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It's the stuff of the best spy novels.
A young man whose mother said he was supposed to help her beat carpets and ended up as a scapegoat for an assassination. An SUV that was stolen in Japan and ended up carrying explosives on that fateful day in February. Six telephone calling cards used to call one another on the day of the assassination, which have not been used since.
But this isn't a spy novel, it's an international investigation prepared by a UN investigation team and groups of experts from nine countries on the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.
All the details collected so far were laid out carefully in the 54-page report that was presented to Lebanon and the UN Security Council on Friday.
And all the roads lead to Damascus.
On Tuesday, UN investigative chief Detlev Mehlis will tell the UN Security Council his impressions: that top Syrian and Lebanese officials were behind the assassination. The Security Council will then decide what action, if any, it will take against Syria.
The Syrians say that the report is not based on facts and therefore not valid.
It's true that much of the information about Syrian involvement is from witnesses whose testimonies need to be corroborated. That's why the Security Council will probably not press for sanctions immediately, economic or otherwise. Instead it will likely insist that Syria cooperate with the ongoing investiga tion.
The problem with that is that cooperation could be self-incriminating. People from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's inner circle have been named. His brother Maher, chief of the presidential brigade, and his brother-in-law Assef Shawkat, who heads the intelligence services and is considered the second most powerful man in the country, were named in the report by an unidentified witness.
According to the witness, for example, the young man who disappeared before cleaning his mother's carpets was forced by Shawkat at gunpoint to take responsibility on videotape for the assassination as a member of an heretofore-unknown Islamic terrorist group.
If this investigation pans out, turning Assad's relatives over for interrogation could mean incriminating the regime itself.
The Americans are hot on the heels of the Syrians, which it accuses of fueling the insurgency in Iraq. Some of those in the Bush administration want regime change, others just want Syria to help stop the flow of insurgents and terrorists into Iraq and to make some internal reforms.
Two questions remain: Can Syria cooperate fully in the investigation without causing its own downfall? If Syria cooperates and pre vents insurgents and terrorists from crossing its borders, will the US lay off of its demands that the dictatorship end its iron-fist rule? The recent tumble of events leaves the future of the Syrian Ba'athist-Assad regime in question.
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