International investigators have questioned members of the militant Hezbollah group in connection with the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Lebanese security and judicial officials said Thursday.
They said a team from the Netherlands-based Special Tribunal for Lebanon has interviewed several Hezbollah members in Beirut, among dozens of other people.
The judicial official said the investigators were speaking to a range of people who could have information about the assassination.
Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.
UN investigators at scene of murder, on Wednesday (Photo: AFP)
Many in Lebanon fear that if the Shiite, Iranian-backed Hezbollah is accused by the tribunal in connection with the assassination, it could lead to tension and possibly violence between Lebanon's Shiite and Sunni communities.
Violence between members of the two sects left more than 100 people dead over the past five years. Hariri was a Sunni Muslim with close links to Saudi Arabia, one of the world's foremost Sunni powers.
It was not clear whether Hezbollah members have been questioned before, but it was the first time officials disclosed that interviews with group members have actually taken place.
Hariri was Lebanon's most prominent politician since the 1975-1990 civil war ended. He was killed in a massive truck bombing that set off a spiral of political turmoil in Lebanon, including the withdrawal of Syrian troops after almost 30 years of military presence and domination of the country.
Many Lebanese blame Syria for the killing, which Damascus denies.
In May last year, German magazine Der Spiegel said the court had evidence that members of Hezbollah were behind the assassination.
Hezbollah has fiercely denied any role in the killing. The group's leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, one of Syria's strongest allies in Lebanon, has said that any attempt to implicate Hezbollah in the killing will be considered a politically motivated "Israeli accusation."
Hezbollah officials have refused to confirm or deny the reports that its members have been questioned.
The UN investigating team has questioned hundreds of people in the past few years, but it has kept silent on its progress and who might be charged.
The court prosecutor's spokeswoman Radhia Achouri also declined to comment on whether members of Hezbollah were questioned.