Feature

Was intelligence chief’s death really a suicide?

The week's news at a glance.

Syria

Did Ghazi Kanaan know too much? asked Nicholas Nassif in Beirut’s An Nahar. The late Syrian interior minister was until this year the most powerful man in Lebanon. As head of the Syrian intelligence services in Beirut during much of the three-decade Syrian occupation, he controlled all Lebanese access to Damascus. But then the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri sparked Lebanese protests that drove the Syrian presence out of the country. Last week, Kanaan was found dead in his Damascus office, a gun in his hand. The official verdict was suicide. But we have to wonder. Kanaan had reportedly been cooperating with the U.N. investigation into Hariri’s murder. Was he, in turn, murdered? After all, he was the man “who knew the most about Syria’s secrets in Lebanon.” Conveniently, “those secrets are gone with him.”

The Arab world is abuzz with theories, said the pan-Arab Al Quds al Arabi in an unsigned article. The straightforward explanation is that it really was suicide. Kanaan “was the de facto ruler of Lebanon” for more than 20 years. Syria’s humiliating retreat could well have plunged him into “terminal depression.” But motives for murder abound. One scenario holds that Syrian officials, fearful that the U.N. investigation would find them responsible for Hariri’s assassination, killed Kanaan so they could pin the murder on him. Or perhaps Kanaan really was the murderer: In that case, they killed him so that he wouldn’t be able to spill secrets in a courtroom. A darker theory—and one that’s gaining adherents—posits that Kanaan was killed because he was planning a coup, in concert with American agents.

There’s no question but that he was murdered, said Abdul-Rahman al-Rashed in the pan-Arab Asharq al-Awsat. Arab politicians simply do not kill themselves; suicide is only for fanatical jihadists. This fact is so well-known that the very claim of suicide is obviously the killers’ way of sending a clear message: “We killed Kanaan.” If they didn’t want us to know it was murder, they would have killed him in a car crash or some other plausible accident. It’s a grim conclusion to have to draw, but there is one positive spin. Murdering one of its top security officials could be a sign that Syria is cleaning house, “heading toward ending its security conflicts and its military problems in Iraq and Lebanon.”

Al Seyassah

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