Assad denied he or anyone in Syria ordered the Hariri assassination

DEBKAfile Intelligence

October 12, 2005, 5:24 PM (GMT+02:00)

In a CNN interview, the Syrian ruler Bashar Assad Wednesday Oct. 12 denied he or any Syrian national had taken a hand in the planning or execution of the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri last February. It is against my principles and my nature, he said. Asked if a Syrian official could have acted without his knowledge, Assad replied: If so, that would be treason and he would be severely punished.

The interview was to have been aired at 17:30 GMT, but portions were run earlier following the sudden suicide of Syrian minister of interior and regime linchpin Gen. Ghazi Kenaan earlier Wednesday.

Assad claimed he had heard about the Hariri murder “on the news like everyone else.”

Another question related to Hariri’ son, Saad, and other Lebanese figures who stay in Paris for fear of Syrian assassins, threatened directly by himself, the Syrian ruler responded: We have no assassination system in Syria. Anyway, it is not in my nature to threaten people, I am a quiet - not a threatening - person.”

The interviewer suggested that the president may not be in control of his country, or even outside the loop of decision-makers. Assad responded: “Some people say I’m a dictator, some that I am not in control, so let them make up their minds. I am neither one nor the other - I operate with the authority of the Syrian constitution.”

Asked to react to reports that Washington seeks to topple his regime and has recently begun looking for a replacement to himself, Assad replied that no one may change the regime and the president at its head but the Syrians themselves - no one else.