Syria is still under suspicion in the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, senior United Nations officials said this weekend. This is at odds with the report issued on Friday by a UN team investigating the assassination which blamed a "criminal network" for the killing.
The report is the 10th one released by the UN commission since it began its investigation in June 2005, but the first issued to the Security Council by the new chief investigator, Daniel Bellemare.
Bellemare said in his report that evidence indicates that the so-called "Hariri Network" existed before the assassination on Feb. 14, 2005.
Syrian intelligence was often accused of being behind the murder, and while Damascus denied the charges, the attack nonetheless prompted Syria to end its longtime military presence in the country.
Bellemare said the evidence also indicates that the network conducted surveillance of the former premier, and that at least part of the network continued to operate after he was killed along with 22 others in a bombing in Beirut.
The former Canadian prosecutor said the commission investigating Hariri's assassination "can now confirm, on the basis of available evidence, that a network of individuals acted in concert to carry out the assassination of Rafik Hariri." According to senior diplomats in New York, "Nowhere in the report was it said or implied that Syria is innocent of direct involvement in planning Hariri's murder and carrying it out."
The UN team found that the criminal network was also involved in the assassinations of other high-profile Lebanese figures. It establishes that a criminal "network of individuals" was responsible for the truck bomb that caused the death of Hariri and 22 others.
Diplomats said off the record Friday that the term "criminal network of individuals" appearing in the report "does not dull or modify the basic fact that those who planned and perpetrated Hariri's murder are terrorists."
Bellemare said the commission would not disclose any names due to the need to preserve confidentiality. The names would be released only as part of the indictment presented to the tribunal, he said.
The report says there are no fast answers in such an investigation and commends Syria's cooperation. The first priority is to find additional proof of the participants' identity and establish their links to other murders and figures outside the criminal network, the report says.
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