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Hariri Murder Probe Asks for International Help

The man in charge of the U.N. inquiry into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri is asking for greater international help in the probe. From U.N. headquarters, VOA's Peter Heinlein reports preparations are being made to establish a court to hear evidence in the case.

Chief investigator Serge Brammertz says his inquiry is making progress in uncovering who was behind a string of 15 political assassinations in Lebanon. Chief among them was the suicide bomb attack in Beirut that killed Rafik Hariri and 22 others in February 2005.

Brammertz told the U.N. Security Council he has asked several countries for help in identifying the suicide bomber and other pieces of DNA collected from the crime scenes. A tooth recovered from the Hariri bomb site is considered a key clue.

Early stages of the investigation turned up evidence of official Syrian involvement in the Hariri killing. Brammertz's latest report to the Council adds few concrete details, but outlines a complex assassination plot that was months in the planning and execution.

At the core was the suicide bomber, a man in his early 20's who authorities believe came from outside Lebanon. Using telephone records, Brammertz has also identified a six-member assassination squad that orchestrated the attack. But he told reporters the plot appears to go far deeper.

"It's an extremely sophisticated crime, where you really find all the complex parameters of an international criminal investigation, where you have, on one hand, an extremely complex commission of the crime, and an extremely complex surrounding where the challenge is to identify and determine the perpetrators," he said.

Brammertz described Syria's cooperation with the investigation as "generally satisfactory." He said 11 more requests for interviews with Syrian officials are still pending, but declined to say whether he had asked to speak to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad

The Belgian prosecutor also said he was working closely with Lebanese authorities. He acknowledged, however, that Lebanon remains an extremely dangerous environment, and said his staff is going to great lengths to protect the identities of witnesses in the case.

"We are indeed mentioning aspects related to witness protection where certain witnesses don't want information disclosed to national authorities, and in this case we have a very careful and prudent approach," he said.

Brammertz declined to speculate on when his probe might be completed. But he and Security Council diplomats confirmed that an international tribunal would soon be established to hear evidence in the case.

America's U.N. ambassador, John Bolton, says the court would be Lebanese, but because of security concerns, might be based elsewhere.

"We said it's a court of international character, and there are obvious reasons we need that because of the Syrian involvement in the assassinations, but also I think it is also important that it be a Lebanese court," he said. "This was the assassination of a Lebanese prime minister, and perhaps the others that the court might get to, so we're trying to work out exactly how that would be put together."

Syria's representative at the U.N. Friday repeated Damascus's denial of involvement in the Hariri murder, and warned the Security Council against jumping to conclusions about who the killers might have been. Ambassador Bashar al-Jafari charged that what he called "parties in the region outside" had deliberately tried to mislead investigators. He did not elaborate.