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Lebanese arrests in Hariri probe

Tuesday, August 30, 2005



Three former top Lebanese security officials and the head of the presidential guard are suspects in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafi Hariri, the current prime minister has said.

The three former security officials were arrested in early morning raids Tuesday, and the presidential guard commander surrendered to authorities, Lebanese security sources said.


Prime Minister Fuad Siniora confirmed to reporters that the four were suspects in the U.N. investigation into Hariri's February assassination, news agencies reported.


Arrested, the sources said, were:

Maj. Gen. Jamil Sayed, the former head of internal security and one of the most powerful pro-Syrian officials in Lebanon

Brig. Gen. Ali Haj, the top police chief appointed by the pro-Syrian government that ruled Lebanon until May elections ushered in a new era of opposition, anti-Syrian control Raymond Azar, the former head of Lebanon's powerful military intelligence service

Gen. Mustafa Hamdan, the head of Lebanese President Emile Lahoud's presidential guard, surrendered to authorities several hours ago, the sources said.

He appeared before the U.N. investigation in response to a summons, the Justice Ministry said in a statement, according to The Associated Press.

A fifth person, former pro-Syrian member of parliament Nasser Qandil, has been ordered to return to Lebanon from Syria, where he traveled shortly before the dawn raids, sources said.

According to the Justice Ministry statement, the U.N. investigation had been granted permission to use the police to "carry out raids, searches and escorting of persons for questioning."

Chief U.N. investigator Detlev Mehlis met with the prime minister and justice minister earlier Tuesday, AP reported.

The detentions were the first major police action since Hariri and 20 others were killed in a massive bomb in Beirut on February 14, AP said.

The three former security officials have been questioned previously by Mehlis, the German prosecutor who is leading the U.N. Security Council-mandated investigation into the assassination, AP said.

The arrests of many of these former officials has been a top demand of the Lebanese opposition, which swept to power in the recent parliamentary elections after decades of heavy-handed influence by Syria.

Syria withdrew its troops from Lebanon shortly before the elections in the face of international pressure and a popular uprising known as the Cedar Revolution.

Under a protocol signed between the Lebanese government and the United Nations, authorities can hold the officials for up to 48 hours.

However, security sources said formal legal proceedings by Lebanese authorities were under way, meaning suspects could be held longer.

The United States recently condemned Syria after a U.N. Security Council meeting for failing to cooperate with the U.N. probe into Hariri's death.