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FBI to assist ISF in probe into Hasan assassination

  • Lebanese police chief, Brig. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, second left, and a member of Lebanese police intelligence division unit, center, salute the two coffins wrapped with Lebanese flags of Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan and his bodyguard Ahmad Sahyouni who were assassinated on Friday by a car bomb, during their funeral processions at the Lebanese police headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday Oct. 21, 2012. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

BEIRUT: An FBI delegation will arrive in Lebanon to provide technical assistance to the investigation into the assassination of senior intelligence official Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan, the head of the Internal Security Forces said Monday.

Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi discussed the possibility of FBI assistance with David Brown, U.S. Embassy security attache, and Scott Smith, FBI legal attache of at the U.S. Embassy, according to an ISF statement.

The statement said that both U.S. officials met with Rifi at ISF headquarters after Prime Minister Najib Mikati asked for U.S. technical aid in the investigation during a telephone conversation with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Hasan, who served as the head of the ISF Information Branch, was killed by a car bomb in the Ashrafieh neighborhood of Beirut last week.

Rifi acknowledged that it was a misstep not to change the location of Hasan’s Ashrafieh safe house after its location was discovered.

“Intelligence always has safe houses ... and there is a possibility that they can be discovered, that is why they are changed routinely,” Rifi said in a TV interview Monday.

Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said the recent discovery of the type of car that held the bomb could be an important lead in the investigation. Speaking to a foreign news agency, Charbel said the inquiry is being carried out quickly and seriously.

Security sources said that the bomb was placed in a RAV4 Toyota SUV rather than a Honda CRV as was previously reported.

The car was stolen, but its original owner hails from the Qabr Shmoun village in Mount Lebanon.

The car’s owner said it was stolen a year ago, and he had declined to pay the thief to return the car. He said the thief told him the offer was still on, and his mobile number was still in his phone.

Speaking to the Central News Agency, the sources said the investigation is focusing on uncovering the caller’s identity. The owner of the mobile number he called from has been identified and has several arrest warrants out in his name.

Security sources refused to give further details about the investigation, saying secrecy is essential to uncovering the identity of those involved in the crime and the means by which between 50 and 60 kilograms of TNT were placed in the car.

The sources said the investigation is focusing on tracking the car’s route up until the moment of the explosion.

Separately, the ISF released a statement listing the credentials of Col. Imad Othman, who Rifi Sunday appointed as Hasan’s successor.

Othman joined the ISF in 1984 as an officer cadet. He rose through the ranks and has participated in several training sessions outside Lebanon in the security field. Othman has a good command of both English and French.“After the martyrdom of ... Hasan, several names for a successor were discussed with Interior Minister Marwan Charbel ... we lost one of our major security pillars and we do our best to protect people,” Rifi said in the interview.

“Col. Othman has a similar profile to Hasan ... and has worked with him for 10 years,” he added, saying “our capacity is still the same, we are ready to continue to protect people and we will not give up.”

The statement listed Othman’s achievements during his service in the Information Branch and judicial police as including participation in combating terrorism and arresting gangs involved in car thefts and drug trading.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 23, 2012, on page 1.
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