Wednesday, 23 Sep 2020

Key developments in trial over assassination of Lebanon ex-PM Hariri

BEIRUT (AFP) – The special tribunal trying the four suspects accused of the 2005 assassination of Lebanon’s former prime minister Rafic Hariri is expected to deliver its verdict on Tuesday (Aug 18).

Here’s a recap of key developments in the case:

ASSASSINATION

A massive suicide bomb tears through Mr Hariri’s armoured convoy on the Beirut seafront in February 2005, killing him and 21 other people.

Opposition leaders blame Syria, but Damascus denies any role. Lebanon’s powerful Shi’ite movement Hizbollah is also strongly suspected.

Amid a groundswell of protests, Syrian troops quit Lebanon on April 26 after a 29-year deployment which had peaked at 40,000 troops.

Later that year, a United Nations commission says there is evidence that Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services were involved in the killing.

SPECIAL TRIBUNAL

In 2007, following a UN Security Council resolution, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) is established to try those accused of carrying out the attack.

The anti-Syrian majority in Lebanon celebrate the move, while Hizbollah, an ally of Damascus and Teheran, says it violates Lebanese sovereignty.

In March 2009, the STL opens in The Hague suburb of Leidschendam.

The following month, it orders the release of four Lebanese generals held in custody in Lebanon since 2005 without charge over the assassination.


A massive suicide bomb tore through Mr Hariri’s armoured convoy on the Beirut seafront in February 2005, killing him and 21 other people. PHOTO: REUTERS

SUSPICION FALLS ON HIZBOLLAH

In July 2010, Hizbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah says his party is likely to be implicated in Mr Hariri’s assassination.

In November, he warns his group will “cut off the hand” of anyone who tries to arrest any of its partisans over the assassination.

The following June, the STL issues an indictment and arrest warrants for four Lebanese suspects.

The Interior Ministry confirms the suspects are the Hizbollah members Mustafa Badreddine, Salim Ayyash, Assad Sabra and Hussein Oneissi.

Nasrallah rejects the charges along with “each and every void accusation” by the court, which he says is heading for a trial in absentia.

In August, the STL decides it has enough evidence to try the four Hizbollah members and publishes the full indictment.

In October 2013, the tribunal indicts a fifth suspect over the assassination – Hizbollah member Hassan Habib Merhi.

TRIAL IN ABSENTIA

The trial opens in Leidschendam on Jan 16, 2014, with the four Hizbollah members in absentia.

According to the prosecution, Badreddine and Ayyash organised and carried out the attack, while Oneissi and Sabra are accused of delivering a video to the broadcaster Al Jazeera with a false claim of responsibility, to protect the real killers.

In February, the tribunal announces it is adding the fifth suspect to the trial, Merhi.

In May 2016, Hizbollah announces Badreddine’s death in an attack in Syria.

Two years later, the trial, in which the STL says more than 300 people have given evidence, enters its final phase.

SEPARATE INDICTMENT

In September 2019, the tribunal indicts Ayyash over three other deadly attacks on politicians in 2004 and 2005.

He is charged by a pre-trial judge with terrorism and murder over attacks that killed the ex-leader of the Lebanese Communist Party Georges Hawi and two others, as well as wounding several people.

Following a huge and deadly blast at Beirut’s port on Aug 4, blamed on an unsecured store of ammonium nitrate, the STL postpones the delivery of its verdict, originally due on Aug 7.

On Aug 14, Hizbollah says it will ignore the verdict.

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