Lebanese investigator hurt in attack

Official leads probe into killing of Hariri

September 06, 2006|By Megan K. Stack | Megan K. Stack,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- A leading investigator into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri narrowly escaped a remote-control bomb attack that targeted his convoy and killed four of his aides and bodyguards yesterday.

The attack menaced this fragile country with renewed instability at a time when it is languishing under an Israeli blockade and remnants of Israeli military occupation in the southern borderlands where Israel recently battled Hezbollah guerrillas.

Lt. Col. Samir Shehade, deputy head of intelligence in the national police force, has spent months tracking the bombers who killed Hariri in early 2005 - sparking an outburst of political pressure that forced Syria to end its longtime de facto occupation of Lebanon. He has also investigated the string of assassinations that have killed prominent anti-Syria politicians and journalists since the Syrian withdrawal.

Shehade was hospitalized with minor wounds after yesterday's blast, which targeted his convoy in the southern town of Rmaile.

Saad Hariri, the slain prime minister's son and political heir, called yesterday's attack "a terrorist act."

"We as Lebanese withstood the [Israeli] aggression, we are withstanding the blockade and we will withstand the cowardly terrorists," he told reporters here.

Hariri's death has never been solved, but Shehade's work figures into a U.N. investigation of the attack, for which Syria has long been suspected. Belgian Judge Serge Brammertz is expected to present his report to the U.N. Security Council this month.

Despite repeated accusations by many Lebanese, Syria has denied involvement in last year's assassination. Even in the capital Hariri was famous for rebuilding after Lebanon's civil war, his death had fallen to the wayside as Lebanese fretted over how to rebuild their country and piece together their war-shattered economy.

But the bombing yesterday was a harsh reminder of the mystery that shrouds the series of killings - and of the unresolved tensions and suspicions between Syria and Lebanon.

Damascus has been displeased over plans to deploy Lebanese troops along Syria's border to help choke off arms supplies to Hezbollah, the Shiite political organization and militia backed by Syria and Iran.

According to the cease-fire deal that stopped the fighting between Hezbollah and Israel, a force of U.N. and Lebanese soldiers are to move into southern Lebanon as Israeli soldiers leave in a staged withdrawal.

But the international community has been slow to drum up volunteers, and Israel has refused to lift the blockade that continues to choke Lebanon's airfields and seaports.

Megan K. Stack writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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