"Converging evidence" points at both Lebanese and Syrian involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, according to a report by a United Nations investigating panel, which concluded that the "terror" attack on 14 February had been carried out by a group with an extensive organization and considerable resources.
"It is a well known fact that Syrian Military Intelligence had a pervasive presence in Lebanon at the least until the withdrawal of the Syrian forces (in April)," the head of the UN International Independent Investigation Commission (UNIIIC), Detlev Mehlis, said in the report to the Security Council on the bomb attack. The bombing killed 22 others, leading to renewed calls for the withdrawal of all Syrian troops and intelligence agents who had been in Lebanon since the early stages of the country's 1975-1990 civil war.
"The former senior security officials of Lebanon were their appointees. Given the infiltration of Lebanese institutions and society by the Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services working in tandem, it would be difficult to envisage a scenario whereby such a complex assassination plot could have been carried out without their knowledge," the 63-page report said.
The Security Council, which set up UNIIIC after an earlier UN mission found Lebanon's own investigation seriously flawed and Syria primarily responsible for the political tension preceding the murder, will discuss the report on Tuesday when it receives a public briefing by Mr. Mehlis.
On Thursday, the Secretary-General transmitted the report to the Security Council. In an accompanying letter, he says the report details progress made in the investigation but notes that a criminal investigation is yet to be completed. Mr. Annan also says he intends to extend the Commission's mandate until 15 December so that it can continue its investigation and assist the Lebanese authorities.
"Building on the findings of the Commission and Lebanese investigations to date and on the basis of the material and documentary evidence collected, and the leads pursued until now, there is converging evidence pointing at both Lebanese and Syrian involvement in this terrorist act," Mr. Mehlis said, summarizing the four-month probe, during which the Commission interviewed more than 400 persons and reviewed 60,000 documents.
The report noted that the apparent growing conflict between Mr. Hariri and senior Syrian officials, including Syrian President Bashar Assad, was a central aspect of information provided to the Commission through interviews and documents.
"It is incumbent upon Syria to clarify a considerable part of the unresolved questions," it concludes, adding that the Commission has established that many leads point directly towards Syrian security officials as being involved with the assassination.
"While the Syrian authorities, after initial hesitation, have cooperated to a limited degree with the Commission, several interviewees tried to mislead the investigation by giving false or inaccurate statements," the report stated, adding that the "letter addressed to the Commission by the Foreign Minister of the Syrian Arab Republic proved to contain false information."
The report stressed that the investigation was not complete and should continue for some time to come. It is the Commission's view that the continuing investigation should be carried forward by the appropriate Lebanese judicial and security authorities, who have proved during the investigation that with international assistance and support, they can move ahead and at times take the lead in an effective and professional manner."