A U.N. investigator has named the brother-in-law of Syrian President Bashar Assad as a suspect in the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a German report said on Tuesday.
Stern Magazine, in extracts from an article due to appear on Thursday, named Syrian military intelligence chief Asef Shawkat as a suspect in the probe led by chief United Nations investigator Detlev Mehlis.
Shawkat is widely seen as the second most powerful man in Syria after Assad.
Mehlis, a German prosecutor, had questioned Shawkat "not as a witness, but as a suspect”, said Stern, without giving the source of its information.
Mehlis is due to present his report to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Friday on the February 14 killings of Hariri and 20 others in a truck bomb blast in Beirut. Annan met Tuesday with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to discuss the expected report and its consequences.
Mehlis' interim report is expected, in one way or another, to tie the Syrian regime or Syrian officials to the affair. If this should happen, the international pressure on Syria is expected to grow, and Syria would be required to extradite the killing suspects and comply with additional demands concerning its support of terror.
Diplomats and Lebanese political sources say they expect Mehlis to name some Syrian officials in his report. But for him to point the finger at a member of Assad’s inner circle would be political dynamite.
Assad had appointed Shawkat as military intelligence chief last February. The announcement was made by Syrian officials four days after Hariri’s assassination.
The Syrian president said in a CNN interview last week that Syria was not involved in Hariri’s death and that he could never have ordered it.
However, if the United Nations concluded Syrians were involved, they would be “traitors” who would face an international court or the Syrian judicial process, he added.
Blaming Syrian officials for the killing would likely intensify U.S. pressure against Damascus and could prompt U.N. Security Council action.
Stern said that of 10 high-ranking Syrian diplomats and secret service officials questioned by Mehlis, five were considered as suspects in the assassination. They included Rustum Ghazaleh, former Syrian intelligence chief in Lebanon.
Four pro-Syrian Lebanese generals have also been detained since August on Mehlis’ recommendation and charged with murder, attempted murder and carrying out a terrorist act.