UN tribunal sets trial date for Hariri assassination

The four defendants, members of Hezbollah, remain at large, shielded by the movement’s denial of their involvement.

July 22, 2012 01:29
2 minute read.
Saad Harir speaks in front of picture of Rafik

Saad Harir speaks in front of picture of Rafik 311R. (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir)

The Special UN Tribunal for Lebanon said Thursday night that it had set a provisional date in March 2013 to begin a trial over the February 14, 2005, bomb attack that killed former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.

The trial was tentatively scheduled to start on March 25, 2013, the tribunal said.

The four defendants, members of Hezbollah, remain at large, shielded by the movement’s denial of their involvement and the practical reality that Hezbollah’s armed forces, dominant in Lebanon, can likely prevent their arrest.

The Netherlands-based court issued arrest warrants for the four defendants in June 2011.

Interpol has also issued an international “red notice” on the suspects that obligates most countries to arrest the defendants if the men enter their jurisdiction.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has used an all-out public relations campaign to attack the tribunal both before and after it publicized its indictment against the defendants.

He has accused the tribunal of being part of an Israeli, US and Western conspiracy to topple Hezbollah by besmirching it with false and incendiary allegations.

Hezbollah’s toppling of the Sunni-led governing coalition in Lebanon in 2011 has been attributed by many parties to the refusal of then-prime minister Saad Hariri, Rafik Hariri’s son, to turn against the tribunal and cut its funding, as Hezbollah demanded.

Rafik Hariri, a Sunni, was assassinated along with 22 bystanders by a suicide bomber, in a huge car bomb blast in Beirut as Hariri was driving home.

Moustafa Badreddine, 50, allegedly was the mastermind behind the assassination.

Salim Ayyash, 48, allegedly led its operational aspects.

Hussein Anaissi, 37, and Assad Sabra, 35, allegedly doctored a video tape to try to frame another terrorist group with responsibility for the attack and sent the recording to Al Jazeera.

The tribunal, located in The Hague suburb of Leidschendam, is unusual for a number of reasons. Unlike typical international courts, its mandate allows it to try suspects in absentia.

Notably, the law governing the tribunal defines and permits it to try defendants for terrorism. It is unusual on the international stage to define terrorism or to be able to try a defendant for terrorism, due to the political implications and the controversy surrounding distinguishing terrorist from freedom fighter.

In most international forums, many developing countries that identify with “resistance movements” strenuously resist defining terrorism, arguing that such definitions are part of Western attempts to restrain their liberation struggles.

Establishment of the Special UN Tribunal for Lebanon was an atypical victory for Western nations, attributed by many to the audacity of a terrorist group assassinating a Sunni leader as popular as Hariri and the fantastical fashion in which he was murdered.

The court is also unusual in that it incorporates a larger amount of Lebanese criminal law and procedure into its proceedings than a typical international tribunal.

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