Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri
Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri
Photo: Reuters
Rescue workers and soldiers stand beside the massive crater caused by the truck bomb that tore through Rafik Hariri's motorcade in February 2005

Court convicts Hezbollah member in Hariri killing

UN-backed tribunal clears 3 other members of terror group accused in Beirut bombing that killed former Lebanese PM and 21 others in 2005; Hariri's son vows not to rest until punishment is served, calls for Hezbollah to take responsibility

Associated Press |
Published: 08.18.20 , 18:28
A United Nations-backed tribunal on Tuesday convicted one member of the Hezbollah militant group and acquitted three others of involvement in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.
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  • The Special Tribunal for Lebanon said Salim Jamil Ayyash was guilty as a co-conspirator of five charges linked to his involvement in the suicide truck bombing. Hariri and 21 others were killed and 226 were wounded in a huge blast outside a seaside hotel in Beirut on Feb. 14, 2005.
     Rescue workers and soldiers stand around a massive crater after a bomb attack that tore through the motorcade of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri Rescue workers and soldiers stand around a massive crater after a bomb attack that tore through the motorcade of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri
    Rescue workers and soldiers stand beside the massive crater caused by the truck bomb that tore through Rafik Hariri's motorcade in February 2005
    (Photo: AP)
    Hariri's son, Saad, like his slain father a former Lebanese prime minister, was present for the verdict and vowed he would not rest until punishment is served. He said it was time for the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement to assume responsibility.
    "Hezbollah is the one that should make sacrifices today," he said. "I repeat: we will not rest until punishment is served."
    However, after a years-long investigation and trial, three other Hezbollah members were acquitted of all charges that they also were involved in the killing of Hariri that sent shock waves through the Mideast.
    The tribunal's judges also said there was no evidence the leadership of the Hezbollah militant group and Syria were involved in the attack.
    Saad ed-Dine al-Hariri, son of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, gestures in front of his father's coffin in Beirut, Lebanon, February 16, 2005 Saad ed-Dine al-Hariri, son of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, gestures in front of his father's coffin in Beirut, Lebanon, February 16, 2005
    Saad Hariri gestures as he attends his father's funeral in Beirut, February 16, 2005
    (Photo: Reuters)
    Sketching the complex political backdrop for the assassination, Presiding Judge David Re of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon said that in the months before his death, Hariri was a supporter of reducing the influence of Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
    He said judges who studied reams of evidence in the trial of four Hezbollah members accused of involvement in the bombing were ''of the view that Syria and Hezbollah may have had motives to eliminate Mr. Hariri, and some of his political allies.''
    But he added that there was no evidence that the ''Hezbollah leadership had any involvement in Mr. Hariri's murder, and there is no direct evidence of Syrian involvement in it.''
     Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri
    Former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri
    (Photo: Reuters)
    Re was speaking as he delivered the final judgments in the trial. The court was not expected to rule on either Hezbollah or Syria - but on the four named Hezbollah suspects - as the tribunal can only accuse individuals, not groups or states.
    But the fact the tribunal appeared to explicitly and categorically rule out evidence tying Hezbollah's leadership to the crime was good news for the Iran-backed group, which dominates Lebanese politics and has come under increased scrutiny and pressure at home.
    The verdicts were delayed by nearly two weeks as a mark of respect for victims of another devastating explosion - the detonation of nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate stored at Beirut's port.
    הריסות  פיצוץ נמל ביירות לבנוןהריסות  פיצוץ נמל ביירות לבנון
    Beirut's port and large parts of the city were devastated in the Augut 4 blast
    (Photo: AP)
    The Aug. 4 blast killed around 180 people, injured more than 6,000, left a quarter of a million with homes unfit to live in and plunged a nation already reeling from economic and social malaise even deeper into crisis.
    Restarted the hearing with a minute's silence to start the hearing to honor victims of the blast and their families as well as those made homeless by the port blast.
    He was reading a summary of the written judgment that runs to more than 2,600 pages with some 13,000 footnotes.
    The guilty verdict could compound tensions in the tiny country. Hariri was Lebanon's most prominent Sunni politician at the time of his Feb. 14, 2005, assassination, while Hezbollah is a Shiite Muslim group backed and funded by Tehran.
    The exterior of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in The Hague on January 16, 2014, the first day of the delayed trial into the murder of Rafik Hariri The exterior of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in The Hague on January 16, 2014, the first day of the delayed trial into the murder of Rafik Hariri
    The exterior of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in The Hague on January 16, 2014, the first day of the delayed trial into the murder of Rafik Hariri
    (Photo: AFP)
    The trial centered on the alleged roles of four Hezbollah members in the suicide truck bombing that killed Hariri and 21 others and wounded 226 people. Prosecutors based their case largely on data from mobile phones allegedly used by the plotters to plan and execute the bombing.
    Without the phone data there would be no case against the four suspects, Re said, as he began explaining the complex investigation into the telecom networks prosecutors say the suspects used.
    He said that the telecom evidence in the case was ''almost entirely circumstantial.''
    However, another judge, Janet Nosworthy, later said that judges had ruled that four different networks of mobile phones ''were interconnected and coordinated with each other, and operated as covert networks at the relevant times.''
    During the trial, which started in 2014 and spanned 415 days of hearings, the tribunal in Leidschendam, near The Hague, heard evidence from 297 witnesses.
    Initially, five suspects were tried, all of them Hezbollah members. Charges against one of the group's top military commanders, Mustafa Badreddine, were dropped after he was killed in Syria in 2016. The court said Tuesday it could not prove that Badreddine was the mastermind behind the assassination.
    The Hezbollah men named as the alleged killers of Rafik al-Hariri The Hezbollah men named as the alleged killers of Rafik al-Hariri
    Four of the five Hezbollah men named as the alleged killers of Rafik Hariri
    (Photo: Archive)
    The three other suspects were identified as Assad Hassan Sabra; Hussein Hassan Oneissi, who changed his name to Hassan Issa; and Hassan Habib Merhi. They were charged with offenses including conspiracy to commit a terrorist act.
    A hearing will be held at a later date to determine Ayyash's sentence. As the tribunal has no death sentence, the maximum sentence is life imprisonment.
    Ayyash is not likely to serve time as Hezbollah had vowed not to hand over any suspects. Prosecutors and defense lawyers can appeal the verdicts.
    The assassination was seen by many in Lebanon as the work of Syria, a charge Damascus denies and which the judges now say was not borne out by evidence in the trial.
    Some Lebanese see the tribunal as an impartial way of uncovering the truth about Hariri's slaying, while Hezbollah - which denies involvement - calls it an Israeli plot to tarnish the group.
    On Tuesday morning, the Saudi-owned satellite news channel Al-Arabiya prepped viewers for the verdict, showing a slick 3-D reenactment of the bombing.
    Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in televised speech to followersHezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in televised speech to followers
    Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah
    (Photo: EPA)
    Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah last week insisted on the innocence of the suspects regardless of the verdicts.
    "For us it will be as if they were never issued," he said of the verdicts.
    Abed Itani, a supporter of the Hariri family in the Beirut neighborhood of Tareeq al-Jadideh, said: "We have been waiting for the truth for 15 years and God willing today the truth will be made public. All what we want from the world and the Lebanese state is for those who carried out this explosion to be punished in accordance with justice."

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