A surprising verdict is issued after 15 years. For the usual “conspiracists,” the Tribunal’s decision must be due to some deal between Iran and the United States, with France as mediator, to get Lebanon out of its morass. Sunni protesters from Tripoli and Sidon were preparing to invade Beirut. Groups of Christians are set to march on Baabda. In the end, the Tribunal found two men guilty – one, Mostafa Badreddine, is dead; the other, Salim Ayyash, is nowhere to be found.
Beirut (AsiaNews) – The verdict handed down today by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in The Hague has disappointed at least half of the Lebanese population. It comes 15 years after the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Al Hariri on 14 February 2005.
In an unprecedented move, the verdict, which was set to be pronounced on 7 August, was unjustifiably postponed to 18 August. For what reason? In Beirut people are wondering what happened between 4 August (when the city was hit by twin blasts) and 18 August to "change the content of the verdict or at least mitigate its political use".
What seems certain is that the Lebanese capital has been the scene of indirect secret talks, with France as mediator, between Iran and the United States, so far without any positive outcome that might lead to reconciliation.
During his two-day official visit to Beirut, Iranian Foreign Minister Jawad Zarif praised French President Emmanuel Macron. Although "held back by the US," as some conspiracists say, such praise seemed part of an initiative to get Lebanon out of its morass.
Since yesterday, hundreds of "Sunni protesters" have been preparing to travel to Beirut, some eyewitnesses in Tripoli and Sidon told AsiaNews. They were supposed to move right after the verdict was issued, which was expected to condemn Hezbollah and Syria.
At the same time, a large group of Christians had prepared to march to the Baabda Palace, the official residence of the Lebanese president. For his part, Rafiq Hariri's son Saad arrived in The Hague yesterday.
Going against expectations, the Special Tribunal found that “Syria and Hezbollah may have had motives to eliminate Mr Hariri” but “there was no evidence that the Hezbollah leadership had any involvement in Mr Hariri’s murder”, nor “direct evidence of Syrian involvement in it.”
The Tribunal does say that “The crime scene was not properly secured” and that “Critical evidence – in the form of the vehicles in Mr Hariri’s convoy – were removed by the ISF[*] from the crime scene on the very evening of the attack.”
The very long verdict, the longest in history, was read in three parts, until late afternoon today. The Tribunal did name five people materially connected to the attack, all of them close to Hezbollah, but did not present any evidence as to who ordered the murder or what role, if any, Syria played in it.
Of the five defendants in Hariri’s murder, Mostafa Badreddine, topped the list. A former Hezbollah military leader, he was killed, 55, in May 2016 in Syria, near the Damascus airport by a group of takfiris. Badreddine’s brother-in-law Imad Mughniyeh, also a top Hezbollah military official, was killed in Syria as well.
Badreddine joined Hezbollah in 1982 after Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. He was responsible for many attacks, including the bombings of the French and US embassies in 1983 in Kuwait. After his arrest, hijackers who seized two Kuwaiti planes in 1985 and 1988 demanded his release. He then "escaped" from prison in 1990 during the Iraq invasion of Kuwait.
The other accused (picture 2) include Salim Ayyash, 56, "responsible for the cells that carried out the attack" in which Hariri and 21 other people were killed, as well as 226 others were injured. He was also accused in a failed 2004 attack against former Lebanese minister Marwan Hamadé.
The other accused are Hussein Hassan Oneissi, 46, and Assad Hassan Sabra, 43, who reportedly provided a video with fake content to the al Jazeera network, blaming a fictious El-Nusra-wal-Jihad-fi-Bilad-El-Sham (Victory and Jihad in Greater Syria) group for the attack. A fourth man, Hassan Habib Marii, 54, was also accused.
The Tribunal found the last three not guilty of Hariri's murder. All the accused were tried in absentia.
The verdict is based above all on the analysis of calls between mobile phones used by the people involved. The Tribunal was not “satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Mr Badreddine masterminded the attack, as alleged.”
The group followed and monitored every move Hariri and his escort made from October 2004 to February 2005. It also organised and carried out the bombing that killed him and the others.
The four men still alive are nowhere to be found. The Tribunal’s documentation is collected in five large volumes for a total of 148,000 pages, available to the parties as of today. The verdict was published on Tribunal’s website.
In the end, the Tribunal found two people guilty; one is dead; and the other, Salim Ayyash, is nowhere to be found.
[*] Internal Security Forces.