing him of being pro-Israeli, the witness said. The general then ended the conversation by stating, ``We are going to send him on a trip -- bye, bye Hariri,'' the report said.

The Mehlis commission interviewed more than 400 people, reviewed 60,000 documents, identified several suspects and established numerous important leads in its first four months.

Other figures that unidentified witnesses linked to the assassination plot included Gen. Rustom Ghazali, head of the Syrian military intelligence service in Lebanon and Brig. Gen. Jamil al-Sayyed, head of a Lebanese security force.

The report did not, however, mention Gen, Ghazi Kanaan, the former head of Syrian military intelligence in Lebanon, who Syrian officials said committed suicide on October 12.

22 Comments:

At 10/21/2005 06:21:00 AM, Blogger Lebanon Divided said...

This is only the beginning.

Bashar Assad will regret the day he blessed the killing of Hariri.

Maher Assad and Assef Shawkat will have nowhere to run.

Wait and See

 
At 10/21/2005 06:24:00 AM, Blogger Anton Efendi said...

I guess if I were you writing from where you are and thinking in that little box you're thinking in I would call it "grey" and "murky" too. it's about the last thing you have left anyway. It's cute. But that's the thing about your blog recently. It's been quite cute.

 
At 10/21/2005 06:41:00 AM, Blogger Joseph ALi Mohammed said...

Amateurs have been running Syria. The criminal Assad family had been given the green light for 35 years to destroy anything they wanted in both Syria and Lebanon for that long, and now it seems that their role as the destroyers of Syria has been achieved and their presence in power will serve the opposite aims of those that had inflated their egoes, andmade them that much stupid and arrogant in their thinking.

Their time has come. Poor Syrians for they will even pay more than they have already paid of their dignity and honour. Syria has been destroyed.

JAM

 
At 10/21/2005 06:54:00 AM, Blogger DavidP said...

While waiting for you to post on this, Joshua, some of us have already commented on your last on the subject: Waiting for Mehlis

 
At 10/21/2005 07:05:00 AM, Blogger Ghassan said...

To everyone who was involved in the ordering, planning, executing, and covering up of the crime, you can run but not hide!

I promise you that you will get the punishment that you deserve!

To our brothers and sisters in Syria, the days of oppression and torture by the hands of the AL-Assad family mafis totalitarian regime are numbered and you will be free!

To my fellow Lebanese, let us unite and start building our beloved country. We will NEVER forget the civil war and how we killed each other. We will NEVER forget the 29 years of Syrian occupation. We should NEVER allow outsiders to interfere in our differences!

May God bless Lebanon and bless Hariri who gave his life for an independent, sovereign, free LEBANON.

 
At 10/21/2005 07:12:00 AM, Blogger DavidP said...

Correction: Waiting for Mehlis ---

 
At 10/21/2005 07:30:00 AM, Blogger Bluefloyds said...

I don't really care about Bashar or Assef, they can both go to hell, which they are anyway.
But I think most of the bloggers here has a deep hatered against Syria in general and not only the regime.
Lebanon will always be a trouble for itself and a weak spot in our arab nation, we talk sweet and fancy but the sects here are as retarded and backwarded as ever. Sectarian fight for centuries was never an outside conspiracy, it was always us, for centuries, before there was a States of Lebanon or Syria.
OK lets delude ourselves in whatever ways we want, but please be a reasonable people do not spread or develop our sectarian idiotic mantra and hatered into an international one.
Go bite each other but do not blame that on outsiders, which is always easier and sparea us self realization as the babies we are, it is always in the blood of our country unfortunately, we have to start seeing ourselves in the mirror, not just looking into it.
Stop using our tongues and may be start using our heads for a change.

 
At 10/21/2005 07:58:00 AM, Blogger Nur-al-Cubicle said...

L'Orient-Le Jour reports that the British accidentally leaked an unredacted portion of the report, where an unnamed Syrian witness claims that: Two weeks after the adoption of 1559, Maher el-Assad, Assef Shawkat, Hassan Khalil, Bahjat Sleiman, Jamil Sayyed and Moustafa Hamdan decided, while meeting in Damascus, to kill Rafic Hariri

 
At 10/21/2005 08:03:00 AM, Blogger Lebanon Divided said...

Bluefloyds, point me to a hate message towards the state of Syria on this thread?

You are fake.

 
At 10/21/2005 09:27:00 AM, Blogger Nafdik said...

It is so nice to see that once every few deacdes, murderers do meet justice.

Even though the whole world is (rightly) being moved by the murder of one man. This murdering machine has killed 10s of 1000s in last 30 years.

 
At 10/21/2005 10:36:00 AM, Blogger Suha said...

Right, this is all very good, Syria needs to be punished, the regime is a murdering machine, etc...

None of this is new. But some of the comments on this blog sound like war cries. "You will get the punishment that you deserve"? "This is only the beginning"? What, are you the striking arm of the investigation commission?

If anything, this report makes me more anxious that anything. As much as I would like to see justice done, I brace myself at its expected impact. On the Syrian people (as JAM said) and on the Lebanese. See, I don't believe in fairytales. Especially ones populated by trigger-happy bloggers.

 
At 10/21/2005 10:43:00 AM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

JAM said it right. The Assad family had been given the green light for years. It just did not dawn on them that attitudes in Washington were shifting and that the green light was suddenly turning amber if not red.

The Assad regime runs on one platfrom : "No Matter what we do, so long as we can convince the world that Syria's only alternative is Islamic Fundamentalism, we will be fine".

Harriri was known to have said to his close associates "they dont dare touch me". Any rational individual would have agreed with his logical assumption. That is everyone but the Assad regime. Even a 2-year old who learnt of the Harriri murder, must have suspected Syria was behind it. It was so obvious, however, that most rational people thought "it cannot be them ...it is just too obvious". This is why the green light analogy offered by JAM is so relevant. When you have gotton away with everything over 40-years, you develop a sense of Invincibility.

