JERUSALEM – The arrests today of three pro-Syrian security chiefs over the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri has many leaders, security officials and top journalists in Beirut who may be seen as threats to Damascus worried about possible reprisals against them – with some having already departed the country.
In the first major breakthrough of the Hariri probe since the attack six months ago, former general Lebanese security chief Jamil al-Sayed, ex-military intelligence boss Raymond Azar and former internal security head Ali al-Hage were arrested today for possible involvement in the murder. As well, the head of Lebanon’s presidential guard, Mustafa Hamdan, turned himself in after an arrest warrant was issued against him.
“These officials will be interrogated as suspects,” newly installed Prime Minister Fuad Siniora said in a statement.
Several others were also recently arrested by Lebanese police in conjunction with the assassination, and a warrant has been issued for a former pro-Damascus minister and parliamentary member.
The arrests today were made at the request of an international commission investigating the massive Beirut bomb blast that killed Hariri Feb. 14 and was widely credited with generating the international pressure that forced Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon in late April.
The news of the arrests has many anti-Syrian personalities in Lebanon fearing for their lives, with some quickly leaving the country.
Parliament Member Gibran Tueini said he worries pro-Syrian elements on the ground in Lebanon might try to assassinate leaders they fear could testify against the arrested security agents. He said he has been informed of a possible hit list.
“Certain political figures, including myself, are directly threatened,” Tueni said. “I received a report from Lebanese security officials in which the international commission speaks of the existence of a list of Lebanese political figures who could be assassinated.”
Hariri’s son, Saad, who recently won a bulk of Lebanese parliamentary seats, has been in Paris the past two weeks and has previously acknowledged he keeps away from Beirut for fear of assassination.
Druze leader Walid Jumblatt departed the country for Switzerland. An assistant who answered the phone in Jumblatt’s mountain compound just outside Beirut said, “Mr. Jumblatt is keeping abreast of the situation as it develops. We don’t know when he will return.”
A senior Lebanese politician, who didn’t want his name associated with his quotes, told WND: “I fear for my life. Syria is behind recent assassinations, both to generate panic and to intimidate leaders against talking out about the [Hariri] assassination.”
The leader said his security detail was recently beefed up. “Around here, there is no such thing as enough security,” he said.
Dr. Walid Phares, president of the Council on Foreign Affairs of the World Lebanese Cultural Union, told WND: “Politicians such as Tueni, Saad Hariri and also Jumblatt are afraid of Syrian, pro-Syrian Lebanese and Hezbollah reprisals. … One major reason is many of these politicians know many things about the Syrians and Hezbollah. They became dangerous. Today, there is a long list of politicians who are afraid because of what they have done, and others are afraid because of the secrets they know.”
Syria has long been accused of dominating Lebanon’s security and intelligence services.
Former Lebanese Prime Minister Michel Aoun recently told WND: “I have been given some information that confirms the presence of Syrian intelligence agents still operating inside Lebanon. This includes the infiltration by Syria of the Lebanese security forces, some of whom are acting for Syria.”
Anti-Damascus security officials in Lebanon say Syria still maintains a tight grip on much of the country’s security apparatus, and is capable of carrying out assassinations and large-scale bombings.
Since the Hariri attack, there have been 11 bomb blasts in Lebanon, and several anti-Syrian figures including a politician and a journalist have been killed. Syria is widely blamed for the attacks and has been criticized over its failure to cooperate with the international Hariri probe.