Syria Gets away with a Lebanese Murder

The United States, France and the Lebanese government are committed to investigating and bringing before an international court of justice the guilty parties responsible for the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri in Beirut in February 2005.

Their commitment is recorded in documents reposing at UN headquarters in New York, the State Department in Washington and the Quai d'Orsay, Paris.

But on Wednesday, April 29, the pre-trial judge Daniel Fransen, member of the tribunal established by the Security Council to try Hariri's assassins, ordered the immediate release from custody of the four Lebanese generals held in a Beirut jail for four years on suspicion of complicity in the murder with Syrian military intelligence.

The judge ordered them placed under tight security to guard their lives. He did not specify the source of the threat.

The four are Jamil Sayyed, former head of Lebanon's security services; Ali Haj, former head of Lebanese police; former chief of Lebanese military intelligence, Raymond Azar; and former head of the Presidential Guard, Mustafa Hamdan.

All four worked closely with Syrian military intelligence which ruled Beirut at the time of the murder. They were detained after the first UN investigator Detlev Mehlis found proof they had abetted Syrian military intelligence officers in the Hariri murder conspiracy.

Since then, the generals have been mum. Questioned separately, these intelligence high-ups were all silent about the assassination, its preparations and the identity of its planners. Both they and their interrogators knew that a single word would cost them their lives at the hands of their former partners-in-crime.


An unexplained resignation, a timely arrest


On April, the UN tribunal ordered Beirut to hand over the documents in the case within two weeks and demanded a list of detainees to be held ready for extradition.

But a series of odd events cast an ominous question mark over the fate of the tribunal's proceedings.

The Hague court announced on April 16: “The Registrar of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, the British Judge Mr Robin Vincent, has resigned from his position effective June 2009.”

No explanation was offered for the withdrawal of a key figure in the formation of the tribunal, the writing of its rules of procedure and evidence and swearing in of its officers.

In March, as DEBKA-Net-Weekly disclosed in a previous issue, three Syrian military intelligence officers fingered as the four Lebanese generals' contacts for the Hariri assassination plot, disappeared from their homes in Damascus.

In another mysterious development last weekend, United Arab Emirates security officers suddenly arrested Mohammad Zuhair al-Siddiq in the emirate of Sharjah.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources report that in 2004 and early 2005, when the Hariri assassination was plotted and executed, al-Siddiq was a Lt. Col. on the staff of Syrian military intelligence chief, Gen. Assef Shawqat, brother-in-law of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

He was arrested in Paris later in 2005 following charges by the Lebanese authorities, but France refused to extradite him on the grounds that he would be handed to Syria for execution.

In 2006, he dropped out of sight.


A Syrian witness against Assad on the run


When Detlev Mehlis arrived in Beirut to pursue his inquiry, al-Siddiq turned up with incriminating testimony of top Syrian officials' involvement in plotting the Hariri murder. He also uncovered the four Lebanese general's contacts with Syrian military chiefs and political leaders.

Concluding that the defecting Syrian lieutenant colonel was in mortal danger from his Syrian enemies, the UN investigator arranged his removal to France under the protection of French intelligence.

Six months ago, he again dropped out of sight, until his arrest in Sharjah on April 17.

Our sources report that UAE security was tipped off by Syrian intelligence about the Syrian officer's whereabouts, together with a formal request for his extradition to Damascus.

A group of Arab diplomats familiar with the case tried to keep the officer out of Syrian hands by breaking the story to Gulf newspapers.

On April 21, Dubai's police chief, Gen. Dahi Khalfan, was forced by the local media to deny claims that a key suspect in the Hariri assassination had been arrested in the emirate. Technically he spoke the truth, when he said that Zuhair al-Siddiq “was not arrested on Dubai soil.”

Damascus will go all out to get hold of the defector; Syrian intelligence will no doubt put him before the cameras to make him recant his earlier testimony to the UN investigator implicating Syria in the Hariri murder. He will claim false information was extracted from him under torture.

This key witness against the Assad regime will be fully exploited to discredit the international investigation and tribunal as trying to frame Syrian and Lebanese officers for the crime and stage a phony trial.


Assad's personal triumph


DEBKA-Net-Weekly's counter-terror and Middle East sources report that the consequences of thwarting the Hariri trial are far-reaching.

1. It marks the failure of the United States and France to follow through on their commitments to bring the guilty parties in a terrorist outrage outside their countries to justice.

2. Syrian president Bashar Assad comes out of the episode laughing. He has pulled a triumph out of a certain downfall and boosted his standing at home and internationally.

3. The Obama administration is placed in an awkward and embarrassing position after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Beirut Sunday April 26, toured the tomb of the slain Lebanese politician and pledged the United States “would never make any deal with Syria that would sell out Lebanon or the Lebanese people.”

Many Lebanese citizens are now pointing to Judge Fransen's decision to let the four suspected Lebanese generals go free as stemming from the thaw between Washington and Damascus and a betrayal of that pledge.

4. Pro-Western factions campaigning for election in the Lebanese June poll are losing heart for the struggle against the rising power of Damascus and Iranian-backed terrorist Hizballah.

5. The failure to bring Hariri's assassins to justice is a major setback for Saudi Arabia and Egypt, both of whom staked heavily to prevent Hizballah and the pro-Syrian factions from winning the election.

6. And finally, the former Syrian intelligence officer, Mohammad Zuhair Siddiq, who sacrificed his liberty to bring the murderers of Hariri to justice, will now be quietly handed over to Syria and pay the price.

He may be the last victim of the Hariri murder case.

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