Triplets' dad: Syria mall fire claim 'disturbing'

MICHELLE COOKE
Last updated 11:45 02/10/2012
Qatar mall fire
Reuters

MALL FIRE: Nineteen were killed in the blaze in Doha.

the Weekes triplets
TRAGIC LOSS: The Weekes triplets.
Assad regime
Reuters
ASSAD REGIME: A poster of dictator Bashar al-Assad is on the wall of a policed hospital where displaced children live in the Dumar area of Syria.

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The father of Kiwi triplets killed in a shopping mall blaze in Qatar says a report claiming that Syria's Assad regime could have been behind the fire is not surprising.

Officials attributed the fire, which killed 19 people, including Martin Weekes' two-year-old triplets to "faulty electrical wiring in a fluorescent light".

But Saudi-based news organisation Al Arabiya says it has been given documents which show the fire was intentional and Syria's Assad regime was behind it.

The documents, between Syrian officials, seemed to allude to a "Villagio blaze" mission in retaliation to Qatar's support for the Free Syrian Army.

Weekes said the report was disturbing, but not surprising.

"These sorts of rumours start spreading when the authorities in Qatar simply refuse to release any information to the families, public and media about what actually happened," he said today from San Francisco.

"Whether it is true or not I have no idea, [but] to stop these rumours the government needs to release the report.

"Rumors will always circulate to fill the void of real information."

A government-led investigation into the May fire stated that it was caused by faulty electrical wiring in a fluorescent light in a Nike store, which was next door to the day care centre where triplets Lillie, Jackson and Willsher were based.

Although the Qatar government released a press release about the investigation, it has not provided the families with the actual investigation report, Weekes said.

"I have no idea if the rumour has any substance or not, but the best way to dispel it and other rumours is to release the report from the investigation."

"We would urge the authorities to continue their investigation, and include the families whose testimony and first hand accounts from the scene can be vital to their findings". 

Prime Minister John Key said New Zealand Government officials will look into claims the fire in the Doha mall was deliberately lit.

"We take these reports seriously and so I've asked my officials to go away and drill down and have a look and see whether there is any merit to these reports."

Key said he had seen today's media reports but he had received no advice to suggest the fire was anything other than accidental.

The mall reopened two weeks ago, much to the disappointment of the families who lost children and loved ones in the blaze.

Five people were arrested in relation to the fire, but families had not been told who they were or what they were charged with, Weekes said.

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Those arrested failed to show up to their initial court appearance and another had been scheduled for October 11.

The leaked documents, from the opposition, indicated that Syria's Assad regime was behind the fire, which killed 13 children and four teachers from a day care centre and two fire fighters.

Al Arabiya said it verified hundreds of documents before deciding to release them.

The documents reveal that the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad may have planned the fire as a way of embarrassing Qatar.

Al Arabiya claims to have obtained a telegram from the presidential palace in Damascus to the Syrian Embassy in Qatar. The note, from Syrian Major General Dhu al-Himma Shaleesh to the Syrian ambassador in Qatar, Hajem Ibraheem, asked for help to find ways to "embarrass" Qatar.

The motivation behind the attack was to humiliate Qatar after it supposedly played a role in supporting the Free Syrian Army, Syria's opposition group.

Another letter, from Shaleesh to President Assad stated that the "Villagio blaze" mission had been successful.

WHAT THE DOCUMENTS SAY

English translation from Al Aribiya

From Syrian Major General Dhu al-Himma Shaleesh to the Syrian ambassador in Qatar, Hajem Ibraheem on February 18.

"Based on the requirements of the supreme interests of the state, under the current circumstances and the crisis the supreme leadership, and after obtaining the available information that we need about what is happening in the State of Qatar such as an attempt to embarrass the Syrian regime and the Syrian political leadership and supporting the so-called Free Syrian Army, an office affiliated with the operations branch will be set up to execute the suggestions enlisted in the Security Committee meeting on the 22 January, 2012."

From Syrian Major General Dhu al-Himma Shaleesh to President Bashar al-Assad on June 2.

"The operations branch has set up an office to carry out the stipulated plan and to implement the instructions of the Syrian ambassador....Based on the orders of Brigadier Hasan AbdulRahman our agent carried out the first of the targets, and achieved excellent results with Villaggio Fire on the 28th of May, 2012."

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY

Dr Hassan al-Shalabi, a member of the political bureau in Syria told Al Arabiya that Qatar was specifically targeted and countries needed to stop Syria from establishing embassies on their land.

Why Qatar?

"Explicitly and clearly, Qatar offered something that is reasonable and balanced in this regard. Its voice was high in demanding compliance with the demands of the Syrian people, and it actually made the Syrian street an important source in tuning its political discourse and its high pitch in line with the demands of the Syrian people and echoing them in the international organisations at the level of the UN Security Council"

Need to stop ambassadors and embassies establishing on foreign land.

"We, from the beginning, demanded that this regime be considered illegitimate, and this would, in turn, make these embassies in these countries illegitimate also, and their closure as well as the expulsion of ambassadors from them, because they would turn into hotbeds for thugs, into instruments in the hands of the regime to carry out sabotage activities, instead of playing the role of a message of peace and building positive relations.

"We are surprised that these figures, many of the figures in the Syrian diplomatic corps are security figures. Therefore, the first goal of the Syrian embassies is to work on undermining the other regimes."

- Stuff

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