At a hastily called news conference, Mehlis told reporters that he stands by the final version and "deleted" names since they were identified by a witness AND HAD NOT BEEN CORROBORATED IT COULD GIVE THE WRONG IMPRESSION OF GUILT. He then concludes, None of these changes were influenced by anyone.

Now what? This is an astonishing development. Rice follows it up by "syrians must be accountable for Harriri's death" and that there is strong support to extend Mehlis's mandate till December 15th.

That is another two months for Bashar to ponder a way out of his predicement.

 
At 10/21/2005 11:56:00 AM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

Joshua, you're wrong and you know it.

The report is pretty well substantiated. Among other things, there's audio tapes of Walid Moallem and Ghazale. If it's grey, then it's a very very dark grey for Sryia.

The Syrian regime is officially a pariah state now. 4 decades of Baathi terrorism are exposed.

 
At 10/21/2005 12:23:00 PM, Blogger JoseyWales said...

Shades of Grey? I think you need a good opthtalmologist Josh.

Any names come to mind?

 
At 10/21/2005 12:26:00 PM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

More on the issue of deleting the names in the final report:

It turns out that Mehlis ordered the edits (deleted the names) after learning that the report would be made public. "It was supposed to be confidential" he said, denying that any governments or UN officials influenced his decisions.

The main witness is a syrian living in Lebanon and working for the intelligence service. He claims one of the meetings took place at the P.Palace itself. Maher himself IS a "suspect".

The Russion Ambassador : "This is a crisis"

The Argentine Ambassador "Syria is in a mess"

The U.S. Ambassador : "It is a very hard hitting report. There will be other announcements from us during the course of the day". This report is "HISTORIC"

I am afraid the word gray does not appear anywhere till you hear the
Syrian Ambassaddor calling the report a "big lie"

 
At 10/21/2005 01:08:00 PM, Blogger Suha said...

I think Mehlis and his team have done an impressive job but despite what the media will trumpet, there is little hard evidence to support the story. If you take away all the "he said, she said"'s (actually, it is only "he said, he said") the only link between hard evidence (DNA, fingerprints, phone calls, provenance of explosives, van, and other equipment used in the explosion) and a human being is through Raed Fakhreddin. Furthermore, the are only 2 witnesses to corroborate the story: one of them is a suspect and the other is Mr. X.

During all measures and efforts undertaken by the UNIIIC, no new hard leads or traces regarding the motive and reason for assassinating Mr. Hariri have emerged to supplement those which can be attributed to events during the second half of 2004...

Not my words, but the report's. I am not questioning Syria's involvement (all points in that direction), only the hard evidence implicating it. After all, had the report been such a clear indictment of Syria, Mehlis would not have asked for an extension, now would he?

 
At 10/21/2005 01:34:00 PM, Blogger ALEPPOUS said...

Hello Joshua
i heard a lot about you and i really appreciate your efforts
but the hurricane is comming to syria and those who are ruling the white house are claiming that they know every thing and they will involve in every thing to liberate the world.
please watch "wag the dog" the movie by robert de niro

visit my blog which is giving all news and opinions about syria
www.Aleppous.blogspot.com

 
At 10/21/2005 01:50:00 PM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

"Lebanon will always be a trouble for itself and a weak spot in our arab nation, we talk sweet and fancy but the sects here are as retarded and backwarded as ever. Sectarian fight for centuries was never an outside conspiracy, it was always us, for centuries, before there was a States of Lebanon or Syria. "

First of all pal, your Arab Umma only exist in your sick Baathi mind. I can understand why Lebanon is a weak spot in the 'Arab nation', it's because it's the only country where democracy has a chance. It's because of people like you that Syria is in such a mess. It's not because of the US or Israel. It's because people like you are intolerant and make weaker sects like the Allawis afraid. You speak of 'nation' and 'unity' but you end up massacring minorities like Shias, Christians and Kurds and complain that they are a 'weak spot' for your umma.


And Lebanon will be just fine if Bashar stops smuggling weapons and putting bombs there.

 
At 10/21/2005 02:00:00 PM, Blogger adonis syria said...

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL

Public Statement

AI Index: MDE 24/092/2005 (Public)
News Service No: 285
21 October 2005

Syria: Syrian human rights defenders under attack
Amnesty International is greatly concerned at the continuing harassment of human rights defenders in Syria. In the latest incident, Anwar al-Bunni, a lawyer and human rights activist, was attacked on 20 October in Damascus by three men on motorbikes who stopped him as he was travelling in his car. They dragged him from his car and assaulted him physically, leaving him bruised, and then sped off. In light of other harassment to which he has been exposed, it seems likely that this latest assault may have been ordered or carried out by state officials.

complete statement:
http://net11.amnesty.se/www/aktuellt/pressnotiser/ext/doc?docid=aidoc%5Cpress/(xml-webbreportage)/80256DD400782B84802570A1004F757B

 
At 10/21/2005 02:13:00 PM, Blogger josh narins said...

Geesh.

Who has a stronger intelligence agency system, the US or Lebanon/Syria?

By the logic of the Mehlis report, the assassination of JFK must have been done with the US intelligence agency's knowledge.

No, I haven't read the report yet, just the conclusions.

 
At 10/21/2005 06:00:00 PM, Blogger DamasceneBlood said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 10/22/2005 02:00:00 AM, Blogger Lebanon Divided said...

Suha,

You are forgetting about Ahmad Abdel-Al from the Ahbash, he had a central role in coordinating the assassination with the relevant parties: Lahoud, Mrad, Ghazali, Sayyed, Ali, Qandil, Hamdan and Azar.

 

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