Syrian regime, Hezbollah main players in Hariri’s assassination: Prosecution

The trial of four Hezbollah suspects in the assassination of Lebanese ex-prime minister Rafiq Hariri, killed in 2005, enters the final stretch on September 11, 2018. (File/AFP)
Updated 12 September 2018
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Syrian regime, Hezbollah main players in Hariri’s assassination: Prosecution

  • Thirteen years after billionaire Hariri was killed by a huge suicide bomb in Beirut, the court in a suburb of The Hague will hear closing prosecution and defense arguments in the long-running case
  • Hezbollah has refused to turn over the four indicted men — Salim Ayyash, Hussein Oneissi, Assad Sabra and Hassan Habib Merhi — for the trial which began in January 2014

The people of Lebanon watched the live broadcast on Tuesday of the beginning of the third phase of the special UN tribunal into the 2005 assassination of Lebanese former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, held in The Hague.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri attended the trial, alongside relatives of the victims of the bombing that killed his father, minister Bassel Fliehan and 21 others.

The tribunal’s first-tier chamber in Leidschendam saw the unfolding of the last chance for the prosecution, the suspects’ defense team, and the affected families’ attorneys to submit their arguments. This process is expected to last between 10 days and two weeks. 

Spokesperson of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), Wajed Ramadan, told Arab News that this phase might even continue for 21 days.

She said: “The prosecutor expects the prosecution to take two to three days to present its argument as it will seek to prove the strength of the evidence submitted against the four suspects, Salim Jamil Ayyash, Hassan Habib Merhi, Hussein Hassan Anisi and Assad Hassan Sabra, and that it is beyond a reasonable doubt.

“On the other hand, the defense attorneys appointed by STL’s defense office will recall in their arguments their claims that call into question the evidence presented by the prosecutor’s office during the trial’s previous years, especially the telecommunications data on which the indictment was based, and each of the suspects’ attorneys will be given one day to present their arguments.

“The affected families’ attorneys will present the extent of the harm they suffered as a result of the crime and will be allowed two and a half hours to present their cases.”

Ramadan added: “During the hearings, the prosecutor is given the opportunity to respond to the arguments, and the prosecution as well as the attorneys of the affected families and the suspects will be given the opportunity to respond to the prosecutor.

“At the end of these hearings, the tribunal’s judges will be isolated for consideration, and this may continue until after the end of this year because they have to review thousands of pages of documents before issuing their verdict.” 

The tribunal canceled the trial of the Hezbollah military leader, Mustafa Badreddine, who was among the five people accused in the indictments, after he was killed in Syria. His name, however, continues to be repeated during the trial’s proceedings and in some of the testimonies as one of those who planned the stalking of Hariri and then carried out the assassination.

The prosecution team said that Badreddine was a senior official in Hezbollah, with military experience that qualified him to lead Hezbollah’s forces in Syria and manifested in the way he carried out the assassination of Hariri, pointing out that “Badreddine is the mastermind behind the assassination.”

The prosecution also highlighted that “Salim Ayyash led a six-person assassination unit targeting Rafik Hariri” and that “the evidence condemning the suspects is stark.” It has argued that “the Syrian regime is at the heart of the plot to assassinate Rafik Hariri,” pointing out that the “green network” (the telecommunications network) that led the assassination, is affiliated with Hezbollah. The prosecution stressed that “the evidence condemning the suspects accused of assassinating Rafik Hariri is stark,” emphasizing that the explosives used were “intended for military use.”

The prosecutor said: “The evidence proved convincing, strong and objective through the phone calls and their amount. In addition to that, the suspects’ phones stopped operating at the same time, which shows that they planned to carry out the crime.”

The attorney of the affected families said: “The assassination took place in an atmosphere characterized by a refusal of Syrian presence in Lebanon.”

Later, Saad Hariri described the first hearing as a difficult day for him, as the son of Rafik Hariri, and a difficult day for Lebanon.

