Rafik Hariri assassination: no evidence of Hezbollah leadership involvement in killing, says judge

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - There is no evidence the leadership of the militant group Hezbollah and the Syrian government were involved in the assassination of Rafik Hariri, a tribunal judge delivering the verdict on the 2005 slaying has said.

"The trial chamber is of the view that Syria and Hezbollah may have had motives to eliminate Hariri and some of his political allies," Judge David Re, the presiding judge, said.

"However, there was no evidence that this Hezbollah leadership had any involvement in Hariri's murder, and there is no direct evidence of Syrian involvement in it," he added.

The hearing delivering verdicts in the trial of four members of the powerful militant group over the 2005 killing of Rafik Hariri began in the Netherlands on Tuesday.

Lebanon has waited 15 years for some kind of justice following Hariri’s slaying, though the trial itself began in 2014.

The tribunal in Leidschendam, near The Hague, has heard from 297 witnesses, and spanned 415 days of hearings.

As the hearing, which was expected to last a number of hours, began, Judge David Re, the presiding judge, gave a summary of the lorry bomb attack that killed Hariri.

Judge Janet Nosworthy said judgement could open the door for compensation to be paid to the victim from a national court.

"Terrorism remains one of the most serious and heinous crimes," she said.

"Direct and indirect victims suffered harm".

Several family members were in attendance at the Netherlands-based Special Tribunal for Lebanon, including Rafik Hariri's son Saad.

The trial over the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister has centred on four men charged with conspiracy to carry out the suicide bombing.

Twenty-one people were killed alongside Hariri and 220 injured after an explosion tore through the politician’s armour-plated car on Beirut’s corniche.

The four men, Salim Jalil Ayyash, Hassan Habib Merhi, Hussein Hassan Oneissi and Assad Hassan Sabra, are all suspected of being members of the Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah.

They have been tried in their absence after the powerful Shiite organisation vowed never to hand them over.

A fifth suspect, Mustafa Amine Badreddinne, described as a key figure in the plot and a veteran Hezbollah member with close ties to the group’s leadership, was killed in Syria in 2016.

A general view shows the site where former Lebanon Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated in a massive explosion in Beirut on February 14, 2005. AFP

Supporters of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri following Hariri's death outside his house in Beirut 14 February 2005. AFP

The national flag-draped coffin of Lebanon's murdered former prime minister Rafiq Hariri is carried to his final resting place in central Beirut 16 February 2005. AFP

Saad Hariri and other family members leave their family home to join the funeral procession in Beirut 16 February 2005. AFP

Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri meets with Syrian President Bashar al Assad on the sidelines of the Arab summit in Beirut 27 March 2002. AFP

The monument of the former assassinated Prime Minister Rafik Al Hariri is seen in Beirut on February 15, 2008. Reuters

Former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, left, and his bodyguard Yahya Arab, leave the Parliament in Beirut, Lebanon in 2005. Minutes later, Hariri and several of his bodyguards were killed in a massive bomb explosion. AP

A combination of handout pictures obtained on July 29, 2011 from the website of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon shows four Hezbollah suspects indicted in the assassination case of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, (from top left to right) Mustafa Amine Badreddine, Assad Hassan Sabra, Hussein Hassan Oneissi and Salim Jamil Ayyash. AFP

French President Jacques Chirac greets Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri at the Elysee Palace in Paris, 28 September 1996. AFP

Lebanese policemen gather at the site where outgoing Economy and Trade Minister Marwan Hamadeh's car was targeted by a bomb in Beirut on October 1 2004. AFP

Picture taken 15 November 1976 of an avenue in central Beirut destroyed by year-and-half civil war. In early June 1976, Syria launched a full-scale invasion of Lebanon officially to end the civil war and restore peace, but unofficialy, it became clear, to crush the Palestinians. During the course of the fighting there had been more that 50 abortive cease-fires and an estimated 60,000 people had been killed and some 100,000 injured. The Lebanese civil war erupted in April 1975. AFP

Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri is seen on October 22, 1992 in Beirut, after being nominated as Prime Minister by President Elias Hrawi. AFP

Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and his wife Nazic on September 1, 1996 in their villa in Beirut. AFP

UAE Founding Father Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan meets former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in on March 17, 1999. Hariri was in Dubai for a three-day official visit. AFP

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashed, then Crown Prince of Dubai, drives former Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri in Dubai on March 6, 2000. AFP

The attack on Hariri, Lebanon’s preeminent Sunni politician, sent shockwaves through Lebanese society.

Anger, as more than a million protesters took to the streets, was focused on Hezbollah and its ally Syria.

Syrian troops had maintained a strong presence in Lebanon for three decades, a legacy of the country’s bitter civil war.

Months before his death, Hariri had ended his premiership over Syria’s continued influence on Lebanon.

He had clashed with Syrian President Bashar Al Assad over the prolonged intervention.

The outpouring of public outrage over Hariri’s death forced the withdrawal of Syria from Lebanon.

Justice in the courts over the assassination, however, has been limited. If they are convicted, hearings will be held at a later date to determine their sentences. As the UN-backed court has no death sentence, the maximum sentence is life imprisonment.

None of the men is ever likely to serve time because they remain in hiding. Prosecutors and defence lawyers can appeal against the verdicts.

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 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored at Beirut's port. The blast killed about 180 people, injured more than 6,000, left a quarter of a million with homes unfit to live in.

Lebanon, a nation already reeling from economic and social malaise, was plunged even deeper into crisis.

The verdict in the Netherlands has the potential to reignite anger in Lebanon where many have pointed fingers at Hezbollah over the August 4 explosion.

Updated: August 18, 2020 02:55 PM

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