Syria says its interior minister has committed suicide, just days before a U.N. investigator is expected to release a report on the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister. Syria has denied connection to the killing, but Damascus is still bracing for the chance that the report will implicate high-ranking Syrian officials.
Syria's official news agency says Interior Minister Ghazi Kanan killed himself in his office, and authorities are investigating.
Mr. Kanan is one of several high-ranking Syrian officials interviewed by the U.N. team investigating the car-bomb assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. The investigators are expected to hand their report on the killing over to the Security Council as early as next week.
Mr. Kanan was Syria's intelligence chief in Lebanon for 20 years during Syria's occupation of its neighboring state. He became interior minister about a year ago.
Just hours before his death, Mr. Kanan defended himself in a telephone interview with the Voice of Lebanon radio station. He asked the interviewer to pass his statement on to other broadcast news media, saying, "I believe this is the last statement I could give."
The former intelligence chief defended Syria's involvement in Lebanon, accusing its critics of acting out of malice and political motives. "I want to clarify that our relationship with all brothers in Lebanon was one of love and mutual respect," he said, adding, "We have served Lebanese interests with honor and sincerity."
Many Lebanese believe Syria orchestrated the bombing that killed Rafik al-Hariri, but Syria has strongly denied it. Even so, the government in Damascus is still preparing itself for the possibility that the U.N. investigators will implicate senior Syrian officials in the killing.
The U.N. team has already named as suspects four Lebanese generals with close ties to Syria. They are under arrest in Lebanon.
In an interview with CNN television shortly before Mr. Kanan's death, Syrian President Bashar Assad again denied any Syrian ties the killing. But he also said that if there is strong evidence that any Syrian officials were involved, they would be dealt with severely.