Arab paper: Head of Mughniyeh probe arrested

Ex-Syrian VP tells paper; Israeli intelligence dismisses report, says that Assef Shawkat "trusted by Assad."

Imad Mughniyeh good 248 (photo credit: AP)
Imad Mughniyeh good 248
(photo credit: AP)
Israeli intelligence experts downplayed media reports on Sunday that Syrian President Bashar Assad had fired his intelligence chief and placed him under house arrest due to his failure to prevent the February assassination of Hizbullah arch-terrorist Imad Mughniyeh. According to a report in the Lebanese newspaper Al-Mustaqbal which quoted former Syrian vice president Abdel Halim Khaddam, Syrian military intelligence chief Maj.-Gen. Assef Shawkat was put under heavily guarded house arrest following the assassination of Mughniyeh in February. Khaddam, who was a close ally of former Syrian president Hafez Assad, told the paper that the arrest was made after Shawkat claimed the probe he was conducting into Mughniyeh's death showed that the assassins came from Syria. "Following this revelation, Shawkat was removed from the investigation, which was transferred to [Syrian President Bashar Assad's cousin] Hafez Mahlof, who has been thinking about who to accuse in the assassination," said Khaddam. Brig.-Gen. (res.) Amnon Sofrin, a former senior intelligence officer in the IDF and the Prime Minister's Office, downplayed the report and said it was not the first time that rumors were circulated regarding a falling out between Assad and his brother-in-law Shawkat. Sofrin rejected the possibility that Shawkat was involved in Mughniyeh's assassination. "Shawkat is a trusted associate of Assad's and is someone the Syrian president believes in," said Sofrin, an expert on Syria and a research associate at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya. "There have been rumors in the past that he was arrested or removed, but in the end they all turned out to be false." In the Lebanese paper interview, Khaddam claimed that Assad used Mughniyeh's assassination to dismiss Shawkat and appoint Mahlof. Khaddam went on to say that Syria's attempts to put the blame for killing Mughniyeh on Arab intelligence services were "stupid" and "naive." Later this week, Syria is slated to announce the results of the probe into Mughniyeh's assassination. Damascus is expected to blame the Mossad. Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to the report.