|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
5458th Meeting (AM)
former lebanese prime minister WAS victim of targeted assassination, lead
investigator tells Security Council, citing critical forensic evidence
In Briefing on Eve of Mandate’s Expiration, He Welcomes
Lebanon’s Request for One-Year Extension of Independent Commission’s Term
Critical forensic evidence had revealed that former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 22 others were killed by a massive, above-ground explosive device placed in a truck and detonated as their convoy passed by, the lead investigator of the international commission probing the murder told the United Nations Security Council in a briefing today.
“The crime must be considered a targeted assassination”, said Serge Brammertz, head of the International Independent Investigation Commission (IIIC), as he presented his fourth report, laying out the latest evidence as to how the killing was conducted, as well as the work his team was doing to uncover who was behind it and why.
He said that, thus far, key forensic evidence pointed to: one above-ground explosion on 14 February at precisely 12:55:05; a large, improvised explosive device, placed in a Mitsubishi truck and detonated as the Hariri convoy passed by; an improvised explosive device containing a minimum of 1,200 kilograms of TNT equivalent; and to an individual within or immediately in front of the truck who had most likely initiated the detonation of the device.
The large amount of explosives used had elevated the attack “to an almost ‘guaranteed’ level”, he said, noting that the magnitude of the explosion was designed to ensure the operation’s success even if the Hariri vehicle was not directly hit. That conclusion had been reached on the basis of results from investigations, analysis and evidence collected so far from among 24 projects concurrently under way, including forensic examinations of the crime scene and convoy vehicles, a review of the telecommunications used by the alleged perpetrators, and the interviewing of key witnesses and sensitive sources.
“In light of the results, the Commission does not believe the claim of responsibility expressed in the videotape delivered to Reuters and Al Jazeera immediately after the attack establishes the identity of this individual”, he said, adding that, in fact, DNA analysis of human remains recovered from the crime scene suggested there was no evidence that Ahmed Abu Adass, the individual claiming responsibility, had detonated the improvised explosive device.
He said the probe was developing a working hypothesis regarding those who had commissioned the crime. Given the many different positions occupied by Mr. Hariri and his wide range of public and private sector activities, the Commission was investigating a number of different motives, including political motivations, personal vendettas, financial circumstances and extremist ideologies, or any combination of those motivations.
Noting “timely” and often “comprehensive” Syrian responses to requests from the Commission, he said that, since March, some 16 requests for assistance had been submitted to Damascus and the investigation would continue to request full cooperation regarding, among other things, the collection of documents, specific information and interviews with Syrian citizens.
Briefing the Council a day before the Commission’s mandate was set to expire, he reported overall “considerable progress” in the investigation and welcomed Lebanon’s request that the Council extend his team’s mandate for up to another year, though most of its work could be finished by this autumn. “This would provide a much needed sense of continuity and guarantee steady operations and planning.” While continuing essential forensic work, the Commission would focus, in the months ahead, on identifying the perpetrators and those who had commissioned the crime.
The Council also heard from Boutros Assaker, Secretary-General in Lebanon’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants, who said that the former premier’s assassination was an unusual crime that continued to produce a resounding effect in Lebanon, in the region and in the world. For those reasons, Lebanon and its people would remain exceptionally determined and persistent in investigating the crime alongside the international community. He praised the current consultations between the Lebanese authorities and the Secretariat to draft the statute of a court of an international character, which all Lebanese awaited with concern and anticipation, and the establishment of which would assure them that justice would be served.
Also addressing the Council, Fayssal Mekdad, Syria’s Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs, noted the report’s positive references to Syria’s efforts to cooperate with the Commission, as well as its positive response in providing the investigation with all necessary information in a timely manner. That cooperation was based on Damascus’ keenness to unveil and uncover the truth about the assassination. He stressed that the most dangerous thing confronting the investigation was exploitation by certain parties to “jump to conclusions or prejudgments not based on clear evidence or proof”, and attempts to provide false evidence for the main purpose of pressuring Syria.
The meeting began at 10:07 a.m. and ended at 10:42 a.m.
Briefing by Commissioner
SERGE BRAMMERTZ, Commissioner of the United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission (IIIC), presenting the fourth progress report of his Commission’s probe into the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 22 others, said the report also provided an update on the technical assistance that the Commission had been affording to the Lebanese authorities in the investigation of 14 other crimes. In particular, since the last report, the Commission had developed its investigative activities, increased its technical assistance to the Lebanese authorities, strengthened its organizational structure and capacity and adopted its internal procedures.
