Chief investigator seeks more time on Hariri probe

Rules out quick indictments when he takes over as prosecutor of int'l tribunal that will seek to bring culprits to justice.

rafik hariri 88 (photo credit: )
rafik hariri 88
(photo credit: )
The chief investigator probing the assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister asked the UN Security Council on Tuesday for more time to determine all the members of the criminal network that killed Rafik Hariri and took part in related terrorist attacks. Daniel Bellemare also ruled out any quick indictments when he takes over as prosecutor of the international tribunal that will seek to bring those responsible for the February 2005 assassination of Hariri and 22 others to justice. But he told the council that the International Independent Investigative Commission, which he took over in January, "can now confirm, on the basis of evidence, that a network of individuals acted in concert to carry out the assassination of Rafik Hariri." Bellemare said the network - which has been referred to as the "Hariri Network" - or parts of it are linked to some of the 20 other terrorist attacks in which the commission is providing technical assistance to Lebanese authorities. Eleven attacks have targeted politicians, journalists and security officials; nine involve bombings in public places. A total of 61 people were killed in the attacks and at least 494 injured. In his first report to the council last week, Bellemare said Hariri was assassinated by a criminal network linked to some other terrorist attacks in Lebanon. He reiterated Tuesday that the first priority of the investigating commission now is to gather more evidence about the "Hariri Network," including its scope, the identity of all its participants, their roles in other attacks and links with people outside the network. Bellemare explained to the council on Tuesday that the words "criminal network" should be read in the context of his entire report to the council "which clearly refers to a terrorist investigation." "The direction of the investigation has not changed, and the commission is still investigating crimes that are politically motivated," he said. Bellemare also said that while previous reports referred to the hypothesis of a network, "what is new this time is that we now have the evidence of the existence of such a network and of its links." The commission also has gathered evidence that the "Hariri Network" existed before the assassination, that it conducted surveillance of Hariri and operated on the day of the killing, and that at least part of the network continued to exist and operate after the bombing in Beirut, he said. Bellemare asked the council to consider extending the mandate of the commission beyond its expiration date of June 15 which would give "the needed time" to continue the investigation. South Africa's UN Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo, the current council president, said Bellemare told members afterward in closed consultations that he wanted six more months. The international tribunal is in the process of being formed, and will be responsible for all prosecutions. Bellemare referred to some press reports that indictments are imminent. "As prosecutor designate of the tribunal, I will only state that the filing of eventual indictments will not be immediate after the establishment of the tribunal," he said. "The admissible evidence will have to be carefully and objectively considered in light of the applicable prosecution threshold."