Report: Owner of Stolen Booby-Trapped Car May Be Key to Hasan Murder Investigation

Interior Minister Marwan Charbel revealed that investigations into the assassination of Internal Security Forces Intelligence Bureau chief Brigadier General Wissam al-Hasan is making “speedy progress”, revealing that they have reaching important information in the case, reported the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat on Tuesday.

Security information revealed that the owner of the stolen car that was booby-trapped in the bombing that killed Hasan on Friday has been identified.

Security sources told the daily however that the owner of the car is unlikely to be linked to the murder, adding that thief has several arrest warrants against him.

After stealing the car, the thief then may have sold it to whoever committed the assassination, said the sources.

The thief himself may have been involved in the crime, they added.

The stolen car, a Toyota RAV4, was owned by a resident from the town of Qabrshmoun in Mount Lebanon and was reported to have been robbed about a year ago.

After it was stolen, the owner received several telephone calls from the culprit demanding money in return for the car, but he refused.

The thief told the owner that if he ever changed his mind, he should contact him through the phone number that he has been calling him from, which is a Lebanese line, added the daily.

The Central News Agency reported on Monday that Hasan had arrived in Beirut from Berlin at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday.

He made a stop in Paris where he visited his family before returning to Beirut.

He had not informed any members of the ISF of his France trip.

Upon his arrival in Beirut, he contacted Charbel to discuss security matters.

Hasan then headed to his apartment in Beirut's Ashrafiyeh district using a rented car, while a decoy convoy headed to the ISF General Directorate.

The assassination took place on Friday afternoon when Hasan decided to leave the apartment using the same rented vehicle.

The booby-trapped car had been parked in the area hours before he left the apartment.

A widely-informed source meanwhile told As Safir newspaper Tuesday that the Intelligence Bureau has obtained the telecom data over the phone calls that Hasan conducted hours before his assassination.

They include the moment he arrive in Beirut on Thursday and until the time of the bombing shorty before 3:00 p.m. on Friday.

Soon after the blast, the source said that ISF chief Ashraf Rifi had ordered the Intelligence Bureau to provide him with the information about the bombing to determine whether anyone had been targeted.

He then tried to contact Hasan who was supposedly still in Paris with his family and he took the slain security chief's closed line as a sign that he was in fact still abroad.

At around 4:00 p.m. however Rifi received a telephone call from former Premier Saad Hariri who asked him if he had inquired about Hasan's safety after the blast to which the ISF head replied that he was abroad.

Hariri then revealed that Hasan had in fact contacted him on Friday morning, informing him that he was in Beirut.

Rifi immediately sent the team charged with Hasan's security to the scene of the Ashrafiyeh blast in order to determine if he was targeted.

The team returned shortly before 5:00 p.m. with Hasan's wristwatch, which confirmed that he was the target, said As Safir.

The source told the daily that Hasan was likely not only being monitored in Beirut, but in Berlin and Paris as well.

Investigations are now focusing on the people he communicated with by phone, it added.

Rifi meanwhile denied claims that two blasts took place at the scene, saying that the booby-trapped car was parked at the side of the road and it was remotely detonated as soon as Hasan's car passed by it.

A security source told al-Liwaa newspaper Tuesday that “loopholes” existed in Hasan's security precautions, which made his assassination possible.

It said that his security could have been breached through the discovery of his Ashrafiyeh apartment or his rented car or his arrival in Beirut on Thursday.

On the blast itself, the source said that the remote detonation of the bomb indicates that the criminal was not too far away from the scene, adding that such an operation requires three or four people, not 20 as some reports said.

A large number of people involved would raise suspicions over their activity, the source told al-Liwaa.

In addition, it ruled out the possibility that Hasan's car was booby-trapped, saying that the blast was caused by a car parked on the side of the road as indicated by the crater created by the bomb.

On the reasons for the assassination, the source said that Hasan had become a target for his role in the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri in 2005, the discovery of terrorist and Israeli espionage networks in Lebanon, and the arrest of former minister Michel Samaha in August.

Samaha was arrested on charges of forming a criminal gang aimed at carrying out attacks in Lebanon at Syria's behest.

Upon the arrest, Hasan and Rifi received intelligence reports that they had “crossed red lines” in their acctions, said the source.

“The two security officials responded by saying that red lines to them are the Lebanese people's security, meaning that they reject the warnings,” it added.

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