As the U.N. yesterday completed its probe of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, not yet releasing the results, former senior and serving U.S. intelligence officials again insisted that the killing was done by Syria or Syrian proxies.
The Feb. 14 blast killed 16 and wounded 100, according to UPI news accounts.
The murder galvanized opposition elements in Lebanon which immediately demanded that Syria withdraw its forces.
But U.S. intelligence officials also accuse Syria of attempting to engineer a cover-up of the blast. The Syrians prepared a cover story in advance, one serving U.S. intelligence official said.
Just hours after the assassination, a bearded man appeared on Al-Jazeera satellite television broadcast claiming responsibility for the act, according to various U.S. news accounts.
The man was identified by. Lebanese security forces in a public statement as Ahmed Abu Adas, allegedly a Islamic extremist.
Abu Adas named "Victory and Jihad" as the group responsible, but U.S. intelligence officials said that the group did not exist. It is entirely bogus said one. One serving U.S. analyst noted that Adas did not recite any Koranic verses which are a trademark of suicide bombings. Apparently the Syrians overlooked that, he said.
Lebanese security forces raided the Beirut home of Adas, but found no one. According to a report in the Lebanon Daily Star, several neighbors said Abu Adas was reclusive, did not have a job and prayed five times a day at a nearby mosque. They said he had not been seen for several weeks.
Security forces said they confiscated computers, tapes and documents and detained family members for questioning. All this, said U.S. intelligence officials, was an elaborate charade, put in motion by Syria, to defect attention from its own responsibility in the killing.
According to one former senior CIA official, Adas had been in Syrian custody for months before the Hariri blast. They simply dressed him up, gave him a script, and thrust him out in the limelight one U.S. government official said.
The blast occurred just before noon as Hariri's motorcade was proceeding down a beachfront road -- a busy area of banks and hotels.
Lebanese officials first claimed that the blast was caused by a suicide bomber but U.S. officials said that the bomb had been planted underground and detonated mechanically.
Several U.S. intelligence officials said it was an inside job since there were decoy cars in the Hariri convoy and yet the killers clearly knew in which car Hariri was riding.
Hariri's convoy was equipped with devices to jam radio signals designed to detonate a bomb but that device could have been thwarted by a counter device left in a nearby car, according to former CIA official, Larry Johnson.
Johnson added, The explosive was placed on the route way in advance.
The blast left a huge crater, as well as many burning vehicles, according to UPI accounts.
Hariri had been a trusted person or intermediary for the CIA for some years, according to two former senior CIA officials.
Hariri had strong ties to some Salafis in Saudi Arabia and the agency grew annoyed with Hariri for allegedly not having warned the United States in advance of possible attacks inside the continental United States, which resulted in the massacres of Sept. 11, these sources said. Hariri had been a leading politician since the end of the civil war in 1990, and was prime minister for most of the last 15 years.
His death quickly ratcheted up U.S. opposition to the Syrian presence in Lebanon, and Syria recently declared that it would withdraw its forces in two stages. Before he died, Hariri had joined calls by opposition leaders for a withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon.
Officials have since played down the claim. Shortly after the attack, Justice Minister Adnan Addoum said the claim could be an attempt to mislead investigators, and the interior minister later suggested a suicide bomber backed by "international parties" may have been responsible.
Dia'a Rashwan, an Egyptian expert on militant groups, ruled out the possibility that the videotape was made by militants because Abu Adas did not use Quranic verses commonly used by those who carry out attacks in Iraq and Israel. According to these sources,