|A U.N.-backed tribunal on Tuesday convicted one member of the Hezbollah militant group and acquitted three others of involvement in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
The Special Tribunal for Lebanon said Salim Ayyash was guilty as a co-conspirator of five charges linked to his involvement in the suicide truck bombing. Hariri and 21 others were killed and 226 were wounded in a huge blast outside a seaside hotel in Beirut on Feb. 14, 2005.
However, after a years-long investigation and trial, three other Hezbollah members were acquitted of all charges that they also were involved in the killing of Hariri, which sent shock waves through the Mideast.
None of the suspects were ever arrested and were not in court to hear the verdicts.
The tribunal’s judges also said there was no evidence the leadership of the Hezbollah militant group and Syria were involved in the attack, despite saying the assassination happened as Harairi and his political allies were discussing calling for an “immediate and total withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon,” Presiding Judge David Re said.
When launched in the wake of the attack, the tribunal raised hopes that for the first time in multiple instances of political violence in Lebanon, the truth of what happened would emerge and those responsible would be held to account.
But for many in Lebanon, the tribunal failed on both counts. Many of the suspects, including the man convicted Tuesday, are either dead or out of reach of justice. And the prosecution was unable to present a cohesive picture of the bombing plot or who ordered it.
The verdicts come at a particularly sensitive time for Lebanon, following the devastating explosion at the Port of Beirut two weeks ago, and as many in Lebanon are calling for an international investigation into that explosion.
UN-backed court to issue verdicts in Lebanon’s Hariri case
More than 15 years after the truck bomb assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Beirut, a U.N.-backed tribunal in the Netherlands is announcing verdicts this week in the trial of four members of the militant group Hezbollah allegedly involved in the killing, which deeply divided the tiny country.
The verdicts on Tuesday at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, based in a village on the outskirts of the Dutch city of The Hague, are expected to further add to soaring tensions in Lebanon, two weeks after a catastrophic explosion at Beirut’s port that killed nearly 180 people, injured more than 6,000 and destroyed thousands of homes in the Lebanese capital.
Unlike the blast that killed Hariri and 21 others on Feb. 14, 2005, the Aug. 4 explosion was believed to be a result of nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate that accidentally ignited at Beirut’s port. While the cause of the fire that provided the trigger is still not clear, Hezbollah, which maintains huge influence over Lebanese politics, is being sucked into the public fury directed at the country’s ruling politicians.
Even before the devastating Beirut port blast, the country’s leaders were concerned about violence after the verdicts. Hariri was Lebanon’s most prominent Sunni politician at the time, while the Iran-backed Hezbollah is a Shiite Muslim group.
Tensions between Sunni and Shiites in the Middle East have fueled deadly conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen and to a smaller scale in Lebanon. Some Lebanese see the tribunal as an impartial way of uncovering the truth about Hariri’s slaying, while Hezbollah ? which denies involvement ? calls it an Israeli plot to tarnish the group.