Issued on: Modified:
There is no evidence that Hezbollah’s leadership or the Syrian government were involved in the 2005 bombing that killed former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon said on Tuesday.
The UN-backed tribunal is reading the verdict in the trial of four Hezbollah members charged with conspiracy to kill Hariri and 21 others.
“The trial chamber is of the view that Syria and Hezbollah may have had motives to eliminate Mr. Hariri and his political allies, however there is no evidence that the Hezbollah leadership had any involvement in Mr. Hariri’s murder and there is no direct evidence of Syrian involvement,” said Judge David Re, reading a summary of the court’s 2,600-page decision.
However, the court said there was enough evidence to link two Hezbollah members to mobile phones allegedly involved in Hariri’s killing.
The verdicts were delayed by nearly two weeks as a mark of respect for victims of another devastating explosion — the massive Beirut port blast that killed around 180 people and injured thousands more on August 4, plunging a nation already reeling from economic and social malaise even deeper into crisis.
The court ruling threatens to compound tensions in the tiny country. Hariri was Lebanon’s most prominent Sunni politician at the time of his Feb. 14, 2005 assassination, while the Iran-backed Hezbollah is a Shiite Muslim group.
The trial centred 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.
On Tuesday, the judges said they were “satisfied beyond reasonable doubt” that main suspect Salim Ayyash was most likely the user of mobile phones used to scope out Hariri ahead of the attack, the key plank of the prosecution case.
They were also satisfied that the 56-year-old Ayyash “had associations with Hezbollah”.
Judges also said they were satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Hussein Oneissi, 46, was the main user of another of the phones.
However they said they were not satisfied with the evidence linking the phones with the two other suspects — Hassan Habib Merhi, 54, and Assad Sabra, 43.
The judges said evidence also linked phones to the alleged mastermind of the bombing, Hezbollah commander Mustafa Badreddine — who was indicted by the court but is believed to have been killed in the Damascus area in May 2016.
During the trial, which spanned 415 days of hearings, the tribunal in Leidschendam, near The Hague, heard evidence from 297 witnesses.
When the trial opened in January 2014, a scale model of the blast scene stood on a table in the centre of the courtroom and a prosecutor told judges that explosives packed into a Mitsubishi truck detonated to create “a man-made hell”.
The assassination was seen by many in Lebanon as the work of Syria, a charge Damascus denies.
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.
Hariri’s son Saad, himself a former prime minister, was attending the day-long delivery of the judgment.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)