Lebanon News

Dubai police chief denies reports of Siddiq arrest

BEIRUT: Dubai's top police officer denied claims Tuesday that a key suspect in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri had been arrested in the emirate after spending over a year on the run. Mohammad Zuhair Siddiq was "not arrested on Dubai territory," Dubai's police chief General Dahi Khalfan told the Ash-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper, adding that he had no knowledge off his arrest elsewhere in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The rejection came in response to allegations made Friday by an unidentified Arab diplomat in Dubai that Siddiq had been arrested in the UAE and that Syria had requested his extradition.

Siddiq, supposedly a former Syrian intelligence agent, was arrested in a Paris suburb in October 2005 under an international arrest warrant requested by a Lebanese prosecutor. He was placed under house arrest after the French authorities refused a request to extradite him to Lebanon, saying it had failed to receive guarantees that Siddiq would not face the death penalty if convicted.

Siddiq disappeared in March 2008, prompting accusations by his brother that France had "liquidated" him.

In 2006, Siddiq alleged Syrian President Bashar Assad and his then-Lebanese counterpart Emile Lahoud had ordered Hariri's murder, which also killed 22 others along Beirut's seafront in February 2005. The UN tribunal charged with prosecuting Hariri's killers initially considered Siddiq a key witness in their investigation, but made him a suspect after his testimonies were discredited.

Officials at the Hariri tribunal reported in March receiving telephone calls from Siddiq, but said his whereabouts remained a mystery.

Only four other suspects are being held in connection with Hariri's death, after the Lebanese authorities released three men on bail in late February. The fate of the suspects, generals Raymond Azar, Ali Hajj, Mustafa Hamdan and Jamil al-Sayyed, is to be decided by the end of April. Earlier this month, Lebanon's investigative judge Saqr Saqr lifted arrest warrants for the men, though they will remain in custody until month's end, when the tribunal's prosecutor, Daniel Bellemare, decides whether they should be freed.

Defense Minister Elias Murr said on Monday that the Hariri tribunal would make the appropriate decision on their release. "If it decides to release the generals, then it has many reasons for doing so, while the Lebanese justice department may only have 1 percent of what [evidence] the tribunal has," the minister said in a statement. He added that he would leave it to "justice" to decide on the fate of Hariri's killers.





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