Suspects Detained in Deadly Lebanese Bombing

Lebanese and U.N. security officials detain several suspects in the bombing that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Three of them are former security chiefs, and one is an aide to the president. Robert Siegel talks with Rami Khouri, editor-at-large of The Daily Star in Lebanon.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Lebanon today made arrests related to the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Those arrested include three former Lebanese security chiefs. Hariri was killed in a bombing in Beirut six months ago. Rami Khouri is editor at large of The Daily Star, an English-language Beirut daily.

And, Rami Khouri, what do the individuals who've been detained and who,n according to the prime minister, will be treated as suspects--what do they represent in Lebanese politics?

Mr. RAMI KHOURI (Editor at Large, The Daily Star): Well, I should first just correct--they weren't actually arrested. They were detained for questioning, but they were formally named as suspects in the assassination of Hariri.

They represent--and the reason this is important is that this is not just a local Arab political event in a small country. They represent probably the most significant incident in my lifetime that I can remember--going back 30, 40 years of public life--the most significant example of a political system challenging the security dominance of the modern Arab state. And it's quite a significant move. It started right after the Hariri assassination, actually even before that. But people started challenging the Lebanese and the Syrian security services who were dominating Lebanon, and this is the last--the most recent and the most significant step in that direction.

SIEGEL: But when people hear the names of those who've been detained, as you say, and when hear their positions, do they assume that they're all pro-Syrian, for example?

Mr. KHOURI: Well, they more than assume. I mean, these are very, very close to the Syrian regime that used to dominate Lebanon that has pulled out now. They're also very close to the president of Lebanon, whose term was extended by a rather unilateral Syrian action through the Lebanese Parliament last year. So they're very clearly and closely linked to the Lebanese president and the Syrians. And these are the top four security intelligence officers in Lebanon. So you're--this is the, you know, the creme de la creme of the security services. So for them to be brought in to court--or brought in for questioning by an international investigation committee, which is even more significant, this is a really strong signal, I think, to all the Arab establishments and regimes, that the security dominance of the modern Arab world is being challenged by the Arab people gradually. And it's being challenged by the international community as well in this case.

SIEGEL: As you've said, these men are considered very close to the president of Lebanon, Emile Lahoud. The Lebanese Druze leader and member of Parliament, Walid Jumblatt, is quoted in your paper as saying that this will likely lead to President Lahoud not being able to continue as president of Lebanon. Do you agree with that?

Mr. KHOURI: I do. I think it's very likely. This takes away a lot of the remaining pillars of support, and even the thin legitimacy that he already had is weakened now even further. So it's hard to see him staying in power.

Now it's possible that these four people will all be proved completely innocent, and they have to be innocent until proven guilty. It's possible. But there's such massive expectation that they somehow will be found to be linked to the assassination that it's already had a powerful, damaging effect on the credibility of the president. But it has also rekindled the sense of confidence in the Lebanese government and justice system and police and security services among ordinary citizens. And this is incredibly important as well because ordinary Arabs haven't had much to feel good about in the last 30 years or so.

SIEGEL: Do we know if the suspects are suspected of plotting to kill Rafik Hariri, or of carrying out a Syrian plot to kill Rafik Hariri?

Mr. KHOURI: This is not clear; the details are not clear. But the fact that they were brought in and formally called suspects is incredibly significant. It means--and this is widely assumed and known here--it means that the investigative committee has enough solid evidence to bring these people in and call them suspects. They're not--this is not a fishing expedition. These guys--the investigative committee--headed by a German, Detlev Mehlis--they've interviewed about 250 people. They're very thorough and very careful in what they do, and so there's a sense that they have enough strong--more than strong leads--enough evidence to take this next step now which they've just taken.

SIEGEL: Thank you very much, Rami.

Mr. KHOURI: Thanks for having me.

SIEGEL: That's Rami Khouri, speaking to us from Beirut, where he is editor at large of The Daily Star.

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