Four on trial in absentia for killing ex-Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri

Evidence against four Hezbollah members accused of assassinating the former Lebanese premier in 2005 is heard in absentia at The Hague

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 January, 2014, 1:45am
UPDATED : Friday, 17 January, 2014, 1:45am


Almost nine years after the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, the trial of his alleged killers has started in The Hague.

The defendants, all members of the powerful militia Hezbollah, are being tried in absentia - the first time this has happened at an international trial since the Nuremberg prosecutions.

The trial at the UN's Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) comes as the country continues to reel from instability caused by the 2005 killing.

A car bomb exploded yesterday in a Hezbollah stronghold close to the country's border with Syria, killing at least three people and wounding more than 20.

Victims of the 2005 attack, which killed Hariri and 22 others and wounded several hundred more, have said they are expecting accountability from the process - a rare thing in Lebanon, where assassinations have long been part of the political fabric, with perpetrators rarely caught.

Prosecutor Norman Farrell laid out a case against the four accused - Salim Ayyash, Mustafa Badredine, Hussein Onessi and Assad Sabra - who Hezbollah have vowed never to arrest, and who have remained at large since the STL was established by UN statute five years ago.

Farrell said the case against the accused would be anchored by communications evidence that "presents a blueprint of how the crime was carried out and by whom".

Farrell said Hariri had been under surveillance "every minute" he had been in the country from the end of December 2004 until his death in Beirut at 12.55pm on February 14, 2005.

He said the bomb that killed Hariri and obliterated much of his convoy was made up with an "extraordinary quantity of high-grade explosives. Clearly their aim was not only to make sure the target was killed, but to send a terrifying message to the people of Beirut and of Lebanon".

Hariri had been a popular prime minister of post-civil war Lebanon, credited with rebuilding the central area of the capital, Beirut, and with trying to instil sovereignty in state institutions. He had cross-sectarian appeal and was vocal in his criticism of Syria's influence in Lebanon, which was a spillover from the war years.

In the months before his death, he backed a UN resolution calling on Syrian forces to leave the country.

Farrell said that Salim Ayyash "was on the ground leading the team carrying out the final acts in preparation for the attack".

Hariri's son Saad, who was ousted as Lebanon's prime minister in January 2011, travelled to The Hague for the trial's opening session.

Hezbollah has denied carrying out the murderous attack. It has described the trial as a US and Israeli plot aimed at discrediting the group.

Additional reporting by Associated Press