BEIRUT (AFP) — Lebanon on Wednesday released three of seven suspects held over the 2005 murder of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri, the office of public prosecutor Said Mirza told AFP.
The move comes just days before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, set up to try suspects over the February 2005 Beirut bomb blast that killed Hariri and 22 other people, opens its doors in The Hague on Sunday.
The three are Lebanese brothers Mahmoud and Ahmed Abdel Aal and Syrian Ibrahim Jarjura, all civilians who were being held on suspicion of withholding information and misleading the probe into the assassination.
However, investigating judge Sakr Sakr rejected demands for the release of two other suspects -- former Lebanese security services director Jamil Sayyed and domestic security chief Ali Hajj, a judicial source said.
They are among four Lebanese generals who were pillars of the security apparatus long orchestrated by Syria, the country's then powerbroker which has roundly denied accusations it was behind the Hariri assassination.
The other two are Mustafa Hamdan, who headed the presidential guard, and Raymond Azar, who was commander of army intelligence.
The generals have been detained since August 2005 on suspicion of premeditated murder, attempted premeditated murder and carrying out terrorist acts, but none of the seven was ever indicted for the murder.
Sakr released the two Lebanese brothers on bail of about 300 dollars and the Syrian on about 70 dollars. The brothers were arrested in October 2005 and the Syrian was arrested in January 2006. No reasons were given for their release.
The attack against Hariri on the Beirut seafront was one of the worst acts of political violence to rock Lebanon since the 1975-1990 civil war, and led to the withdrawal of Syrian troops after a 29-year presence.
In its early stages, the UN probe into the murder implicated top Syrian intelligence officials, including President Bashar al-Assad's brother as well as his brother-in-law, but Damascus has consistently denied any involvement.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said on Wednesday after visiting Saudi Arabia on Tuesday that both Damascus and Riyadh "are working for security and stability in Lebanon and for scheduled parliamentary elections there to go ahead" on June 7.
But Muallem told a news conference in Damascus that the question of the Hariri tribunal was not raised by either party because both believe "it is an issue for Lebanon and the United Nations."
The Hariri tribunal has existed on paper since June 2007 when it was brought to life by a UN Security Council resolution, but it is expected to be years before the suspects are actually brought to trial.
The tribunal will be housed in the former headquarters of the Dutch intelligence service and the courtroom itself is to be built in what used to be a spies' gymnasium.
Its budget will amount to about 51 million dollars (36 million euros) in 2009 -- 49 percent of it financed by Lebanon -- and when in full swing it will employ around 430 people.
Eleven judges -- four from Lebanon and seven from other countries -- have already been nominated.
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