World News

Syria seeks arrests over Hariri probe: general

BEIRUT (Reuters) - A Lebanese general held for four years over the killing of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri said Sunday a Syrian judge had issued arrest warrants for 33 people over false testimony to investigators.

Jamil al-Sayyed, a pro-Syrian former security general, said a judge in Damascus issued the warrants in absentia for “the conspiracy of the false witnesses ... during the investigation into the criminal assassination of Rafik al-Hariri.”

Those named in the warrants included German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, who led the early stages of the United Nations investigation into Hariri’s killing in 2005, according to a statement issued by Sayyed’s office.

They also included Lebanese politicians close to Hariri’s son, Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri. His unity government has already been fractured by rows over the investigation, which is expected to issue indictments soon against members of the Shi’ite group Hezbollah for involvement in the attack.

There was no confirmation from Damascus of any warrants, which could complicate Hariri’s rapprochement with Syria after it ended nearly three decades of military presence in Lebanon following an international outcry over his father’s killing.

Sayyed was arrested shortly after the Feb 2005 bombing which killed Rafik Hariri and 22 others, but the special tribunal investigating the attack ordered his release last year because of lack of evidence.

He has said the United Nations investigation used fabricated testimony intended to point to the involvement of Syria and its supporters in Hariri’s killing, and has been seeking legal action against people he says were behind the false evidence.

Both Syria and Hezbollah deny any involvement in the killing and say the U.N. investigation has been politicised.

Lebanese police chief Ashraf Rifi, one of the 33 people named by Sayyed’s office, dismissed Sayyed’s announcement. “We will work to prevent the implementation of these warrants, which violate ... Lebanese sovereignty,” he told Reuters.

Reporting by Laila Bassam; writing by Dominic Evans; editing by Myra MacDonald