x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Syrian entangled in Hariri assassination to be deported

A purported former Syrian intelligence officer who was once a key witness in the 2005 assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri was found guilty of entering the UAE on a false passport and sentenced to six months in jail yesterday followed by deportation.

Abu Dhabi // A purported former Syrian intelligence officer who was once a key witness in the 2005 assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri was found guilty of entering the UAE on a false passport and sentenced to six months in jail yesterday followed by deportation.

Mohammed Zuhair al Siddiq was arrested in Sharjah last April, and had been held by the State Security authority for "entering the UAE on false documents". Since Siddiq was incarcerated in April, his six-month sentence will end on October 15. Siddiq became known for testifying at a UN tribunal that Syria ordered the assassination of Mr Hariri, helping create a damning case against Syria before he was himself discredited.

Siddiq testified before the State Security Court that he had been given a passport by French intelligence, and claimed he entered the country with the knowledge and permission of the Ministry of Interior. State Security, however, denied any knowledge of Siddiq's presence in the country. Siddiq fled Damascus sometime after the February 14, 2005, bombing that killed Mr Hariri and 22 others in Beirut. He later testified to the UN tribunal that Syria had ordered the assassination.

He was labelled a key witness by the tribunal but Syria adamantly denied the allegations and questioned his claim of being an intelligence officer. The tribunal later called Siddiq's reliability as a witness into question. In October 2005, Lebanese prosecutors charged him in absentia with murder in connection with the assassination of Mr Hariri and 21 others in the car bombing in February that year.

He was arrested under an international warrant in a Paris suburb in October 2005, but the French government released him a few months later when neither Lebanon nor Syria would guarantee he would not be executed if extradited. His whereabouts were unknown until his arrest was reported in Dubai in April of this year. It remains unclear to which country he will be deported. In cases in which a foreigner enters the country using a false passport, the UAE deports the person to the country of origin.

If the country of origin cannot be determined, the respective embassies are contacted to verify nationality. Mr Siddiq's lawyer is appealing deportation on the grounds that he faces the execution if he is returned to Syria. myoussef@thenational.ae