ASSASSINATION OF RAFIK HARIRI

Awaiting the STL Verdict and Hariri's reaction ...

A day after the massive explosion in Beirut port, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) decided to postpone its verdict in the trial of four Hezbollah suspected members accused of in-volvement in the 2005 assassination of Rafik Hariri to August 18.

Awaiting the STL Verdict and Hariri's reaction ...

At an STL hearing, a mock-up of downtown Beirut where the attack that claimed the life of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri took place on February 14, 2005. Photo from STL website

The leader of the Future Movement, Saad Hariri, was planning to be in The Hague on Friday, August 7 when the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) was to issue its verdict in the case of the assassination of his father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was killed in a massive truck bomb explosion on February 14, 2005. But the huge explosion in Beirut's port on Tuesday prompted the United Nations-backed court to postpone its verdict to August 18.

The court, located outside The Hague, Netherlands, is to deliver its verdict in absentia in the trial of four Hezbollah suspected members accused of involvement in the assassination of Rafik Hariri. The Shiite party, which denies any involvement in the assassination, has consistently re-fused to hand over the suspects despite several arrest warrants issued by the STL.

"Saad Hariri will take a stand after the verdict," former MP and member of the political bureau of the Future Movement Moustapha Allouch told L'Orient-Le Jour. "Hariri has prepared key el-ements of his speech, but I think he will take the time to weight his speech, in light of the an-nouncements of the STL," he said. "It is not his practice to get into confrontations, but the politi-cal scene will surely heat up. However, I don't think there could be scenes of violence," Allouch said.

"Saad Hariri will take a stand against Hezbollah and demand that the defendants be brought to justice, without resorting to escalation," a source close to the matter told OLJ, speaking on con-dition of anonymity. "It will all depend on the preamble to the judgment. If it mentions Hezbol-lah as a party and not just individuals affiliated with it, it will mean that the international com-munity is putting pressure on the Shiite party," the source said. "There will probably be sit-ins after the STL verdict, perhaps even a statement by Bahaa Hariri (older brother of Saad Hariri). The pressure of the international community on Hezbollah will surely increase once the court has ruled."

The four defendants tried in absentia by the STL are Salim Jamil Ayyash, Hussein Hassan Onessi, Assad Hassan Sabra and Hassan Habib Merhi. Ayyash is suspected of having led the team be-hind the attack that claimed the life of Rafik Hariri. Onessi and Sabra are being prosecuted for recording a fake videotape pinning the crime on a fictitious group. Merhi also faces several charges, including complicity in the commission of an act of terrorism and conspiracy to com-mit the act. The trial of the four men, which took place in their absence and without contact on their part with the lawyers representing them, entered its final phase in September 2018. Mus-tafa Amine Badreddine, the main suspect described as the "mastermind" of the attack by inves-tigators, died in 2016 in Syria. Hence, his trial was cancelled.

The STL, which officially opened on March 1, 2009 in the suburbs of The Hague, is the first in-ternational criminal court to allow for a trial in which the accused are represented by lawyers.

Hamade in The Hague

MP Marwan Hamade, who escaped an attack on October 1, 2004 in Beirut, will be in The Hague alongside Saad Hariri, but he refused to comment for now. "I have pledged not to com-ment before the verdict, being myself a victim of an attack and a witness in the case of the at-tack on Rafik Hariri," he told OLJ. Asked about Saad Hariri's reaction to the verdict, Hamade said, "It isn't Hariri's intention to light fires, but he won't ignore the verdict."

Rafik Hariri, who served as prime minister from 1992 until his resignation in October 2004 ex-cept for 1998-2000, was killed when a suicide bomber detonated a truck bomb while his ar-mored convoy was passing along the seafront corniche in Beirut. The attack also claimed the lives of 21 people and injured some 226 others. The killing of Hariri, initially blamed on pro-Syrian Lebanese generals, provoked strong reactions at the time, leading to the withdrawal of Syrian troops after nearly 30 years of presence on Lebanese soil. The crime "had a political purpose," the prosecution said at the final phase of the trial in September 2018, saying that the murdered prime minister "was perceived by pro-Syrian and pro-Hezbollah as a serious threat."

Hariri's assassination was followed by a series of attacks, three of which the STL said were con-nected to the 14 February 2005 massive explosion. The tribunal is looking into the attack on Hamade, the assassination of George Hawi on June 21, 2005 in a car bomb explosion near his home in the residential area of Wata el‐Mousseitbeh, and the attempted assassination of Elias Murr in the Antelias region on July 12, 2005. The STL accuses Ayyash of being also responsible for these three attacks. "My case is underway. The indictment was approved by the pre-trial judge, Daniel Fransen, and there was a procedural session a week ago," Hamade said.


(This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 3rd of August. Is has been edited with the postponement of the STL verdict)


The leader of the Future Movement, Saad Hariri, was planning to be in The Hague on Friday, August 7 when the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) was to issue its verdict in the case of the assassination of his father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was killed in a massive truck bomb explosion on February 14, 2005. But the huge explosion in Beirut's port on Tuesday prompted the United...

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