FILE - In this Jan. 16 , 2014 file photo, judges, back row, await the start of a trial at the courtroom of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in Leidschendam, Netherlands. More than 15 years after the truck bomb assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Beirut, the U.N.-backed tribunal in the Netherlands is announcing verdicts Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2020, in the trial of four members of the militant group Hezbollah allegedly involved in the killing. (AP Photo/Toussaint Kluiters, Pool, File)

Court: Hezbollah member guilty in killing of ex-Lebanon PM

LEIDSCHENDAM, Netherlands — A U.N.-backed tribunal has ruled that a member of the Hezbollah militant group is guilty beyond reasonable doubt of involvement in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon said Salim Ayyash was guilty of involvement in the suicide truck bombing that killed Hariri and 21 others and injured 226 people in a huge blast outside a seaside hotel in Beirut on Feb. 14, 2005.

The court is reading out verdicts against three other Hezbollah members also charged with involvement in the plot to murder Hariri.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. The AP’s earlier story is below.

Judges at a U.N.-backed tribunal said Tuesday there was no evidence the leadership of the Hezbollah militant group and Syria were involved in the 2005 suicide truck bomb assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

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.”

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. 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.

Re started the hearing with a minute’s silence to start the hearing to honour 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.

Guilty verdicts 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 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.

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.

Re 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 co-ordinated 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 remaining suspects are Salim Ayyash, also known as Abu Salim; Assad Sabra, Hassan Oneissi, who changed his name to Hassan Issa and Hassan Habib Merhi. They are charged with offences including conspiracy to commit a terrorist act.

If they are convicted, hearings will be held at a later date to determine their sentences. As the U.N.-backed court has no death sentence, the maximum sentence is life imprisonment.

None of the men is every likely to serve time as Hezbollah has vowed not to hand over any suspects. Prosecutors and defence 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.

Hariri’s son Saad, himself a former prime minister, is attending the day-long delivery of the judgment and was one of four victims present in the courtroom for the hearing.

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 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 neighbourhood 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.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Presiding Judge, Judge David Re, attends a session of the United Nations-backed Lebanon Tribunal where it is scheduled to hand down it’s judgement in the case of four men being tried for the bombing that killed former Lebanon Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others people, in Leidschendam, Netherlands Tuesday Aug. 18, 2020. The U.N.-backed tribunal in the Netherlands is to deliver verdicts in the trial held in absentia of four members of the militant Lebanese Hezbollah group accused of involvement in the truck bomb assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. (Piroschka Van De Wouw/Pool via AP)

General view of a session of the United Nations-backed Lebanon Tribunal in Leidschendam, Netherlands Tuesday Aug. 18, 2020, where it is scheduled to hand down it’s judgement in the case against four men being tried for the bombing that killed former Lebanon Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 other people. The U.N.-backed tribunal in the Netherlands is to deliver verdicts in the trial held in absentia of four members of the militant Lebanese Hezbollah group accused of involvement in the truck bomb assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. (Piroschka Van De Wouw/Pool via AP)

Just Posted

Canada’s Kennedy to yesterday’s man: former PM John Turner dead at 91

Politicians and other public figures immediately began sharing memories

Community art project will thank front line workers

Red Deerians are painting hearts to say thank you to frontline workers.… Continue reading

Vaping persists amongst Canadian youth

New survey into vaping habits of youth

QUIZ: A celebration of apples

September is the start of the apple harvest

Five things to watch for in the Canadian business world in the coming week

The 2020 Global Business Forum in Banff, Alta., will be held as a special hybrid event

New tools, ideas needed to speed up housing strategy funding, CMHC president says

Slow turnaround time on some of its national housing strategy programs

Letter containing ricin sent to White House may have come from Canada: RCMP

The letter contained ricin, a toxic substance found naturally in castor beans

Nunavut reports first confirmed COVID-19 cases, saying both are mine workers

The territory says at this time, there is no evidence of transmission within site

B.C. migrant, undocumented workers rally for permanent residency program

The pandemic has shown how heavily Canada relies on migrant and undocumented workers

Wetaskiwin RCMP make arrests for Hit and Run to residence

Damage estimates are expected to be in excess of $20,000.

Former prime minister John Turner dead at 91

TORONTO — Former prime minister John Turner, whose odyssey from a “Liberal… Continue reading

Hay’s Daze: Happy to be left out of the picture

Talk about being out of the loop. Head in the sand. Uninformed,… Continue reading

Most Read