Mehlis says Syria 'definitely' behind Hariri assassination
BEIRUT: The acting head of the UN investigation into the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri said Saturday he believed "Syrian authorities" were behind the murder. In an interview with pan-Arab daily Ash-Sharq al-Awsat, Detlev Mehlis, who will be returning to Lebanon "in the next few days," said he felt Syria was "definitely" behind the assassination but refused to elaborate on how high-up the Syrian command this involvement went.
Despite mounting international pressure, Syria evaded threatened "further action" and was asked once more to extend its full cooperation to the UN investigation last week through Security Council Resolution 1644.
However, according to officials in Washington, this "doesn't mean that the pressure on Syria to cooperate will not continue."
Mehlis also criticized a request from Damascus that his latest report be rewritten, saying such behavior was "very stupid."
The German prosecutor further said Syria has tried to "derail the investigation," citing flip-flop witness Houssam Taher Houssam as an example.
Houssam has admitted to lying to the UN probe investigating Hariri's murder, after which the Syrian government demanded Mehlis "rewrite his report, which was mostly based on lies."
Mehlis reiterated his belief there is a link between the series of assassination attempts in Lebanon since October 1, 2004, but refused to comment if they were linked with the Hariri case.
"There are links between them. Between them and Hariri's murder, I am not in a position to say so," he said.
However, Mehlis didn't believe the UN probe was the body to investigate these attacks.
"I think [the Lebanese security] have developed; they are capable of dealing with it, and they have done a great job in the past, so I do not see any specific reason why we should take over this investigation," he said.
Mehlis further revealed that his life had been threatened during the time he led the probe, and that this was one reason he had decided to step down.
"I think if you have been subjected to this for seven months, then it is about time to, well, go back home," he said, adding he would continue to lead the investigations until a successor is named.
Belgian magistrate Serge Brammertz, currently the Deputy Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC), told UN Secretary General Kofi Annan last Thursday he was willing to accept Mehlis' post for the next six months, but no longer.
Brammertz is currently overseeing investigations into war crimes in Congo and northern Uganda and would have to be released from his duties by the ICC's chief prosecutor to accept the new task in Lebanon.
Jordan's Ambassador to the UN Prince Zeid Raad Hussein has described Brammertz as "among the very best prosecutors and investigators that exist in the world today."
U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton said his country would have no objection to a candidate from the ICC.
"I'm not going to comment on specific individuals or names that are floating," he said. "What I will say is that a person's entire career and qualifications should be taken into consideration."
Brammertz has worked for years in Belgium investigating cross-border organized crime, human trafficking and drug smuggling.
Another Belgian prosecutor, Damien Van der Meersch, turned down the position last week, as have other candidates.
Asked why it is taking so long to name Mehlis' successor, Annan said Thursday, "The kinds of people we need are not standing on the corner ... looking for a job, and they don't just rush across the street when they get it."