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UN Investigates Assad In-Law In Murder of Lebanese Leader

By John Kifner 
and Warren Hoge


The U.N. investigation into the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri is focusing on the powerful brother-in-law of Syrian President Bashar Assad as the main suspect, a diplomat with intimate knowledge of the probe said Thursday.

The diplomat spoke as a long-awaited U.N. report on the killing made public on Thursday said that it was a carefully planned terrorist act organized by high-ranking Syrian and Lebanese intelligence officers.

Though the report did not include names, the diplomat said that the investigators were focusing on Syria’s military intelligence chief Asef Shawkat, the president’s brother-in-law.

“Their main lead is that he is the ringleader,” the diplomat said. “This is where it is heading.”

The U.N. investigator, Detlev Mehlis, has been given an extension until December to continue his inquiry. He said that in four months his commission had interviewed more than 400 people, reviewed 60,000 documents and arrested four high-level officials of the Lebanese “security and intelligence apparatus.”

“There is evidence in abundance,” said the diplomat. “But to get every piece of the puzzle, they need more time.” He spoke on condition of anonymity because of what he described as the extreme sensitivity of the matter.

Shawkat is considered the second-most-powerful man in Syria and has been seen as a likely candidate to take over the country if the embattled Assad were removed from office.

The diplomat, describing Syria as a “country run by a little family clique,” said the involvement of anyone in Assad’s inner circle would be a severe blow to the regime.

“There is absolutely no doubt; it goes right to the top,” he said. “This is Murder, Inc.”

The U.N. report, from German prosecutor Mehlis, said the killing last February was carried out by “a group with an extensive organization and considerable resources and capabilities.”

The report said, “There is converging evidence pointing at both Lebanese and Syrian involvement in this terrorist act.”

The 54-page report said the crime had been planned “over many months” and that the movements of Hariri and the convoy he traveled in had been closely monitored with his “itineraries recorded in detail.”