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Five Lebanese Officials Named Suspects in Ex-Premier Murder<P>By Hassan M. Fattah THE NEW YORK TIMES <P>DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES <P> <P>

Five Lebanese Officials Named Suspects in Ex-Premier Murder

By Hassan M. Fattah


A United Nations team investigating the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri ordered the detention on Tuesday of five high-ranking Lebanese officials with close ties to Syria, naming them as suspects in the February killing. The actions seemed intended to make it clear to Damascus and its allies that no one will be spared scrutiny in the inquiry.

Mustafa Hamdan, the commander of the Lebanese Presidential Guard, who investigators have suggested played a major role in covering up the killing, turned himself in to the authorities, while Nasser Qandil, a pro-Syrian member of Parliament who was in Syria on Tuesday morning, was reportedly apprehended by the police at a border crossing late Tuesday afternoon.

In separate raids on Tuesday morning, investigators working with the Lebanese police detained Jamil al-Sayyed, Lebanon’s former head of general security; Ali Hajj, onetime chief of the Lebanese police; and Raymond Azar, former military intelligence chief. Armed with search warrants, the investigators went through the suspects’ houses before bringing them in for questioning.

Mr. Hariri had been working behind the scenes to end Syrian domination of Lebanon’s affairs. His death in a bombing attack in February sparked huge protests that led to the withdrawal of Syria’s armed forces in April and the election of an anti-Syrian Parliament in June.

The roundup was widely interpreted here as a signal from the chief U.N. investigator, Detlev Mehlis, to other potential witnesses and suspects that he would no longer tolerate the delays and stonewalling that have so far impeded the investigation.

“The mood in Beirut is that this is just a first step, and one that is mainly directed against the Syrians,” said Michael Young, an editor at The Lebanese Daily Star. “You bring in people like this for a reason. The point I think is to give them a big slap and say the winds have changed and you had better start talking.”

The detentions come against a backdrop of deep-seated fear of reprisals that forced several leaders of the onetime opposition movement, including the Druse leader, Walid Jumblat, and Saad Hariri, the slain former prime minister’s son, to leave Lebanon in recent weeks.