On the further development of the investigation, he said that 24 projects were now concurrently under way, including forensic examinations of the crime scene and the convoy vehicles, a review of the telecommunications used by the alleged perpetrators, and the interviewing of key witnesses and sensitive sources. Most notably, the Commission had invested a major 23-day effort into a systematic forensic examination of the immediate circumstances of the attack on Hariri. One of its main objectives was to establish a unifying theory on whether the explosion had occurred below or above ground, whether it consisted of one or two blasts, or a combination thereof, and how it had been triggered.
That, he said, would facilitate an understanding of the planning and execution of the crime, the nature and composition of the team that had carried it out, its skills and coordination, the time spent planning the attack, the period during which the decision to carry out the assassination had been taken, and the extent of the involvement, potential advance knowledge or complicity of other individuals. Based on the results of the investigations, analysis and evidence collected so far, the Commission had reached the following conclusions: one above-ground explosion had taken place on 14 February at precisely 12:55:05; a large, improvised explosive device, placed in a Mitsubishi truck had been detonated as the Hariri convoy passed by; the improvised explosive device had contained a minimum of 1,200 kilograms of TNT equivalent; and an individual within or immediately in front of the Mitsubishi had most likely initiated the detonation of the device.
The Commission did not believe that the claim of responsibility expressed in the videotape delivered to Reuters and Al Jazeera immediately after the attack established the identity of that individual, he said. In fact, DNA analysis of human remains recovered from the crime scene suggested that there was no evidence that the individual claiming responsibility, Ahmed Abu Adass, had initiated the device’s detonation. “The crime must be considered a targeted assassination. The large amount of explosives used elevated the attack to an almost ‘guaranteed’ level. The magnitude of the explosion was designed to ensure success of the operation even if the Hariri vehicle was not directly hit.”
Overall, the Commission had developed two basic working hypotheses regarding the perpetration of the attack, he said. First, it was considering the possibility that the attack had been planned and executed in a compartmentalized manner -– meaning that different people were responsible or involved in the planning of the attack, reconnaissance and surveillance, preparation of the improvised explosive device, acquisition of the Mitsubishi truck, identification of the individual used as the trigger mechanism, and the claim-of-responsibility video. Each part would have been carried out by individuals or groups who were not necessarily aware of or involved in other parts of the operation. On the other hand, the Commission had not excluded the possibility of an operation planned and executed by a relatively small, single team.
He went on to say that the probe was also developing a working hypothesis regarding those who had commissioned the crime. Given the many different positions occupied by Mr. Hariri, and his wide range of public and private sector activities, the Commission was investigating a number of different motives, including political motivations, personal vendettas, financial circumstances and extremist ideologies, or any combination of those motivations. In that context, the Commission was continuing to interview individuals that it believed could assist in clarifying the formal and informal structures prevailing in Lebanon, and the wider region, at the time of the assassination. That included interviews with Syrian and Lebanese officials from a number of different organizations and agencies.
Turning to cooperation with the investigation, he said that the level of assistance provided by Syria during the reporting period “has generally been satisfactory”, with that country responding to all requests in a timely manner. Since March, some 16 requests for assistance had been submitted to Syria and the Commission would continue to request full cooperation from Damascus, regarding, among other things, collecting documents, seeking specific information and facilitating interviews with Syrian citizens. There had also been a substantial increase in the number of requests submitted to other Member States -– 32 requests to 13 different States -– which underlined the wide reach of the Commission’s investigative activities. Cooperation with the Lebanese authorities continued to be “excellent” at all levels and in all aspects of the Commission’s work.
Highlighting the Commission’s efforts to provide technical assistance to the Lebanese authorities in their investigations of 14 other attacks that had occurred since 1 October 2004, he said the Commission’s focus had been twofold: advancing the status of each individual case and that of all cases horizontally, so as to establish potential links between the attacks. At the same time, in terms of evidence, no case had been developed to an extent that would allow identification and linking of the perpetrators. In fact, all 14 cases lacked “significant forward investigative momentum” at present, and, given the significance of the cases and their potential importance to the Hariri investigation, a more concerted and robust effort was required to advance their investigations.
On the Commission’s work plan, he said the consolidation of its structure and capacity was an ongoing effort, and that, while he had expressed concern at his last briefing over the lack of readily available or qualified personnel, that situation had improved. While not yet at full capacity, the Commission had been able to fill most key positions and those that had not been filled were under recruitment. The panel had 24 investigators, lawyers and analysts on board, with an additional 10 staff set to join shortly. As a result, the vacancy rate had dropped from almost 50 per cent in January to less than 20 per cent now.
Overall, considerable progress had been made in the Hariri investigation, he said, adding that critical forensics work on the crime scene and the convoy of vehicles had been completed. The modalities and circumstances of the attack were now largely understood. While continuing essential forensics work, the Commission would, in the months ahead, focus on identifying the perpetrators and those who had commissioned the crime.
