The sentence for the assassination of ex-Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri will have to wait a little longer: the explosion in the port of Beirut last Tuesday forced the Lebanese Special Court (TEL) to postpone the announcement of the decision until 18 August. , which will affect four people suspected of organizing his death, who are unknown.
It is not the first time that the sentence has been postponed, although this time the court justifies it out of “respect for the countless victims of the devastating explosion that shocked Beirut on August 4 and for the three days of public mourning” in Lebanon, after a tragedy that killed at least 137 people and left 5,000 injured.
Six years after the trial began, the Court planned to make its decision known in mid-May, but the pandemic “forced” it to be postponed until August 7, a date now postponed for another ten days.
The court is located in Leidschendam, just minutes from The Hague, and the first session, held on January 16, 2014, was a milestone after almost a decade of waiting: Hariri and 21 others died on February 14. 2005, when a truck containing at least a ton of explosives exploded in downtown Beirut.
The four suspects are Salim Jamil Ayyash, Hassan Habib Merhi, Hussein Hassan Oneissi and Assad Hassan Sabra, all “secondary” perpetrators, accused of “conspiracy through a terrorist attack” and of helping to organize and prepare for the attacks, but none of them were present. the chain of command, and no one is accused of being the mentor.
Chief prosecutor Norman Farrell argues that the four suspects, who are tried in absentia for never appearing in court or before lawyers representing them ex officio, are linked to the Lebanese Shiite Islamist group Hezbollah and believe in their guilt. it is evident from the telephone recordings maintained by the Justice.
In May 2007, the UN Security Council created the TEL, promising to bear almost half the costs, while the rest of the budget will be contributed by different countries, including those in the European Union. It did not start operating until 2009 and only in 2014 the trial was officially started.
According to experts, it has cost about $ 1 billion so far, although it has none of the suspects behind bars and has not even allowed Hezbollah to recognize its competence.
According to the reconstruction of TEL, on the day of his murder, Hariri attended a meeting in the Lebanese Parliament at 11 am, an hour later, he approached a cafe in the area and, at 12:49 pm, got into one of the police cars. train in which he always traveled to undertake his journey along the coast of Beirut towards his official residence.
Three minutes later, a truck slowly walked to the Saint Georges hotel, while the train on which Hariri was traveling slowed and arrived. At that moment, the truck driver sacrificed himself by blowing up the explosives in the vehicle. The explosion produced a deep crater on the road’s surface, causing 22 deaths and 231 injuries.
Shortly after the explosion, Oneissi and Sabra called the offices of two international media outlets in Beirut to offer them a video that, they explained, was hidden in a tree in a square in the Lebanese capital.
The tape contained a video message, which was later broadcast on all televisions, in which a 22-year-old Palestinian young man, who presented himself as Ahmad Abu Adass, explained that he would carry out the suicide attack on behalf of a fundamentalist organization called “Victoria”. and Jihad in Greater Syria “, totally unknown.
After years of technical investigations, witnesses and evidence in written documents, prosecutors concluded that Mustafa Badredine (who died in 2016), a senior Hezbollah official, was the one who actually prepared the attack, while Ayyash, the fourth suspect, led the cell that carried out the attack.
SUNI AND CHIÍES BEFORE SYRIA
Hariri, one of Lebanon’s most influential Sunni leaders, opposed Syrian influence in the country, so his assassination led to mass protests on Lebanese streets and strong international pressure that led to the withdrawal of troops from Damascus after three decades of presence military.
Hezbollah never shared this view against Damascus, which ended up creating a scenario of prosirian and anti-Syrian sides that determined Lebanese politics for decades: Hariri’s assassination was added to that of former finance minister, Sunni Mohamed Chatah, in December 2013.
Tensions increased after the uprising against dictator Bashar al-Assad in Syria. While many Sunnis sided with the rebels, Hezbollah – considered a terrorist group by the United States, while the EU only calls the party’s military wing a terrorist – has sent its fighters to support Al Asad since the beginning of the conflict. in 2011.
The long history of attacks in Lebanon has also sparked rumors about the explosion in the port last Tuesday, although they seem to be discarded for now.
“Yes, the ammonium nitrate story makes sense: the amount seems to match the estimated size of the explosion. You would obviously need an investigation to be sure, but there seems to be nothing inconsistent in that theory, from what we have seen,” he said. Effect Nick Waters, researcher at Bellingcat.
The Lebanese will know the sentence, in principle, on the 18th, and will do it a few days after the new tragedy that devastated the capital, which adds to an already complicated 2020 for the Arab country, the protagonist of a social and political revolt since the last year, the collapse of the local currency due to hyperinflation and the coronavirus pandemic.