It has been over 15 years since the assassination of former premier Rafic Hariri and former Minister of the Economy, Bassel Fleihan.
On February 14th, 2005, as the convoy passed near the St. George Hotel, in downtown Beirut, explosives of about 1,000 kilograms of TNT were detonated, killing 23 people, including the premier and the minister, and the premier’s bodyguards.
The assassination of Hariri, who was a prominent figure in the anti-Syrian opposition in Lebanon, triggered the massive Cedar Revolution that forced the Syrian regime to withdraw all its troops from Lebanon by April of that year.
It also led The United Nations, at the invitation of the Lebanese authorities, to set up the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) to assist in the investigation that was headed by Lebanese brigadier general Wissam Al-Hassan.
“It wasn’t until late 2007 that the awkwardly titled UN International Independent Investigation Commission actually got around to some serious investigating,” reported CBC News in November of 2010.
According to the same report, the investigation led to the discovery of evidence connecting Hezbollah to the assassination; a matter reported later by The New York Times Magazine in February 2015.
“Evidence gathered by Lebanese police and, much later, the UN, points overwhelmingly to the fact that the assassins were from Hezbollah,” wrote CBC News.
Based on “a months-long CBC investigation, relying on multiple sources from inside the UN inquiry,” CBC reported that UN investigators suspected that “their inquiry was penetrated early by Hezbollah.”
ISF Capt. Wissam Eid, a computer engineer and a senior terrorism investigator, who has reportedly cracked the case on his own, was murdered in the process, on 25 January 2008.
Now, finally, the long-awaited verdict of the STL will be announced on Tuesday, August 18th, on the four suspects who, conveniently, have been at large.
The verdict was previously expected in May but was pushed back due to the pandemic.
It was scheduled for August 7th, and further postponed to August 18th out of respect for the victims of the massive explosion that shattered Beirut on August 4th.
Hence, after over 15-years, the STL will now deliver its verdict, yet in absentia, on the suspects Salim Ayyash, Hasan Merhi, Hussein Oneissi, and Assad Sabra – all members of Hezbollah.
From his side, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah said in a 2-hour long speech on Friday that the militia is “not concerned with the STL’s decisions.”
He stressed that if their four members were “unjustly sentenced,” his party “will maintain their innocence.”
The verdict will undoubtedly offer closure after all this time. However, there are fears among citizens that it would also ignite tensions between supporters of Saad Hariri and Hezbollah.
Nasrallah called on his supporters to be patient when the STL verdict is released Tuesday, whatever he meant.
Similarly, former PM Saad Hariri, who is due in The Hague for the verdict on Tuesday, expressed previously that he doesn’t think the verdict will spark conflicts among Lebanese.
It is to note that, following the assassination of Rafic Hariri and the massive uprising of the Cedar Revolution, several leaders and politicians of the anti-Syrian movement, were killed in a series of assassination: