The trial of four men accused of assassinating Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 22 other people in a 2005 car bomb attack opened before an international court in the Netherlands on Thursday.
Prosecutors at The Hague-based Special Tribunal for Lebanon (TSL) began to present evidence, which they say incriminates the four members of the pro-Syrian Shiite militant group Hezbollah, who are being tried in abstentia.
FRANCE 24 correspondent Catherine Norris-Trent was at the tribunal, which is housed in a converted basketball court inside a moated compound. She said: “The prosecution has gone through telephone data which they say will prove there was a plot to target Rafik Hariri,” then a prominent leader of the Sunni community.
“That’s expected to make up a large part of their case as there are no defendants present in court: the four men indicted as part of this case have never been arrested,” she added.
The current balance of power makes it unlikely that the Lebanese authorities will be able to bring Salim Ayyash, Mustafa Badreddine, Hussein Oneissi and Assad Sabra to court any time soon, according to FRANCE 24’s Beirut correspondent Lucy Fielder.
“Hezbollah have a very strong security network and the Lebanese state doesn’t have the strength to confront that,” she said, adding that circumstances may change in the future. The trial is expected to last years.
Prosecutors illustrated the February 14, 2005 attack with a scale model and graphic images of the Beirut street where Hariri died.
“We’ve seen pictures of his burning car and of his dead body covered by blankets at the scene, which caused people in the public gallery to burst into tears – victims’ families who’ve come from Lebanon for the start of this trial,” said Norris-Trent.
Among them was Hariri’s son Saad, himself a former Prime Minister of Lebanon between 2009 and 2011.
“We are very grateful that the international community agreed to help us. Soon, we will know who killed Rafik Hariri, who killed the leaders of the March 14 Alliance, and those responsible will pay for what they’ve done,” Saad Hariri said outside the court, referring to the string of attacks that targeted his father and other politicians hostile to Syrian influence in Lebanon in recent years.
FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Beirut reported that some Lebanese shared Saad Hariri’s expectations, while others ignored proceedings at the STL or regarded the court as a conspiracy against Shiite and Syrian interests in the country.
Among those who reject the prosecution’s case is General Jamil al Sayyed, who headed Lebanon’s General Security department at the time of Hariri’s assassination and was detained in connection with the attack but never charged.
“What happened in 2005 was that the blame for Hariri’s murder was put on Syria and pro-Syrian groups in Lebanon without any proof. Instead of investigating the case, they brought in false witnesses,” he told FRANCE 24.
Hezbollah has reportedly denied responsibility for Hariri’s killing, a seismic event in Lebanese history that fuelled sectarian tensions in the country.
Those tensions were apparent again on Thursday, just hours before the trial opened, when a suicide bomber killed three people in the Hezbollah stronghold of Hermel near the border with Syria.
Analysis: nine years since Rafik Hariri's murder
Date created : 2014-01-16