KUWAIT CITY (AFP) — A key Syrian witness in the probe into former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri's murder said he is in hiding in Europe, in remarks published on Thursday, as his family demanded answers from France about his fate.
Mohammed Zuheir al-Saddiq's whereabouts have been shrouded in mystery since he disappeared about a month ago from his suburban Paris home, while relatives in Syria say they have been without news for two months.
"I am living in a secret hideout, close to France and the international tribunal, and I am well," Saddiq told Kuwait's Al-Seyassah newspaper by telephone.
Saddiq, a former member of Syria's security services, was detained in October 2005 in a Paris suburb in connection with the February 2005 murder of Hariri in a massive car bombing in Beirut.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on Tuesday that Saddiq disappeared from his home. "But I do not know under what conditions and if there was a police presence to watch him," he said.
Saddiq told the Kuwaiti daily that he was the target of three assassination attempts and that he would remain in hiding until an international tribunal opened to try Hariri's suspected killers.
"We want to know if Zuheir is on French territory," one of the brothers, Imad Saddiq, said on Thursday after petitioning the French embassy in Damascus for information about his whereabouts.
"If Zuheir has been assassinated, I accuse Marwan Hamade of having liquidated him along with the French authorities," he said, in reference to Lebanon's anti-Syrian telecommunications minister.
France -- which has refused to extradite Saddiq to Lebanon because it had not been given guarantees that he would not face the death penalty if convicted -- rejected on Thursday the accusations.
Hamade was seriously wounded in a bomb attack a few months before Hariri's murder. He has accused Syria of involvement in both attacks.
Another of Saddiq's brother, Omar, said he has urged the French authorities "to hand over Zuheir, if he is still alive, to the Syrian authorities," until the tribunal starts work.
Newspaper reports in 2006 quoted Mohammed al-Saddiq as saying that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his then Lebanese counterpart Emile Lahoud ordered Hariri's killing in a massive Beirut car bombing.
The Syrian foreign ministry on Thursday accused the United States of exploiting the probe into Hariri's murder as a tool to apply political pressure on Damascus.
Remarks on Wednesday by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Congress were "additional proof that the United States is using the tribunal as a means of political pressure on Syria," it said.
On Wednesday, the secretary of state ruled out any deal with Syria to keep Assad's regime or his family from being implicated in the Hariri murder.
A UN probe has implicated senior Syrian officials in assassination. Syria, which for three decades was the power broker in its smaller neighbour, has vehemently denied any involvement.
A political crisis that has rattled Lebanon since the Hariri murder is widely seen as an extension of the regional confrontation pitting the United States and its Saudi ally against Iran and Syria.
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