The Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) finally delivered its long-awaited verdict on the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 other victims.
Here’s a summary of what was revealed during the hearing on Tuesday, August 18th.
The Base of The Investigation
On Monday, February 14th, 2005, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was killed along with 21 other people in an explosion triggered by a suicide bomber in a Mitsubishi Canter truck loaded with over two tonnes of high-grade explosives.
For months before the explosion, Hariri had been surveyed by individuals using three main sets of mobile telephone networks, labeled by the Prosecution as Yellow, Blue, and Red; the latter of which was the team that conducted the assassination.
There were several additional secondary networks that were involved in different ways in the operation against Hariri.
These complex networks were the major focus of the investigation into Hariri’s assassination and were used to obtain evidence regarding the “co-location” of certain cellphones.
Simply put, the simultaneous presence of the anonymous cellphones, which were identified as the ones used for the assassination in the same location as other cellphones, namely the perpetrators’ personal phones, indicated the respective holders’ involvement.
Who Ordered The Assassination?
Using this process, and by referring to millions of phone records and telecommunications data, the investigators collected information about the four defendants.
The defendants in the case were: Salim Ayyash, Hassan Merhi, Hussein Oneissi, and Assad Sabra; all tried in absentia.
These individuals, all of whom were found to be affiliated with Hezbollah, were accused of conspiring with others, including Mustafa Badreddine, who was indicted before his death in 2016, to commit a terrorist act to assassinate Hariri.
For a defendant to be convicted by the Trial Chamber, he must be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, on the basis of satisfying evidence.
Before diving into the details of the investigation and its findings, the Chamber provided a political background for the assassination, noting that no evidence was found regarding the involvement of Hezbollah’s leadership nor the Syrian government in the bombing.
This was after it was mentioned that both parties had the motive to carry out the assassination, and confirmed that the bombing was carried out for political purposes.
The Verdict, 15+ Years Later
During the investigation, the aforementioned mobile networks were attributed to the Accused. The evidence gathered by studying the activities of these cellphones utilizing various means was used to shape the verdict.
The Trial Chamber found that overwhelming evidence linked the chief defendant, Salim Ayyash, to the phones that followed and surveyed Hariri before his assassination, and which had been present in the area where the crime unfolded.
This, coupled with strong evidence pointing towards a clear intent on Ayyash’s part, prompted the Chamber to convict him of the 5 charges (found at the end of the article) he was on trial for and declare him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Conversely, while there was similar evidence indicating a link between Oneissi and Badreddine and the mobile networks, the missing evidence of intent, and some other holes in the acquired facts, made it insufficient to convict them.
On a side note, the Chamber said that Badreddine’s death negated the need to charge or acquit him.
Badreddine, who went under the alias “Sami Issa,” was the brother-in-law of Imad Mughniyeh, the senior Hezbollah military official who was assassinated in 2008.
For the remaining two defendants, Sabra and Merhi, it was not possible for the Chamber to prove their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, due to the presence of alternate explanations for their connection to the criminal networks.
As such, the STL verdict convicted Salim Ayyash and acquitted Hassan Merhi, Hussein Oneissi, and Assad Sabra.
The Unknown Suicide Bomber
Aside from the ruling, it’s worth noting the Chamber’s statement that the crime scene was poorly handled by the Lebanese authorities. It cited a lack of coordination among security forces and even the manipulation of the blast site.
Also, the alleged suicide bomber, 22-year-old Palestinian Abu Adass, was found to be painted as the perpetrator to divert attention from the real suicide bomber who had triggered the explosion equivalent to 2,500-3,000 kg of TNT.
The Chamber ruled out Abu Adass, who could not drive, as the suicide bomber, indicating that he was used as a scapegoat.
Additionally, the organization that he allegedly belonged to and performed the suicide attack for (Victory and Jihad in Greater Syria) was found to be imaginary and aimed only to cover-up the identities of the real terrorists.
As for the fate of Abu Adass, it remains unknown, and the same goes for the identity of the suicide bomber who had carried out the assassination of the former Prime Minister.
Reference: List of Charges
All four Accused were charged with conspiracy to commit a terrorist act (Count 1).
Salim Jamil Ayyash was additionally charged with:
- Committing a Terrorist Act by means of an explosive device (Count 2).
- Intentional Homicide of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others with premeditation by using explosive materials (Counts 3 and 4).
- The attempted Intentional Homicide of 226 others with premeditation by using explosive materials (Count 5).
Hassan Habib Merhi, Hussein Hassan Oneissi, and Assad Hassan Sabra were additionally charged with being accomplices to:
- Terrorist Act by means of an explosive device (Count 6).
- Intentional Homicide of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others with premeditation by using explosive materials (Counts 7 and 8).
- The attempted Intentional Homicide of 226 others with premeditation by using explosive materials (Count 9).