Syrian Interior Minister dead from apparent suicide

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Syrian Interior Minister, Ghazi Kanaan, has committed suicide–according to the official Syrian News Agency SANA. The suicide has caused much controversy, as some Middle Eastern analysts suggest he may have been executed as a sacrificial lamb.

Kanaan had been under investigation two weeks earlier by a United Nations team probing the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. The assassination of Hariri took place on February 14, 2005 when explosives equivalent to around 1000 kg of TNT were detonated as his motorcade drove past the St. George Hotel in the Lebanese capital, Beirut. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told CNN that he was not aware of any evidence suggesting Hariri's death was not suicide. "If indeed there is a Syrian national implicated in it, he would be considered a traitor and most severely punished," the President said.

"The minister of interior died in his office this afternoon after committing suicide, and the authorities are investigating the incident," the SANA report stated. It is reported that the suicide was carried out by shooting himself in the mouth.

Earlier in the day, Kanaan went on Lebanese radio station, Voice of Lebanon, denying that he showed the U.N. investigators cheques paid to him by the late Hariri. Kanaan was Syria's most powerful intelligence chief in Lebanon, which was ruled by Syria until its military withdrawal earlier this year. He returned to Damascus in 2002 as political intelligence chief and joined the cabinet in 2004.

The UN report on Hariri's assassination is expected to be out at the end of October. The UN investigator, Detlev Mehlis, questioned senior Syrian officials in Damascus during a visit at the end of September. The United States froze Kanaan's assets in the country during July saying he had aided terrorism in Lebanon.

Some parties have suggested that Kanaan's death was arranged to protect others involved in the assassination of Hariri, thus preempting action against others as a result of the pending UN report.