BEIRUT: Lebanese Justice Minister Ibrahim Najjar said Thursday that Lebanon has issued an arrest warrant for a key suspect in the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri, despite not receiving any official information regarding his alleged arrest in the United Arab Emirates.
Media reports last week quoted an unidentified Arab diplomat in Dubai as claiming Mohammad Zuhair Siddiq had been arrested in the emirate and that Syria had requested his extradition. In later reports, Siddiq was said to have been transferred to police in Abu Dhabi by their counterparts in Sharjah.
"Lebanon has issued an absentee arrest warrant for this suspect and the Interpol has been informed," Najjar told reporters after a meeting with his French counterpart Rachida Dati. "In all cases, this issue is within the jurisdiction of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon," he added, referring to the UN-sanctioned tribunal tasked with prosecuting Hariri's assassins. The five-time premier was killed along with 22 others in a massive car bomb along Beirut's seafront in February 2005. Lebanon had not received any information from authorities in the UAE, Najjar said.
Siddiq, purportedly 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 French authorities refused a request to extradite him to Lebanon, saying they had failed to receive guarantees 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 claimed Syrian President Bashar Assad and his then-Lebanese counterpart Emile Lahoud had ordered Hariri's murder. The UN tribunal 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 currently held in connection with Hariri's death - generals Raymond Azar, Ali Hajj, Mustafa Hamdan and Jamil al-Sayyed. The tribunal's general prosecutor Daniel Bellemare will submit his decision on whether the men should be released on April 27, his spokesperson Radia Achoury told As Safir on Friday. Bellemare was eager to stick to the deadline "unless circumstances warrant otherwise," she added.
The four generals have never been formally charged, but were taken into custody on suspicion of murder, attempted murder and terrorism - accusations their lawyers say are based on the Siddiq's discredited testimony.
Lebanon's investigative judge Saqr Saqr lifted arrest warrants for the men earlier this month, and the men will most likely be released from Roumieh prison if not charged.