Friday, September 09, 2005

Mystery apartment

pv vivekanand

THE Feb.14 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Al Hariri was masterminded from a luxury apartment in the heart of Beirut equipped with some of the most advanced equipment that overrode all electronic safety and security measures installed in the convoy carrying Hariri. Also found in the apartment were fingerprints of two former Lebanese security officers and two unnamed Syrian army generals. This is part of the finding of the UN investigations into the Hariri assassination that changed the shape of the Lebanese-Syrian relationship to the benefit of Israel and its allies.
According to sources familar with the UN investigation, the discovery of the advanced gear in the apartment, located in the posh Hamra neighbourhood of Beirut, raises a key question:
The advance jamming gear found inside the apartment as well as the equipment installed in Hariri's vehicles were made in the US and included many key components manufactured and supplied by Israel under secret contracts with the US. Such equipment could not be bought by Lebanon or Syria under American export regulations. That meant the involvement of a third party (or Israel itself. Israel is the only other country which manufacturers such equipment).
Implictly it also suggests that Israel was behind setting up the apartment that was used to control and carry out the bombing that killed Hariri and 20 others, and that Israeli agents the fingerprints of the suspects and planted them inside the premises.
How did the apartment remain intact with all the equipment in position months after the Hariri killing and particularly that it was also known that the pro-Syrian Lebanese generals were under investigation? Someone could have easily removed the equipment and destroyed all evidence that the apartment existed. No one did so, and for all anyone knows those accused in the case were not even aware of the existence of the apartment. Unless of course, the apartment was located and sealed before anyone could tamper with it.
The UN investigation team led by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis is said to have "discovered" the secret apartment. It is not clear when, but the UN team had arrived in Beirut in a few days after the blast that blew up Hariri's convoy and killed the former prime minister and 20 others.
The more than 15 vehicles with darkened windscreens that accompanied Hariri wherever he went in Lebanon — with few people knowing which vehicle carried him — were equipped with the latest state-of-the art security equipment. The security level of the convoy was as good as that of the US president.
It had electronic hardware for detecting and defusing explosives, locating suicide bombers or other armed men in the path of the convoy and jamming their firing mechanisms. The equipment could pick up electronic signals emitted from the immediate vicinity of the convoy and listen to telephone calls, including from mobiles and block listening devices homing in on phone or communications devices operating from the convoy.
In July 2001, the Middle East Intelligence Bulletin had reported, “When Lebanon's billionaire prime minister travels around Beirut, everyone takes notice. His limousine is equipped with a device designed to thwart would-be carbombers by deactivating nearby cell phones, leaving a continuous trail of irritated bystanders in its wake.”
The equipment found in the Beirut apartment is said to be more advanced. It was customised to override all the devices fitted in Hariri's convoy as if the same manufacturer had produced it since whoever designed it had to have the right co-ordinates of the Hariri security gear.
This is said to the be the finding of electronic experts the UN investigator requested from the US and France.
How did such equipment end up in Lebanon?
Without official co-operation from Washington and help from US intelligence agencies, the UN team would never be able to get to the bottom of the affair.
It is unlikely that the Bush administration or US intelligence agencies would offer such help to the UN team unless with the predetermined objective of implicating Syria. If the indications are otherwise, then Mhelis, the investigator, would have to leave the question unanswered.
In the meantime, the fingerprints found in the Beirut apartment allowed the Lebanese prosecutor to file a formal case charging four pro-Syrian Lebanese officers, former chief of public security Jamil Al Sayyed, the former head of internal security Ali Al Hajj, former chief of military intelligence Raymond Azar and commander of the Republican Guard Mustafa Hamdan.
Also found were fingerprints identified as belonging to unidentified Syrian generals and linking them directly to the assassination.
However, that is in no way conclusive evidence since technology allows the replanting of fingerprints.
That is the argument of many regional experts who are convinced that Syria was framed and implicated in the killing.