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Fundamentalist arrested in Hariri killing
Updated: 2005-10-23 08:50

The son and political heir of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on Saturday called for an international tribunal to try his father's killers after a U.N. probe implicated top Syrian and Lebanese intelligence officials.

In this photo made available by Lebanon's official news agency, Saad Hariri, son of slain former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, delivers a speech from his residence in the Saudi Arabian city of Jiddah, Saturday Oct. 22, 2005. [AP/file]

Lebanese security officials, meanwhile, said police had arrested an Islamic fundamentalist in connection with the assassination — the first since chief U.N. investigator Detlev Mehlis released his findings into the investigation of Feb. 14 killing of Hariri in a Beirut car bombing.

Saad Hariri, the former premier's son and a Lebanese legislator, made the appeal two days after Mehlis handed his report to the U.N. Security Council. He praised the U.N. investigation, which said there was a clear link between Syrian and Lebanese intelligence officials in the bombing.

"The hour of truth has come. ... The blood of the martyr Rafik Hariri and his colleagues in the march toward freedom, dignity, sovereignty will not have been shed in vain," he said in a televised speech from his home in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia.

"The culprits who planned this terrorist crime and participated in executing and covering it up will face, God willing, the punishment they deserve," he added.

Syrian Foreign Ministry adviser Riyad Dawoodi, meanwhile, reiterated his country's criticism of the U.N. report, saying it was false, politicized and aimed at targeting Damascus rather than uncovering the truth.

He said Mehlis also relied on witnesses who lacked credibility, including an alleged former Syrian intelligence officer, Zuhair Mohammed Al-Siddiq, who was arrested last week in Paris after it appeared he gave false testimony to the U.N. team.

"All that was contained in the report is based on presumptions and allegations," Dawoodi said. "There's no proof."

Saad Hariri, who heads the largest anti-Syrian bloc in Lebanon's parliament and had demanded the U.N. probe into his father's killing, spoke shortly before Lebanon's Cabinet was to meet for discussions on the report.

He called for an international tribunal to try the alleged killers.

"Reaching justice presents the Arab and international community with additional responsibilities that prompt us to urge them to continue all aspects of the investigation in the crime and refer it to an international court that is capable of punishing the criminals," he said. "We do not seek revenge. We seek justice."

Late Saturday, police arrested Mahmoud Abdel-Al, a member of the pro-Syrian Al-Ahbash Sunni Muslim Orthodox group, in Beirut, security officials said.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to give official statements, said a judge based his decision to detain Abdel-Al upon a recommendation from chief U.N. investigators.

Mehlis' report alleged that Abdel-Al called pro-Syrian Lebanese President Emile Lahoud on his mobile telephone minutes before the blast that killed Hariri. Lahoud denied receiving such a call.

The U.N. inquiry claimed that shortly after, Abdel-Al also contacted one of four Lebanese pro-Syrian generals who have since been arrested in the probe.

Police also seized unspecified documents during the raid on Abdel-Al's home, the officials said without elaborating.

Abdel-Al's brother is a prominent figure in Al-Ahbash group, Ahmad Abdel-Al, whom Mehlis identified as a "key figure" in the ongoing investigation.

On Friday, President Bush called on the U.N. to deal quickly and seriously with the report, which he said "strongly suggests that the politically motivated assassination could not have taken place without Syrian involvement."

The U.S. and France were readying U.N. Security Council resolutions critical of Syria. The Security Council was scheduled to meet on Tuesday to discuss the report.

But Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin on Saturday warned against responding too quickly to the report, saying it would require "thorough study and analysis." Syria has long been allied with Russia.

"We are convinced that the settlement of this problem should in no way lead to the emergence of a new hotbed of tension and further destabilization in the Middle East," Kamynin said in a statement posted on the ministry's Web site.

Dawoodi said Damascus would continue to cooperate with the investigation but stopped short of saying Syria would allow witnesses to be questioned by Mehlis abroad.

"We'll see what is the extent of this cooperation," he said.

Rafik Hariri's assassination ignited mass anti-Syrian protests in Lebanon coupled with intense international pressure that forced Syria to withdraw thousands of troops from Lebanon and end nearly three decades of military domination of its neighbor.

Many Lebanese blamed the killing on Syria and pro-Syrian Lebanese security chiefs. Syria and its Lebanese allies denied any involvement. Four Lebanese generals who ran the security services at the time Hariri was killed have been jailed for alleged involvement in the murder.

After the April withdrawal, anti-Syrian groups led by Saad Hariri were swept to power in parliamentary elections and a new government, largely independent of Syria, took power over the summer.

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