He welcomed the Lebanese Government’s recent request to the Secretary-General for an extension of the Commission’s mandate for a further period of one year, saying that such an extension would provide a sense of continuity and stability, and guarantee steady operations and planning. Moreover, external support in providing technical assistance to the Lebanese Government was critical in moving forward its investigation of the 14 other cases. The Commission could also conceive of a more proactive role for itself in supporting the Lebanese judicial authorities in strengthening their investigations.
Finally, he acknowledged the “high expectations” created by the Commission’s mandate among the families of the victims and the wider Lebanese public, saying that there was no alternative to staying focused while continuing to tackle all the questions surrounding Mr. Hariri’s death, one by one, in a manner that would provide the level of evidentiary certainty required by any court so that justice would eventually be done.
BOUTROS ASSAKER, Secretary-General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants, Lebanon, commended the high professionalism and seriousness that distinguished Mr. Brammertz and his team, and welcomed the progress achieved in the investigation. The Government of Lebanon looked forward to the Council’s favourable consideration of its request, addressed to the Secretary-General on 4 May, to extend the Commission’s mandate for another year, as well as its repeated request for the continued leadership of the Commission by Mr. Brammertz. Lebanon was satisfied with what the report said about the strong cooperation between the Commission and the Lebanese judicial authorities, whose work and productivity continued to improve. That was a reflection of the Government’s desire to develop the capacity of its judicial and security agencies, as well as the competence and will of those agencies to develop their performance, despite difficult working conditions.
Noting with interest what the report said about the cooperation of parties named in it, he said the Lebanese Government hoped and encouraged the continuation of complete cooperation in the service of truth, justice and stability, in Lebanon and throughout the region. The assassination of former Prime Minister Hariri was an unusual crime which had produced, and was still producing, a resounding effect in Lebanon, the region and the world. For those reasons, Lebanon and its people were exceptionally determined and persistent in investigating the crime alongside the international community. They had ensured the optimal conditions to establish legality and justice by uncovering the complete truth, putting those involved on trial, and punishing them in a manner commensurate with the gravity of the crime.
He praised the current consultations between the Lebanese authorities and the United Nations Secretariat to draft the statute of a court of an international character, which all Lebanese awaited with concern and anticipation, and the establishment of which would assure them that justice would be served. That would, in turn, strengthen peace and set a model to prevent the repetition of such heinous terrorist crimes in Lebanon and in the region, which both had long suffered from similar terrorist acts. The Government, appreciating the Security Council’s close follow-up of the just causes that concerned Lebanon, affirmed that it was moving forward with confidence and persistence, and in cooperation with international legitimacy and friendly countries in the international community, towards enhancing its ability to develop its capacity to build a State that was capable, just, and responsive to the aspirations of all its people.
FAYSSAL MEKDAD, Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Syria, said he had taken note of the report’s contents, as well as its objectivity and professionalism. The report included positive references to Syria’s efforts to cooperate with the Commission in the latest period, as well as its positive response in providing it with all necessary information in a timely manner. That cooperation was based on the Syrian Government’s keenness to unveil and uncover the truth about the assassination. The report included an explanation and clarification about the technical aspects of the crime, specifically those concerning the crime and the “tools” used in its commission.
Noting that the Commission had begun to uncover the truth a few months ago, he reiterated that the most dangerous thing confronting the investigation was exploitation by certain parties, inside or outside the region, the tendency to “jump to conclusions or prejudgments not based on clear evidence or proof”, and attempts to provide false evidence to the Commission for the main purpose of pressuring Syria. The truth was still awaited, even taking into account the latest report. Without going into substantive details of the report, as that could prejudice the investigation, which should be free from any politicization or intervention, the report acknowledged that Syrian cooperation had been satisfactory and that Syria had, in fact, cooperated with the Commission from the beginning. The special judicial committee that Syria had established was prepared now to follow up in coordination and cooperation with the Commission regarding all requests for assistance. Syria supported the report’s emphasis on the close scrutiny of evidence and of false testimony, given for well-known political reasons.
He said the Commission had requested assistance from 13 States, in addition to Syria and Lebanon, in accordance with Security Council resolution 1595 (2005), which called on all States to cooperate fully in helping to uncover the truth about the assassination. Syria was satisfied with the investigation’s continued reliance on the principle of confidentiality, and agreed with the spirit of the report, which stressed the need for sufficient time to complete the investigation before moving to the next step. Syria also agreed with the importance of giving the investigation all necessary resources to complete its procedures, in order to obtain true evidence, free from “politicization and false and erroneous hypotheses”. The Government’s continued cooperation with the Commission was based on its interest in uncovering the truth, which was truly in Syria’s interest.
* *** *For information media • not an official record