French arrest former Syrian official

Official accused of giving false testimony in Hariri probe.

French police arrested a former Syrian intelligence officer who is considered an important witness in a UN probe of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, police and judicial officials said Monday. Mohammed Zuhair Al-Siddiq was taken into custody on Sunday in the Paris area by France's DST counterintelligence service, police officials in France said. He was the subject of an international arrest warrant and is expected to be extradited, the officials said. The arrest warrant, issued by Lebanese Magistrate Elias Eid, accused Al-Siddiq of giving false testimony and misleading the UN investigation, judicial officials in Lebanon said. Al-Siddiq, 45, has been billed by Arab media as being a leading witness in the probe by chief UN investigator Detlev Mehlis of Hariri's killing earlier this year. Lebanese Youth and Sports Minister Ahmed Fatfat, a close Hariri ally, said Al-Siddiq's testimony was inaccurate, "perhaps because he wanted it this way, either for personal interest or perhaps because he was planted to mislead the investigation." "It will all show in court," he told Voice of Lebanon radio, after being asked about the arrest. Beirut newspaper Al-Mustaqbal went further, accusing Al-Siddiq of being an accomplice in the planning and execution of the bombing that killed Hariri. The newspaper is owned by the Hariri family. The Syrians have sought to discredit Al-Siddiq as being a wanted man at home for fleeing his military service and for fraud, according to media reports. Hariri and 20 others were killed by a massive bomb that blew up his motorcade as it passed through central Beirut. The killing on Feb. 14 touched off a groundswell of protest in Lebanon and internationally, forcing Syria to withdraw its troops, ending nearly three decades of domination of its tiny neighbor. The Mehlis team has named four Lebanese generals, all close to Syria, as suspects in the assassination. Lebanon has arrested them. Last week, one of seven Syrian officials who was questioned by the investigation, Interior Minister Ghazi Kenaan, committed suicide.