The Special Tribunal for Lebanon will pronounce sentence for the murder of Rafik Hariri on Friday

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The former prime minister of the country died in an attack in 2005

Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri left the Elysee Palace in Paris in 2001. 

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon (TEL) pronounces this Friday sentence in the process developed between 2014 and 2018 for the murder of the former Prime Minister of the country, Rafik Hariri. In 2005, the Sunni leader was the victim in an attack in Beirut in which 21 other people also lost their lives, and this is the first sentence since the opening of this court, in 2007. The four accused, related to the Shiite militia Lebanese Hezbollah, have been tried in absentia because they were not handed over by Beirut. Hariri and his party were travelling in armoured cars, which did not resist the explosion of the van that killed all the victims, loaded with 3,000 kilos of explosives.

Around 226 people were injured, and the crater opened by the blast destroyed the city’s seafront. It is the first time since the Nuremberg trials, after World War II, that a trial has been held without the presence of the accused.

The four defendants are Hussein Hassan Oneissi, Assad Hassan Sabra, Hassan Habib Merhi and Salim Hamil Ayyash, and the cause bears the name of the latter in the heading: Ayyash et al (and others). The accusatory document indicates that they organized, perpetrated and then falsified the authorship of the attack in a video. 

Hezbollah commander Mustafá Badredine, the alleged mastermind of the attack, died in 2016. During the sessions, the court was able to analyse what happened with the help of a model of the scene. The charge of “conspiracy to commit a terrorist act” weighs on all of them. Ayyash is accused of “perpetuating the attack, in addition to manslaughter and attempted murder.” None are reported by the chief prosecutor, Canadian Norman Farrell, for having personally detonated the explosive charge. But the prosecution alleges that Ayyash’s involvement was decisive during the preparations for and execution of the murder. Hezbollah, for its part, denies having anything to do with what happened.

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon was created jointly by the United Nations and Lebanon, and despite the efforts made all these years, Oneissi, Sabra, Merhi and Ayyash remain unaccounted for by judges and prosecutors. They have not participated in the trial, nor have they contacted the public defenders representing them. 

Rafik Hariri was the Prime Minister of Lebanon five times after the civil war that lasted between 1975 and 1990, and the year before his death he signed an amendment to the Constitution that allowed for the extension of the country’s president, Prosyrian Émile Lahoud. 

Hariri was not in favour of a change, but he did, and the UN issued a resolution calling for free presidential elections, the withdrawal of foreign troops and the dismantling of armed groups like Hezbollah, favourable to Damascus. Hariri ended up resigning at a time of great tension in the area after the US invasion of Iraq, which fuelled the rivalry between the Shiite community, supported by Syria and Iran, and the Sunni one, leaning towards the United States and Saudi Arabia. His death led to the so-called Cedar Revolution in Lebanon.

 

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