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Lebanon Tribunal Convicts Hezbollah Member in 2005 Assassination of Ex-PM Hariri

On Tuesday, a UN-backed Tribunal found a member of Iran-backed Hezbollah guilty of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.

The judges exonerated the other two members and ruled that they had found no links to Hezbollah leadership. While the court admitted that the assassination was clearly politically motivated terrorism, it declared that it had found no links to to the Hezbollah leadership or the Syrian government.

Rafik Hariri, left, pictured leaving parliament in Beirut in 2005, minutes before he was killed by a car bomb. Photograph: AP

On 14 February 2005, former Prime Minister of Lebanon Rafik Hariri was killed along with 21 others in an explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, when 1000 kilograms of TNT was detonated as his motorcade crossed St George Hotel. Among the dead were several of his bodyguards and the then Minister of Economy, Bassel Fliehan.

The tribunal found Salim Ayyash guilty of leading the operation but declared that it had insufficient evidence to link Hussein Oneissi and Assad Sabra, the other two accused, to a charge to call a broadcasting agency to submit a false statement.

Prosecutors used cell phone records to argue the men on trial had carefully monitored Hariri’s movements in the months leading up to the attack to time it and to put forward a fake claim of responsibility as a diversion.

The verdicts were met with surprise and disappointment in Beirut, as supporters of Hezbollah were expecting all three named members to be convicted. Hariri was a Lebanese business tycoon and was a major figurehead in the anti-Syrian opposition. The assassination had been the biggest incident in Lebanon till the August 4th explosion, and had triggered the Cedar revolution which a popular movement which forced Syria to withdraw all its troops in Lebanon by April 2005. This left Lebanon’s political factions split and in turmoil for more than a decade after. With the 2006 war against Israel and the Syrian war spillover in 2011, Lebanon has been constantly hurled into a status of flux and crisis.

People have called for Lebanese President Michel Aoun to investigate the possible involvement of Hezbollah in triggering the massive explosion that happened at the Beirut port. President Michel Aoun, an ally of Hezbollah, has called such a situation impossible but has promised investigation into all possibilities. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has declared that they would wait for the results of the investigation, but if it points to Israel, they would “pay an equal price.” Israel has denied any involvement whatsoever in the explosion. A Reuters security source has revealed that the explosion was caused by a welding accident that occurred when workers were sent to secure the facility. President Aoun has said that the probe will be investigated into possibilities of neglect and external interference so that they are not accused of an unfair investigation later. What triggered the warehouse full of Ammonium Nitrate to cause the explosion is still under investigation.

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