Assad 'insulted' and threatened Hariri before his assassination

Assad 'insulted' and threatened Hariri before his assassination
Rafic Hariri, Lebanon's prime minister, was killed when a massive explosion ripped through his motorcade in 2005. A Syrian connection in the assassination has long been suspected.
3 min read
24 March, 2015
Hariri's assassination sparked a wave of protests in Lebanon [AFP]
Fouad Siniora has been giving testimony this week at an investigation into the assassination of former prime minister Rafic Hariri in 2005.

Siniora on Monday told the Special Tribunal for Lebanon held in The Hague how Syria's President Bashar al-Assad had insulted and threatened Hariri.

These words, the Future Movement leader and former prime minister said, brought Hariri to tears.

"Hariri told us that he had met with Assad who told him that he had to agree to the extension [of then president Emile Lahoud's term] or he would destroy Lebanon over his head," Siniora claimed.

Hariri told Siniora that he would never be able to forget the insult, and described the then prime minister as "very nervous" when recanting the incident.

"I used to avoid increasing his pain as he was deeply wounded by it. I understood his unwillingness to repeat the phrases he had heard, but he said he [Assad] yelled at him, cursed him and insulted him," Siniora told the tribunal.

"Hariri revealed his anger in front of me which is more important than anything I would hear from anyone else. He put his head on my shoulder and told me what had happened.

"These phrases were enough I did not have to ask [Hariri] about the exact words used by Assad," the tribunal heard.

Siniora said that Hariri also informed him that the prime minister's aides had discovered a number of Hizballah plots to assassinate him.

"After every foreign visit, Hariri would say 'May God protect us when we return to Beirut,'" Siniora remembered.

Remembering his last meeting with Hariri, Siniora claimed that the head of the prime minister's security team, Yahya al-Arab, entered the room, saying he had met Rustum Ghazaleh, the Syrian military intelligence chief in Lebanon, and handed him "the thing".
     The truth will send a message that no one can commit a crime without punishment.

- Fouad Siniora, former Lebanese prime minister

"My conclusion is 'the thing' given to Ghazaleh was an amount of money, and I used to hear that he would be given assistance every now and then," Siniora claimed.

"[Hariri] used to attempt to avoid the tyranny of the Syrian security apparatus," Siniora explained.

He said he had no knowledge about the amounts of money allegedly given by Hariri to Ghazaleh.

"The truth behind the assassination will mark a new stage and send a message that no one can commit a crime without punishment," he added. 

Political assassination

Siniora remains sceptical about the truth of Hariri's death ever being discovered, because the crime scene "had been tampered with".

"The decision to request the tribunal was made in Quraytim [Hariri's residence] after the crime, without anyone's involvement. The events that succeeded the crime proved that forming an international tribunal was a sound decision," Siniora explained.

He says there were failed attempts to replace the international tribunal with an Arab mission.

The former prime minister also alleged that Lahoud had "not welcomed" the formation of the tribunal, and refused to convene a cabinet meeting to discuss it.

"[There are some] in Lebanon who attempt to tarnish the tribunal and attack its impartiality. Those who support the tribunal want the truth to come out no matter how painful it may be," he added. 

Siniora said he believed the overwhelming majority of Lebanese people supported the formation of the tribunal, to reveal the truth about the assassination and act as a deterrent against future political killings.

Rafic Hariri was killed when a 1,000 kilogram exploded as his motorcade was approaching a mosque in Beirut.

The blast killed 21 others, and led to popular protests in Lebanon, now known as the Cedar Revolution, which forced Syrian forces to end their occupation of its war-torn neighbour.

Hariri was a strong opponent of Syria's presence in Lebanon and it is alleged that Damascus' ally, Hizballah, was involved in the murder.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.