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Middle East

UN suspects Hezbollah in Hariri murder, media reports say

Latest update : 2009-05-24

The UN inquiry into the murder of former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri now suspects Hezbollah involvement, German magazine Der Spiegel said on Saturday, citing sources close to the investigation. UN sources declined to comment on the report.

AFP - The UN commission investigating the murder of Rafiq Hariri now suspects Hezbollah was behind the former Lebanese premier's assassination, a German magazine reported on Saturday.

New evidence shows that special forces of the Lebanese Shiite militant group "planned and executed" the car bomb attack that killed Hariri and 22 others in February 2005, Der Spiegel reported on its website, citing sources close to the UN special tribunal for Lebanon and internal documents.

But it said the head of the investigative commission, Canadian prosecutor Daniel Bellemare, and others at the tribunal "want to hold back this information, of which they have been aware for about a month."

A spokeswoman for the prosecutor refused to comment on the report.

"We don't know where they are getting the story from. The office of the prosecutor doesn't comment on any issues related to operational aspects of the investigation," she said.

In Beirut, Hezbollah declined to comment on the story.

According to Der Spiegel, the Iran-backed Shiite group is implicated through the discovery of two linked networks of mobile phones, all belonging to Hezbollah's "operational arm."

It says a secret unit of Lebanese security forces, headed by intelligence expert Captain Wissam Eid, filtered out the numbers of eight mobile phones that could be pinpointed to the area around Hariri leading up to and on the day of his murder.

The unit then uncovered a second network of about 20 mobiles that repeatedly had close contact with the first network.

The magazine added that investigators struck lucky when a suspected Hezbollah member, who had completed training in Iran, used one of the "hot" phones to call his girlfriend, leading to his identification.

Meanwhile, the Der Spiegel report says Hezbollah's commando unit is thought to be behind the assassination of Eid in a Beirut suburb in January 2008.

The revelations offer a dramatic twist to an investigation that has already pointed the finger at Syria but in recent months had appeared to have gone cold.

Last month, the UN special tribunal handling the case ordered the release, due to a lack of evidence, of four Lebanese generals who had been held for nearly four years without charge over the assassination.

The UN investigative commission has said in the past that there was converging evidence that Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services were involved in Hariri's killing.

But Syria has consistently denied any involvement in Hariri's assassination and the killing of other anti-Syrian politicians and figures since then.

Der Spiegel's report comes ahead of June 7 elections in Lebanon that pits the US-backed parliamentary majority against an alliance headed by the Hezbollah which has the support of Syria and Iran.

Date created : 2009-05-24