Tooth May Be Key to Solving Hariri Crime

The Associated Press
Friday, September 29, 2006; 5:22 PM

UNITED NATIONS -- A tooth found at the crime scene could be the key to solving the suicide bombing that killed Lebanon's former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 22 others in Beirut last year, the chief investigator in the probe said Friday.

In a report to the U.N. Security Council earlier this week, chief investigator Serge Brammertz said forensic testing showed a tooth and 32 other body parts found during the investigation belonged to the same man, who was likely between 20-25 years old and not from Lebanon.

Another tooth was recently found at the scene and tests were being done to see if the DNA matches the other.

The discovery of the first tooth was "extremely important" because "it's much more the business card of a person than other human remains," Brammertz said.

"Based on a tooth, you can not only identify the age of somebody but ... also the region of origin," he told reporters.

The tooth had "a distinguishing mark to the surface of the crown, which is a feature rarely seen among people from Lebanon," Brammertz added, leading investigators to believe the man came from outside Lebanon. But he did not say where the man may have come from.

He said the man's DNA was being compared with samples in databases in several countries. If the investigators can identify the bomber, it would be "an extremely important lead" in determining who asked or forced him to carry out the bombing, he said.

Hariri was killed when a massive suicide truck bomb ripped through his convoy on Feb. 14, 2005 in central Beirut.

He was an opponent of Syria's three-decade dominance of Lebanon and his supporters blamed Damascus for his death. Syria has denied any role but the killing provoked such an international outcry that Syria ultimately withdrew its thousands of troops from Lebanon in April 2005.

Brammertz's predecessor Detlev Mehlis had said the complexity of the attack suggested the Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services played a role in the attack.

In one report, Mehlis had implicated Brig. Gen. Assaf Shawkat, Syria's military intelligence chief and the brother-in-law of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Yet Brammertz has shied away from making any such claims. As with his previous reports, Brammertz's latest was largely technical and absent of sweeping theories or speculation.

Brammertz' team is also providing technical assistance to the Lebanese government in the investigation of 14 other bombings in Lebanon since Oct. 1, 2004. He said those investigations have indicated the bombings may be linked.

© 2006 The Associated Press