Death of Syria's Kanaan sparks conspiracy theories
BEIRUT - Syria's Interior Minister put the barrel of his revolver into his mouth and fired a bullet into his brain. Such, at least, is the official Syrian account of his death, but many in Lebanon and some in Syria harbour doubts.
Ghazi Kanaan, once Syria's feared powerbroker in Lebanon, met his end on Wednesday, three weeks after questioning by a U.N. team probing the killing of a Lebanese ex-prime minister.
The assassination of ex-premier Rafik al-Hariri had raised suspicions of Syrian involvement and sparked protests that forced Damascus to end a 29-year military presence in Lebanon; traumatic events both for Lebanon and Syria.
"Was Ghazi Kanaan slaughtered or did he commit suicide?" asked Thursday's front-page headline in Lebanon's al-Mustaqbal daily paper, which is owned by the Hariri family.
"Political circles are doubting the Syrian story. Did Kanaan really commit suicide or was he killed because he was a key witness in the (Hariri) case?," the paper said.
His apparent suicide came a week before chief U.N. investigator Detlev Mehlis is due to present his findings into Hariri's February killing, in which Damascus denies any role.
The timing, along with memories of his iron-fisted rule of Lebanon and his ruthless reputation, prompted several politicians, as well as newspapers, to question Syria's official version of the death.
Kanaan's death was reminiscent of the 2000 suicide of Syrian Prime Minister Mahmoud Zu'bi who took his life before security forces came to his house to arrest him on corruption charges, the Daily Star newspaper said.
Both deaths were overshadowed by "mysterious circumstances", the English-language paper wrote in an editorial.
>b>Felt betrayed?Some in Syria said Kanaan, who was his country's top official in Lebanon for two decades until 2002, felt personally betrayed by events following Hariri's death, culminating in the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon in April.
About an hour before Kanaan, according to the official accounts, killed himself, he called a Lebanese radio station and stressed how he had served Lebanon's interest with honour and honesty.
He ended the statement with the words: "I think this is the last statement I might give."
Syrian MP Mohammed Habash said Kanaan showed no signs of distress when he saw him in a ministerial meeting on Tuesday, adding that the official version was not credible.
Both Ali Sadreddin al-Bayanuni, leader of Syria's banned Muslim Brotherhood, and former Lebanese military intelligence chief Johny Abdou, voiced similar sentiments.
"Men with the character of Ghazi Kanaan do not commit suicide," Abdou said in a television interview.
But Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt said: "If he had any responsibility in the death of Hariri then he did the right thing by committing suicide."
"And If he felt humiliated (due to Syria's policies in Lebanon after his era) then it was a brave act from a brave man," Jumblatt told a news conference.