UN probe into murder of former Lebanese leader nears sensitive stage – inquiry chief

Serge Brammertz

18 December 2006 – The head of the United Nations probe into last year’s assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri told the Security Council that his investigation into the deadly explosion and 14 other bombings is “approaching a sensitive and complicated phase.”

Briefing the Council as he delivered his latest progress report on the work of the International Independent Investigation Commission (IIIC), Serge Brammertz said the process of interviewing witnesses in such a politically charged inquiry required extreme delicacy.

“The Commission’s work can only be undertaken with confidentiality in order to create a secure environment for its witnesses and staff,” he said in his report.

The Security Council set up the IIIC in April 2005 after an earlier UN mission found Lebanon’s own investigation was seriously flawed and that Syria was primarily responsible for the political tensions that preceded the assassination. Its mandate runs until June next year.

Mr. Brammertz said the IIIC needs to conduct another 50 interviews and gather more evidence that would be admissible before a tribunal. Last month the Council gave its support to the establishment of a “tribunal of an international character” to try those alleged responsible for the killing.

Analysis of the explosion that killed Mr. Hariri indicates that as much as 1,800 kilograms of TNT or its equivalent was detonated in an improvised explosive device (IED) from inside a Mitsubishi van close to the convoy transporting the man through Beirut.

The Commissioner stressed that inquiries continue to show “significant links” between the Hariri bombing and 14 other explosions or assassinations that have taken place since October 2004 in Lebanon.

He promised to keep investigating the murder of Pierre Gemayel, Lebanon’s Industry Minister, who died on 21 November after being shot in his car while travelling through Beirut.

Mr. Brammertz said it was critical that the IIIC had access to those political actors with whom Mr. Hariri had direct contact with in the months before he was killed, and to those “individuals involved in the relevant political dynamics in Lebanon, the broader region and internationally.”

To achieve that goal, States must be cooperative to any requests from the Commission, particularly given the potential for ongoing violence in Lebanon.

In his previous report, issued in September, Mr. Brammertz said evidence suggested that a young, male suicide bomber, probably non-Lebanese, detonated up to 1,800 kilograms of explosives inside a van to assassinate Mr. Hariri in Beirut in February 2005.

DNA analysis conducted on human remains found at the crime scene “produced crucial results,” Mr. Brammertz said, about a man whom investigators believe carried out the bombing.

The report in September said a tooth found at the scene, and linked to more than 30 other pieces of human remains from an unknown individual, has been identified as belonging to a man in his early 20s. The tooth has a distinguishing mark on its surface, which investigators have concluded is rarely seen among the Lebanese.

The latest report says the Commission has also received “other information concerning geographical origin, which it is unable to disclose at this time” and adds that the forensic process will continue.

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