New York Times
By the summer of 2004, Syrian officials, long accustomed to running neighboring Lebanon, were fed up with its prime minister, Rafik Hariri. So, a United Nations investigation found, they decided to kill him.
In chilling detail, often reading like a paperback thriller, the United Nations report traces months of plotting by top Syrian intelligence officials - including President Bashar al-Assad's powerful brother-in-law - and their Lebanese proxies that included constant surveillance of Mr. Hariri's movements and the forced recruitment of a fake assassin to make a "suicide tape" to hide the real hands behind the bombing that killed Mr. Hariri in February.
The report was released Thursday. The political wrangling leading up to the assassination is well known. In 2004, President Assad bluntly ordered the Lebanese to amend their Constitution to extend the expiring term of his ally, President Émile Lahoud. Mr. Hariri, an ebullient billionaire who had almost single-handedly rebuilt the city center shattered by 15 years of civil war, objected.
On Aug. 26, he was summoned to Damascus for a meeting with President Assad that lasted just 15 minutes. Mr. Hariri's relatives and allies recalled that he returned shaken; the report added that they remember him saying Mr. Assad had threatened to "break Lebanon on your head."
The report included the transcript of a taped conversation with the Syrian deputy foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, two weeks before Mr. Hariri was killed, in which he called the meeting "the worst day of my life."
When Mr. Hariri protested Syria's domination of Lebanon, the report said, Mr. Moallem replied "we and the (security) services here have put you into a corner." He continued, "Please do not take things lightly."
Mr. Hariri eventually gave in; his bloc voted to change the Constitution in a hastily called parliamentary session. Freshly printed posters of Mr. Lahoud went up in the streets and preset fireworks went off as the vote was announced. In October, Mr. Hariri resigned in disgust.
As fall turned into winter, he signaled that he would join an anti-Syrian alliance building in Beirut. Around this time, according to the report, Gen. Mustafa Hamdan, the commander of President Lahoud's personal security force, said, "We are going to send him on a trip - bye-bye Hariri."
General Hamdan is one of four top Lebanese generals who have been charged with the killing by Lebanese authorities on the recommendation of the United Nations investigator, Detlev Mehlis. The others are Jamil al-Sayyed, former head of Lebanon's main internal security force; Ali Hajj, former chief of the Lebanese police; and Raymond Azar, former chief of military intelligence. Those three resigned shortly after the assassination.
A version of the report that was sent by e-mail to several news outlets contained, thanks to a computer glitch, some passages that had been removed from the official version. Those passages named other suspects and had apparently been edited out because the suspects had not yet been charged.
They include President Assad's brother, Maher, and his brother-in-law, Gen. Asef Shawkat, the head of military intelligence and widely regarded as the second-most-powerful man in Syria.
A diplomat who is intimately familiar with the work of the United Nations investigators said that as they moved forward they would focus mainly on General Shawkat as the prime suspect behind the assassination.
The edited passages say that shortly after the Security Council passed a resolution last fall calling for Syria to remove its forces from Lebanon, General Sayyed and other Lebanese security officials began traveling to Damascus to meet with General Shawkat. It said the final meeting took place about a week before the assassination and included General Hamdan.
These were the men, the report said, who set up a blanket surveillance of Mr. Hariri. General Sayyed coordinated much of the operation with the other Lebanese officials; with the Syrian military intelligence chief, Gen. Rustum Ghazali; and also, the report said, with Ahmad Jibril, the head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, General Command, a party that acts as an agent of Syria.
"General Hamdan and General Azar provided logistical support, providing money, telephones, cars, walkie-talkies, pagers, weapons, ID cards etc.," the report said.
A colonel in Lebanon's military intelligence, Ghassan Tufayli, who took orders from General Azar "in oral rather than written form," was in charge of a wiretap unit, the report said, and daily logs were forwarded to Lebanese security and Syrian intelligence.
"Several important people such as former presidents, prime ministers and deputies were permanently wiretapped," the report said. "Although Mr. Hariri was no longer prime minister in early 2005, he was a very important political and economic figure in Lebanon and the Middle East. Therefore he was under permanent wiretapping."
On the day of the assassination, the report said, 10 mobile phones and 8 telephone numbers were involved. A set of prepaid telephone cards purchased in Tripoli provided records of crucial telephone calls around the time of the bombing, including one to Al Jazeera, the Arab satellite news channel.
At a Syrian military base, the report said, the bomb was placed in a white Mitsubishi van that had been stolen in Japan. The van was driven into Lebanon on a military road through the Bekaa Valley by a Syrian colonel from the 10th Army Division, a witness told the investigators.
On Feb. 14, minutes before the assassination, the report said, a surveillance camera on a bank near the old St. George Hotel in Beirut "clearly showed" the white van, which was moving more slowly than other traffic.
One witness, identified as Zuhair Ibn Mohammed Said Saddik, a former Syrian intelligence operative, said the driver of the van was an Iraqi "who had been led to believe that the target was Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi (who happened to be in Beirut prior to the assassination)," according to the report.
Mr. Saddik gave more details to investigators. He was later declared a suspect and was arrested by French authorities near Paris last week at the request of the Lebanese court.
As the white van waited, Mr. Hariri's heavily armored Mercedes and the rest of his convoy turned the corner near the hotel.
The explosion went off at 12:56 p.m. It damaged buildings for blocks around, killing 20 people as well as Mr. Hariri.
The call to Al Jazeera alerted its Beirut bureau to a videotape placed in a tree downtown. The tape - in the style often used by Islamic suicide bombers - showed a young Lebanese named Ahmad Abu Adass claiming responsibility for killing the "infidel" Hariri.
But his family and others who knew him said immediately that he was a most unlikely assassin.
According to the report, witnesses said he had been forced to make the tape at gunpoint. At one point, in the final version, the report said it had been General Shawkat who forced him to make the tape.
Mr. Adass has disappeared. The United Nations investigators were told he had been taken to Syria, where he was either killed or held in prison to be killed later.
A Lebanese only too willing to cast blame on Mr. Adass became a suspect himself. He is Ahmad Abdel-Al, prominent in the Association of Islamic Philanthropic Projects, which the report described as "a Lebanese group with strong historical ties to the Syrian authorities." It said he was responsible for its "public relations and military and intelligence."
The investigators found a web of connections between Mr. Abdel-Al and Syrian and Lebanese security officials and flurries of phone calls, particularly around the time of the assassination. Between January and April, there were 97 calls between his phone and General Hamdan's, four shortly after the assassination.
He is close to his brother, Mahmoud Abdel-Al, the report said. The report described the brother's telephone calls as "also interesting."
The report particularly noted one he made at 12:47 that day, nine minutes before the blast.
The number was President Lahoud's mobile phone.