UN probe on Hariri’s death points to Syrian and Lebanese intelligences

A U.N. probe implicated top Syrian and Lebanese intelligence officials in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, it was the firs official link between Damascus and the slaying of the popular opposition leader.

The exhaustive report into the Feb. 14 car bomb that killed Hariri and 20 others, issued to the U.N. Security Council late Thursday, will almost certainly stoke fears of violence and inflame tensions in the region. The council is likely to use it to put new pressure on Syria to ease its continued influence on Lebanon.

The U.N. Security Council is scheduled to discuss the report Tuesday and may consider sanctions against Syria. Late next week, it will also receive a report from Terje Roed-Larsen, the U.N. special envoy on Lebanon-Syria, about disarming Lebanese militias.

While the report from chief investigator Detlev Mehlis stopped short of fingering Syrian President Bashar Assad or his inner circle, it accused Syria of failing to cooperate and said the plot to kill Hariri must have had the blessing of Syrian security officials.

The decision to assassinate Hariri "could not have been taken without the approval of top-ranked Syrian security officials and could not have been further organized without the collusion of their counterparts in the Lebanese security services," the report said.

The report includes a single reference to Assef Shawkat, Assad's brother-in-law and the Syrian intelligence chief. According to one witness, Shawkat forced a man to tape a claim of responsibility for Hariri's killing 15 days before it occurred.

That tape was aired on the al-Jazeera satellite channel the day of the blast but was discredited by Mehlis' investigators as an apparent attempt to divert attention from the real perpetrators. The man who made the tape, a Palestinian named Abu Adass, left his home Jan. 16 and was likely taken to Syria, where he disappeared, reports the AP.