Saad Harir speaks in front of picture of Rafik 311R.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir)
BEIRUT - The UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon said on
Thursday it hoped to start in 2012 the trial in absentia of four Hezbollah
suspects, indicted over the killing of Lebanon's former prime minister Rafik Hariri.
Warrants for the arrest of the four men were issued by the
tribunal in June, but Lebanon later told the court it had been unable to track
any of them down.
The powerful Shi'ite Muslim group Hezbollah has denied
any role in the 2005 car bombing which killed Hariri, a billionaire Sunni Muslim
politician, and 21 other people and said it would refuse to allow any of the
suspects to be arrested.
"We still hope we can start the trial in earnest
in 2012," tribunal spokesman Marten Youssef told a news
"Preliminary motions will likely come up by the end of the
next 60 days and the pre-trial judge will consult with the defense council once
they are appointed about how much time they need to review the material and form
their own case," he said.
The Netherlands-based tribunal said in a
statement on Wednesday it was accepting preliminary motions challenging its
jurisdiction or technical defects of the indictments.
Hezbollah, which fought a war against Israel in
2006, says the court is politically motivated and favors US and Israeli
The tribunal said on Wednesday that the four suspects would be
tried in absentia after concluding that "all reasonable steps have been taken to
secure the appearance of the accused and to notify them of the charges."
Hariri's killing plunged Lebanon into a political crisis that saw assassinations
and street clashes in May 2008, dragging the civil war-scarred country back to
the brink of conflict.
Hezbollah brought down the government of Hariri's
son, Saad, in 2011 when its members and their allies withdrew from the cabinet
after he resisted calls to renounce the tribunal.
The suspects were named
last July as Mustafa Amine Badreddine, a senior Hezbollah figure and
brother-in-law of slain Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh, as well as Salim
Jamil Ayyash, Hussein Hassan Oneissi and Assad Hassan Sabra.
issued six monthly reports to the tribunal of the steps taken to try to arrest
the four, Youssef said, adding that the tribunal felt that after months of heavy
media coverage it was "inconceivable they are unaware they have been indicted."