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France Arrests Syrian in Hariri Probe

Police arrested a former Syrian intelligence officer who is considered an important witness in a U.N. investigation of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri (search), officials said Monday.

Mohammed Zuhair Al-Siddiq (search) was taken into custody Sunday in the Paris area by France's DST counterintelligence service, police said. He was the subject of an international arrest warrant and is expected to be extradited, the officials said.

The arrest warrant, issued by Lebanese Magistrate Elias Eid (search), accused Al-Siddiq of giving false testimony and misleading the U.N. investigation, judicial officials in Lebanon said.

Al-Siddiq has been billed by Arab media as being a leading witness in the inquiry by chief U.N. investigator Detlev Mehlis of Hariri's Feb. 14 killing.

Lebanese Minister of Youth and Sports Ahmed Fatfat, a close Hariri ally, said Al-Siddiq's testimony was inaccurate "perhaps because he wanted it this way, either for personal interest or perhaps because he was planted to mislead the investigation."

"It will all show in court," he told Voice of Lebanon radio, after being asked about the arrest.

Beirut newspaper Al-Mustaqbal went further, alleging that Al-Siddiq was an accomplice in the planning and execution of the bombing that killed Hariri. The newspaper is owned by the Hariri family.

The Syrians have sought to discredit 45-year-old Al-Siddiq as being a wanted man at home for fleeing his military service and for fraud, according to media reports.

Hariri and 20 others were killed by a bomb that blew up his motorcade in central Beirut. The killing touched off a groundswell of protest in Lebanon and internationally, forcing Syria to withdraw all of its thousands of troops in Lebanon and end nearly three decades of domination of its tiny neighbor.

The Mehlis team has named four Lebanese generals, all close to Syria, as suspects in the assassination. Lebanon has arrested them.

Last week, one of seven Syrian officials who was questioned by the investigation, Interior Minister Ghazi Kenaan, committed suicide.