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Ex-Syrian Official: Syrian Leader Involved in Hariri Assassination


A former Syrian vice president has recently leveled a series of explosive allegations against his government. Among them: That Syrian leader Bashar al Assad had a hand in assassinating former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The former official, Abdul Halim Khaddam, is now living in Paris. His statements raise a number of questions.

Khaddam resigned as Syria's vice president last June. In September, he moved to Paris. Now, after remaining silent for months, the former Syrian official is talking: On television, on the radio and in remarks published by newspapers around the world.

What he is saying is not making the Syrian government happy. In fact, the ruling Baath party recently ousted him as a member. And Syria's parliament voted to bring him to trial for treason.

Among other things, Khaddam accuses Syrian President Bashar al Assad of involvement in last February's assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. And, for that matter, in the deaths of other Lebanese critics of the Syrian government, which had troops in Lebanon for years.

What killed Mr. Hariri killed the others, Mr. Khaddam told France Info radio in remarks broadcast Monday, one of a series of interviews he has given recently. Such a decision to assassinate, he said, could only have been made by President Assad.

Khaddam also predicts the Syrian government will not last long. He says he wants it to be toppled by a popular uprising. He described Mr. Assad as a weak and impulsive leader.

In some ways, Khaddam is in a good position to know. He was a top member of Syria's ruling Baathist government, both under the late president, Hafez al Assad, and under his son and successor, Bashar. But Middle East analyst Judith Cahen says Khaddam's remarks should be treated skeptically.

Cahen is a Syrian expert at the French Institute of International Relations in Paris. She questions why Khaddam waited for months before implicating President Assad in Hariri's death. Moreover, she notes that while Khaddam was close to President Assad's father, he was not particularly close to the current president, and possibly not privy to conversations about sensitive topics like alleged assassinations.

Whether Khaddam will be successful in his new role as a dissident is also unclear, since he has long been linked with Syria's power structure. And, Cahen notes, Syrian dissidents are far from united. In an interview with Britain's Financial Times, an exiled leader of Syria's Muslim Brotherhood said he could back change led by ex-Syrian officials like Khaddam.

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