Beirut hariri poster 224.
(photo credit: AP)
Former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated by a criminal network that is linked to some other terrorist attacks in Lebanon, the chief investigator said Friday.
In his first report to the UN Security Council, Daniel Bellemare said the first priority of the investigating commission he heads is to gather more evidence about the "Hariri Network," its scope, the identity of all its participants, their role in other attacks and links with people outside the network.
Bellemare said the commission would not disclose any names to preserve confidentiality. "Names of individuals will only appear in future indictments filed by the prosecutor, when there is sufficient evidence to do so," he said.
Four pro-Syrian Lebanese generals have been under arrest for almost two years for alleged involvement in the murder. Syria denies any involvement in Hariri's assassination, but the furor over the attack forced Syrian troops to withdraw from Lebanon after a 29-year presence.
Bellemare said Syria's cooperation with the commission "continues to be generally satisfactory."
The former Canadian prosecutor said evidence indicates the network existed before his assassination, that it conducted surveillance of the former premier, and that at least part of the network continued to operate after he was killed along with 22 others in a bombing in Beirut on February 14, 2005.
"The commission can now confirm, on the basis of available evidence, that a network of individuals acted in concert to carry out the assassination of Rafik Hariri and that this criminal network - the 'Hariri Network' - or parts thereof are linked to some of the other cases within the commission's mandate," Bellemare said.
The commission has been providing technical assistance to Lebanese authorities in 20 other "terrorist attacks" that have killed 61 people and injured at least 494 others, he said. Eleven attacks have targeted politicians, journalists and security officials and nine involve bombings in public places.
In coming months, Bellemare said, the commission will also focus on identifying links between the Hariri network and the other attacks it is assisting in investigating, and "where these links are found to exist - the nature and scope of these links."
The chief investigator said the commission also has pursued its investigation into the identification of the suicide bomber.
Bellemare said forensic information on the bomber's origin, characteristics and movements has been compared to entry-exit records in Lebanon "as well as the missing persons files of various countries to generate leads on the possible identity of the bomber."
"Based on these leads, DNA profiling is being conducted to further assist the identification," he said.
In previous reports, former chief investigator Serge Brammertz said the suspected suicide bomber did not spend his youth in Lebanon but spent his last two or three months in the country. To determine the man's origins, the commission collected 112 soil and water samples from 28 locations in Syria and Lebanon, and 26 samples from locations in other countries which were not identified.
Based on preliminary results, Brammertz said, the commission's experts believe the man was probably between 20 and 25 years old, with short dark hair, and lived in an urban environment for the first 10 years of his life and in a rural environment during the last 10 years of his life.
The commission also established "a limited number of countries where the suicide bomber could come from," Brammertz said.
In his final appearance before the council in December, Brammertz said he is more confident than ever that those allegedly involved in the Hariri assassination will be brought before an international tribunal to face justice.
UN legal chief Nicolas Michel said Thursday the tribunal has received enough funding to keep it running for a year, meeting a key criterion for its final approval.
Bellemare said preparations for the transition from the commission to the Office of the Prosecutor of the Special Tribunal are continuing.
He stressed that "terrorist investigations are by definition complex and difficult" and cannot be rushed.
"The commission faces additional challenges including the magnitude of the attacks, their continuing nature, and the fact that the investigations are conducted in an environment dominated by ongoing security concerns," he said.
Bellemare stressed the difficulties of operating in the "deteriorating security situation" in the last four months when Lebanon has been paralyzed by the failure to elect a new president.
He also noted that six new cases had been given to the commission since November 2006 without any additional resources to meet the increased workload. "The number of investigators and analysts continues to be far lower than in comparable investigations," he said.