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Warrant issued for Hariri killing witness

Rice, Annan meet ahead of U.N. report on assassination

From Brent Sadler
CNN Beirut Bureau Chief


Rafik Hariri
United Nations

BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- Lebanese officials have asked France to extradite a Syrian man to face charges in connection with the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, judicial sources said Tuesday.

An Interpol warrant has been issued for Mohammed al-Siddiq, now in French custody and once considered a witness to the February killing, Lebanese judicial sources told CNN.

The extradition process could take up to 30 days, Lebanese security, officials said.

No details of the warrant were provided, but it comes just days before United Nations investigators are to release a report into Hariri's killing that could implicate Syrian officials. Syria denies any involvement. (See CNN's interview with Assad)

Political sources said al-Siddiq, a Syrian citizen, has been an important witness in the U.N. probe. But judicial sources said they now believe al-Siddiq may somehow be implicated in the crime itself.

The U.N. report, expected by the end of the week, was also the subject of a surprise meeting in New York Tuesday morning between U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

The United States and its allies want Syria to comply with a U.N. resolution calling for a complete end to Syrian domination over Lebanon.

Despite a pullout of Syrian troops earlier this year following massive demonstrations over Hariri's assassination, the United States says Syria maintains an intelligence presence in Lebanon.

Also of concern was Syrian support for extremist groups seeking to derail the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, said U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

"This isn't solely a matter of United States concerns with Syria. Syria has problems with all of its neighbors, virtually all of its neighbors in the region," McCormack said.

Rice's talks with Annan also focused on the nuclear standoff with Iran and last week's constitutional referendum in Iraq, McCormack said.

The Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad regime has faced sharp criticism from the United States, which has alleged the country shelters terrorist organizations and has failed to take action against terrorists crossing the border into Iraq.

"We are looking for a change in Syrian behavior," Jim Jeffries, the State Department's coordinator for Iraq, told reporters at the Foreign Press Center in Washington. "We have not seen that yet and we are impatient."

U.N. probe

In addition to dealing with Hariri's assassination, the U.N. probe is also expected to address the millions of dollars alleged to have changed hands in an corruption scandal.

Interior Minister Ghazi Kanaan was reported to have committed suicide October 12, just hours after calling in to a Lebanese radio station to challenge allegations that he was involved in Hariri's assassination.

He was one of several senior officials U.N. investigators questioned in August about Hariri's death. (Full story)

The U.N. investigation, led by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, has already led to the arrests and indictments of four pro-Syrian Lebanese security chiefs on charges linked to the killing. (Who they are)

Hariri, a former Syrian ally who served as Lebanon's prime minister five times, was regarded as Lebanon's founding father after a 15-year civil war.

Political sources close to the former leader said Hariri was planning to stage a political comeback by publicly supporting the growing opposition to Syria's involvement in Lebanon.

His assassination triggered a wave of protests and boosted international pressure for Syria to withdraw troops it had in Lebanon since the 1975 outbreak of civil war.

The killing also spurred a wave of attacks on anti-Syrian activists and journalists that have prompted some Lebanese politicians to seek temporary refuge abroad.

CNN's Elise Labott contributed to this report

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