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Syrian rebels catch possible witness in Hariri inquiry
Hussam Hussam (photo), a presumed member of Syrian intelligence services who claimed in 2005 – and subsequently denied – that Damascus was behind the murder of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, has been captured by Syrian rebels.
The uprising in Syria has been marked by the use of social media - and especially videos that are always extremely hard to verify, made all the more difficult in a country where the traditional press is unable to operate freely.
It shows five bearded fighters, who purport to belong to a Damascus brigade of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), surrounding a man they say is Hussam Hussam - a household name in Lebanon.
Hussam is presumed to be a Syrian intelligence officer and is a false witness in the investigation into the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Hussam tells the camera: “My name is Hussam Taher Hussam, witness in the case of the martyred Rafik Hariri. I have information. Take me to Beirut. Just let me reach Beirut and I will reveal surprises that you have never dreamt of.”
Speaking after Hussam in the YouTube clip, the head of the rebel group addressed al-Hariri’s son Saad, a former Lebanese prime minister, directly: “In my name and in the name of the revolutionaries in Damascus and Syria, we are sending you a present, Hussam Hussam.”
In 2005, Hussam told the UN International Investigation Commission that Syrian and Lebanese security officials had conspired to kill Hariri in a bombing in downtown Beirut.
Several months later, during a press conference in Damascus, he recanted, saying that he had been tortured and bribed by members of the Lebanese establishment to accuse the Syrian regime of being behind the plot.
On Sunday, the rebel leader in the video, calling himself Abu Ali al-Dumani, told Lebanese news channel LBCI he was in contact with Hariri and was negotiating to hand over the prisoner to Lebanese authorities.
Al-Dumani told Lebanese daily L’Orient-le-Jour Tuesday that the probable transfer of Hussam to Lebanon would be accompanied by “important documents” relating to the Syrian Regime’s activities in Lebanon as an occupying power [Syria maintained a military occupation of its smaller neighbour between 1976 and 2005.]
“Our questioning of Hussam has revealed a number of explosive subjects that have been hitherto unknown to the wider public,” al-Dumani said. “There will be many surprises.”
In Beirut, sources close to Saad Hariri are suspicious. Lebanese Member of Parliament Ahmad Fatfat, a former minister under Saad Hariri, denied there had been any communication with the rebel group.
“We remain extremely suspicious of Hussam Hussam,” he told FRANCE 24 on Monday. “We absolutely do not trust him and we have not been in contact with him or with anyone else involved in his apparent capture.
“If he’s got anything to say, he should say it to the Lebanese justice system. We will listen to what he has to say, but we will always be mistrustful of him.”
Heavily criticised investigation
Lebanese politician Jamal al-Jarrah, a member of Saad Hariri’s Movement of the Future party, was equally suspicious.
“It is important that we make absolutely sure that Hussam Hussam has actually been captured by the FSA and that this is not a trick being played by the Syrian authorities,” he told Lebanese radio station al-Fajr.
Al-Jarrah has every reason to be suspicious of a man whose testimony and subsequent denial caused considerable delays to the investigation into Hariri’s killing.
The investigation has been heavily criticised in Lebanon by parties with a close relationship to Damascus – notably the Syrian-sponsored Shiite militant group Hezbollah – because of a series of contradictory testimonies including that of Hussam.
Speaking on Voix de Liban radio on July 23 former Lebanese Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh, who was himself was seriously injured in a 2004 car-bombing, said optimistically that Hussam’s apparent capture would be “extremely significant” for the special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL).
Other assassinations in Lebanon
The Tribunal, a Netherlands-based international court mandated to try those responsible for Hariri’s killing under Lebanese law, made no comment when contacted by FRANCE 24.
It will be up to the prosecutor to decide whether or not to include Hussam’s “surprises” in the investigation, a spokesman said.
Importantly, the STL does not consider Hussam Hussam to be a false witness, because he has not given evidence before the tribunal, only to the UN International Investigation Commission.
Meanwhile, the number of defectors from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime is growing and Beirut is anxiously waiting more information on the period during which the Syrian occupation took place.
A number of political assassinations beyond Hariri’s, notably of two former presidents - Bashir Gemayel in 1982 and René Moawad in 1989 – have been blamed on Syria by their families.
To date, there has been little solid intelligence surrounding the claims, despite the 2005 defection of former Syrian Vice-President Abdel Halim Khaddam, who was responsible for overseeing the occupation of Lebanon during the ‘80s and ‘90s. However, he revealed little to shed any light on the killings.