Hariri murder indictments largely tied to phone records
AMSTERDAM // The international tribunal looking into the 2005 murder of Lebanon's former prime minister Rafiq Hariri yesterday unsealed the evidence that it has against the four suspects in the case. The court made public most of the indictment, revealing that the charges are largely based on an analysis of telephone records and that they include specific mentions of the Hizbollah movement.
"All four accused are supporters of Hizbollah, which is a political and military organisation in Lebanon," notes the indictment that was drawn up by prosecutor Daniel Bellemare.
It goes on to say that "the military wing" of Hizbollah has been implicated in terrorist acts in the past and that persons trained by the military wing "have the capability to carry out a terrorist attack, whether or not on its behalf." Two of the suspects are said to have had such training.
Last night, Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary-general of Hizbollah, said the release of the indictment only served to prove his movement's point that the tribunal is "not transparent or independent".
"We spoke previously and said that the tribunal had focused on one assumption, even though there was other evidence pointing towards Israel," he said in a televised speech, in which he questioned the emphasis on telecommunications data in the indictment.
"What was mentioned [in the indictment] is not enough to be evidence...It increases our conviction that what is going on is politicisation."
The four suspects in the killing of Mr Hariri are Mustafa Amine Badreddine, Salim Jamil Ayyash, Hussein Hassan Oneissi and Assad Hassan Sabra. Mr Badreddine is the most senior of the four and stands accused of having been the "controller" of the attack. He is a brother in law of Imad Moughniyeh, the Hizbollah commander who was killed in Damascus in 2008.
It had been known that the four suspects identified thus far are members of Hizbollah since the indictment was handed to the Lebanese authorities at the end of June. But the details were initially kept secret, including the tribunal's reference to the movement.
A spokesman for the UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon, STL, which is based near The Hague in the Netherlands, emphasised that a reference to Hizbollah is not an accusation against the movement. "The Tribunal prosecutes individuals and not organisations on the sole basis of individual criminal responsibility," he said.
But in Lebanon's turbulent political arena, such an explicit mention of Hizbollah is bound to create new tensions. The movement presents itself as an armed resistance against Israel and as a legitimate political party. Along with its allies, it dominates the current Lebanese government.
The tribunal's president, Antonio Cassese, is considering whether to advertise the indictment in the media, setting off a final period of 30 days in which the suspects can be apprehended or turn themselves in. After that, the tribunal can move towards a trial in absentia.
While the government remained largely silent yesterday on the public release of the indictments, the opposition March 14 bloc hailed the step as a "victory". The group, led by Rafiq Hariri's son Saad, urged Hizbollah to hand over the four suspects named in the 47-page document.
In a personal statement issued by his office, Saad Hariri also commented on the unsealing of the indictments, describing it as a "critical step towards uncovering the truth" about his father's assassination.
"What is required of Hizbollah's leadership is simply to announce their disengagement with the accused," said Mr Hariri, speaking from outside Lebanon. He urged Hizbollah and its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, "to announce full cooperation with the Special Tribunal, which will lead to handing over the suspects and starting a fair trial".
Omar Nashabe, a Lebanese specialist in criminal justice and head of Al Akhbar newspaper's research unit, said the direct reference to Hizbollah in the indictment, specifically that the Shiite movement "has been implicated in terrorist acts", could be interpreted as prejudicial.
"Issuing the indictment here in Lebanon is like passing a verdict," he said. "[The contents of the indictment] are definitely convenient with the Western powers and Israel's political agenda. But Hizbollah is mature and will deal with this in a calm way."
The indictment concerns the massive bomb that ripped through Mr Hariri's motorcade on February 14, 2005 in the centre of Beirut and killed him along with 21 others. The attack sparked political turmoil in Lebanon, led to a withdrawal of Syrian forces from the country and was followed by years of unrest and violence.
Hizbollah has denied involvement in the murder and has said that it views the STL as an attempt to undermine the movement. It is adamant that the four suspects will not be arrested. Lebanese authorities notified the STL earlier this month that they have not been able to apprehend them.
The evidence presented by the STL is largely based on an analysis of mobile phone records. Mr Bellemare acknowledged in the indictment that it is based on circumstantial evidence but wrote that this does not undermine the case.
"It is a recognised legal principle that circumstantial evidence has similar weight and probative value as direct evidence and that circumstantial evidence can be stronger than direct evidence," the indictment states.
Hizbollah and its allies say that Lebanon's mobile telephone network has been compromised by Israel. The security services have arrested several employees of one of the networks but they have not yet been tried.
Zoi Constantine reported from Beirut.
Published: August 18, 2011 04:00 AM