Sat, Sep 03, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Generals quizzed over Hariri murder

AP , BEIRUT

An investigating magistrate began interrogating four pro-Syrian generals yesterday charged in the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri, Justice Ministry officials said.

Lebanon's top prosecutor issued a preliminary criminal charge against the Lebanese generals late on Thursday, just hours after they were accused by a top UN investigator of allegedly playing a role in planning the Feb. 14 bombing that killed Hariri and 20 others.

Prosecutor-General Said Mirza referred the four suspects to investigating magistrate Elias Eid for interrogation, after which their fate will be decided. They could either be released, remain in custody or face arrest warrants.

Brigadier General Mustafa Hamdan, commander of the Presidential Guards Brigade, was the first interrogated yesterday after being brought from detention at police headquarters to the nearby Justice Ministry.

The other suspects are: Major General Jamil Sayyed, the former chief of General Security; Major General Ali Hajj, the former director general of the Internal Security Forces; and Brigadier General Raymond Azar, the former director general of military intelligence.

The three stepped down in April amid intense public criticism over their handling of the murder probe and claims of Syrian involvement in the killing.

The suspects led Lebanon's security services at the time Hariri was killed, held close ties with Lebanon's longtime powerbroker, Syria, and have been detained for questioning since Tuesday.

Hariri's son and political successor praised the UN investigation, particularly the declaration that the four generals were allegedly involved in his father's killing.

"It seems that the results achieved by the international investigation constitute essential steps towards uncovering the truth and the pursuit of justice," Saad Hariri said in a statement issued in Paris late on Thursday.

UN chief investigator Detlev Mehlis said on Thursday that more people were involved in Hariri's assassination, but that no Syrian suspects had been identified yet. He said his 10-week investigation was, however, encountering "problems" in getting Syria to cooperate.

Syria had its army in Lebanon at the time of Hariri's death and controlled political and security affairs there for most of the last 29 years. Many Lebanese blamed Syria for Hariri's killing, which sparked anti-Syrian protests and intensified international pressure on Damascus to withdraw its army, a move completed in April. Since then, anti-Syrian groups led by Saad Hariri have swept to power in parliamentary elections.

Syria and its then-allied Lebanese government have denied involvement in Hariri's murder.

The slain premier's son urged all parties to cooperate with the investigation: "I repeat my demands that all factions, inside Lebanon or outside it, fully cooperate with the international probe."

While details of the investigation have been secret, local and Arab press have carried reports of alleged involvement of the generals in planning the attack and its subsequent cover-up.

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