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LEBANON: Report linking Hezbollah to Hariri assassination raises questions

May 23, 2009 | 11:04 am

Lebanon-hariri In a bombshell report published Saturday, the German weekly Der Spiegel says the investigation into the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri is moving toward the conclusion that the Shiite militia Hezbollah was behind the attack.

Based entirely on an unnamed source or sources, the Spiegel report said Lebanese investigators monitoring cellphone usage in the vicinity of the car-bomb explosion that killed Hariri lucked into a breakthrough discovery.

According to the report, the cellphones were used exclusively for phone calls among the alleged assassins except for one instance when one of the suspects used a phone to call his girlfriend. 

From that single call, investigators figured out the name of the  operative. Allegedly, he was Abdul Majid Ghamlush, described as an Iranian-trained agent who belongs to a "special forces" unit of Hezbollah, according to the report, which then goes on to link him to higher-ups in Hezbollah, including a commander named Hajj Salim. 

Most Lebanese believe Syria masterminded Hariri's assassination to maintain its slipping control over Lebanon, a charge Damascus vehemently denies. 

Hariri was enormously popular among all Lebanese groups, and if it's true that the United Nations tribunal has concluded that Hezbollah was behind the assassination, it would have a huge effect on the country, where a critical election is being held on June 7.

But the story raises some unanswered questions. In addition to citing only an anonymous source or sources, it alludes to "documents" to bolster its claims, but they are neither described nor shown in the report. 

Almost all of the Hezbollah operatives allegedly involved in the assassination are dead or missing. The Lebanese officer investigating the cellphones connection was killed, and Imad Mughniyeh, who oversaw the "special forces" unit, also was killed in Damascus last year, making the allegations tough to verify.

Although the report examines both Hezbollah's motives in wanting to assassinate Hariri and the tribunal's motives in allegedly keeping the accusations against the group under wraps, it leaves aside questions regarding the motive of the leaker, who timed the revelations just before the Lebanese elections and at a juncture when Israel and Washington are trying to coax Syria away from Iran and Hezbollah.

-- Borzou Daragahi in Beirut

Photo: A protester holds a photo of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Credit: Graeme Robertson / Getty Images