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Syria Considers UN Request to Question 6 Officers in Hariri Probe


Syria says it will consider letting the U.N. interrogate six of its senior officials regarding the February 14 blast that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 22 others. The U.N. request names the Syrian president's brother-in-law and five others.

An anonymous Syrian foreign ministry official says the government is considering a U.N. request to interrogate the top Syrian officers. Chief U.N. investigator Detlev Mehlis had previously accused Syria of not cooperating fully with the Hariri inquiry.

U.N. official did not identify those wanted for questioning, but local press reports say President Bashar Assad's brother-in-law, General Assef Shawkat, is among them.

Syria-based Fulbright scholar, Joshua Landis, says General Shawkat married President Assad's sister against her father's wishes, eventually working his way into the family's inner circle. He says General Shawkat was appointed head of internal intelligence, where he acted as the main conduit between Syria and the CIA.

Professor Landis says General Shawkat's intelligence-sharing helped the United States foil an attack on U.S. ships off the coast of Bahrain.

"So I think the regime, the people in government, were a little confused and certainly they expressed that confusion, wondering why they would want to target Assef Shawkat in particular, because he had been quite cooperative with the United States. This just shows you the mentality of the Syrian regime, which believes that intelligence sharing is a basis for a good relationship," he said.

Professor Landis says a Syrian Parliament member told him Syria fears the men will be questioned in Lebanon, where they could be charged as suspects and arrested by Lebanese police. He says Syrian citizens are anxious about the outcome of the U.N. investigation.

"The general attitude in the country is that we're going to get hit with sanctions and that the world is going to target us. And they believe this is something they can't get out of. That it's impossible for them to prove themselves innocent," he said.

Syria has launched its own inquiry into Mr. Hariri's assassination. The U.N. investigators have a December deadline for finishing their probe.

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