Hariri indictment says phones link suspects to killing

Indictment identifies five networks, two of which were covert, used to call members in group.

Rafik Hariri billboards 311 R (photo credit: Ali Hashisho / Reuters)
Rafik Hariri billboards 311 R
(photo credit: Ali Hashisho / Reuters)
BEIRUT - Four Hezbollah suspects in the killing of Rafik Hariri were linked to the attack largely by circumstantial evidence gleaned from phone records, according to an indictment published on Wednesday after a six-year investigation which polarized Lebanon.
Sealed arrest warrants for the men were issued in June by a UN-backed tribunal, setting the stage for the case to go to trial, but none of the four have been detained by Lebanese authorities and Hezbollah says they will never be arrested.
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The suspects are Mustafa Amine Badreddine, a senior Hezbollah figure and brother-in-law of slain Hezbollah commander Imad Moughniyeh, as well as Salim Jamil Ayyash, Hussein Hassan Oneissi and Assad Hassan Sabra.
"The four accused participated in a conspiracy with others aimed at committing a terrorist act to assassinate Rafik Hariri," said the 47-page indictment released by the Netherlands-based Special Tribunal for Lebanon.
The Shi'ite Muslim group Hezbollah -- which is backed by Iran and Syria -- has denied any role in the February 2005 bombing which killed Hariri, a billionaire Sunni Muslim politician, and 21 other people on the Beirut seafront.
The killing plunged Lebanon into a series of political crises and assassinations that led to clashes in May 2008, and there were fears that the indictments could revive sectarian tensions in a country still scarred by its 1975-1990 civil war.
Hezbollah, both a political movement and guerrilla army, toppled the government of Hariri's son, Saad Hariri, in January after he resisted calls to renounce the tribunal.
Indictment identifies five phone lines, two covert
The indictment said Badreddine served as overall commander of the operation while Ayyash coordinated the assassination team. Oneissi and Sabra were part of the conspiracy and prepared a false claim of responsibility, it said.
Wednesday's indictment, which was partly redacted, said that analysis of communication records showed "the presence of a number of interconnected mobile phone networks involved in the assassination of Hariri".
It identified five networks, two of them 'covert' ones used only to call members of the same group, and identified them by different colors.
The 'red network', used by members of the assassination team, was "operational from 4 January 2005, until it ceased all activity 2 minutes before the attack on 14 February 2005," the indictment said.
The location of those phones, and of another 'blue network', showed surveillance of Hariri on at least 15 days before he was killed. The last 33 calls made from the phones were mostly in areas where Hariri was in the two hours leading up to his death.
"The case against the accused is built in large part on circumstantial evidence," the indictment said, but it added that circumstantial evidence "...is often more reliable than direct evidence, which can suffer from first-hand memory loss or eye-witness distortion."
Media reports last year predicted the indictment would be based on phone records and Hezbollah's leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has cast doubt on any case relying on telephone calls, saying Israel had successfully penetrated Lebanon's telecoms network and could falsify data to implicate his group.
Nasrallah has dismissed the indictments as a failed attempt to sow strife and bring down Lebanon's new Hezbollah-backed government, and has said the authorities would never arrest members of the group.