Key Hariri witness disappears: French FM

Syrian man is now a suspect himself

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French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said the key witness in the murder trial of Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri has disappeared, in the first official reaction to press reports saying the Syrian man has gone underground.

“I’m certain that al-Siddiq did disappear and I feel really sorry about it,” Kouchner told AlArabiya News Channel on Tuesday, replying to a question about Mohammed Zuheir al-Siddiq, the Syrian key witness in Hariri’s murder.

Al-Siddiq gave detailed information about the Hariri killing to the panel of U.N. investigators probing the February 2005 assassination. He was later accused by Lebanon of being a suspect to the murder and asked France to repatriate him. Paris refused to send him back to Beirut, saying he may face the death penalty in Lebanon.

The former Syrian army officer was arrested in France in October 2005 and placed under house arrest. He was later released but remained under the protection of French security forces.

“I do not know the details of his disappearance,” Kouchner said, adding all he knew was that al-Siddiq was previously under house arrest.

Press reports said last week that al-Siddiq disappeared after security forces found explosives planted in a car parked near his house in a Paris suburb.

The U.N. panel of investigators led by Canadian former prosecutor Daniel Bellemare released a new report in March into the Hariri assassination, saying a "criminal network" was behind his murder in a Beirut car bombing.

The report did not identify any of the suspects in the assassination, which Lebanon's ruling coalition has blamed on Syria despite repeated denials from Damascus.