He said: “Rafik Hariri and all the martyrs of March 14 have given their lives to protect Lebanon and not for its destruction. We have, therefore, demanded from the beginning justice and the truth, which we believe protect Lebanon. We never resorted to revenge because Rafik Hariri was never a man who would seek revenge but a man of justice, and we are following in his footsteps.”

Hariri added: “With time, people become calmer, and when they see the facts, they think more calmly. For me, the most important thing is Lebanon, and as the martyred prime minister always said, no one is greater than this country, and this is our real policy.”

He hoped that those who committed the crime would pay for it sooner or later and said: “We want to protect Lebanon.”

When asked about the prosecution’s claim that Hezbollah or one of its leaders had made the decision to assassinate his father, Hariri replied: “I do not know what the final decision will be. Let’s wait. At the end, we live together in the same country and want to live together for the benefit of this country. A man in my position today must put his emotions aside.”

Ramadan explained that the five judges would need so much time to consider the evidence before coming to a verdict because they have to review 3,128 pages of evidence submitted by the three legal teams, including details of the communications networks used by the suspects, in addition to the testimony of 307 witnesses summoned by the prosecution, the defense and the affected families’ attorneys.

She said: “The court is due to move to its fourth phase, which is intended for pronouncing verdict in a public session, followed by another public session in which the sentence is determined for every suspect if found guilty.”

“After that there is a 30-day time limit for the defense team to appeal to the second-tier chamber without passing the pre-trial judge. Meanwhile, the tribunal asks the Lebanese authorities to extradite the people it considers guilty of involvement in the crime, and this is the fifth phase.”

Ramadan highlighted that during every phase of the trial, the Lebanese state was obliged to search for the four suspects and hand them over to the tribunal.

“Every month, the Lebanese authorities sent a report to STL’s president of its ongoing efforts in searching for the suspects,” she said.

 

 


Iraq’s Shiite rivals agree on prime minister

Updated 18 September 2018
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Iraq’s Shiite rivals agree on prime minister

  • Veteran Shiite politician Adel Abdul Mahdi informally nominated to replace Haider Al-Abadi
  • Decision reached after extensive negotiations between pro and anti-Iran factions

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s rival Shiite blocs in parliament have agreed on who they want as the next prime minister after making progress in negotiations towards forming a government, negotiators told Arab News.

The two factions, one pro Iran and the other anti, have agreed to work together as a coalition, negotiators told Arab News on Tuesday.

The veteran Shiite politician and former vice president Adel Abdul Mahdi was informally nominated to replace Haider Al-Abadi, negotiators said. 

He will be assigned on Sept. 25 to form a government if his nomination is approved by the Kurdish blocs. 

Before the appointment of prime minister, the president has to be selected. There is no indication that the Kurds, who get the post according to the Iraq’s power sharing agreement, have decided on who to nominate. 

Iraq’s parliament has been split between the Reform alliance and Al-Binna’a alliance after elections in May.

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READ MORE: Iraq parliament elects Sunni lawmaker Al-Halbousi as speaker, breaking deadlock

Rival Iraqi factions make coalition deal and end Al-Abadi’s prime minister hopes

Rival Shiite factions trade blame for who drove the burning of buildings in Basra

Iran accused of hijacking Basra protests after a week of violence that shook Iraq

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Reform is controlled by Muqtada Al-Sadr, one of the country’s most influential Shiite clerics who opposes Iranian influence in the country.

Iran-backed Al-Binna’a is led by Hadi Al-Amiri, the head of Badr organization, the most prominent Shiite armed faction.

At the first parliamentary session earlier this month, both coalitions claimed they have the most number of seats which would give them the right to form a government.

Within hours, violent demonstrations erupted in Basra, Iraq’s main oil hub, killing 15 demonstrators and injuring scores of people. The Iranian consulate was set on fire along with dozens of government and party buildings.

The violence on the street reflected the stand-off in parliament and threatened to erupt into fighting between the armed wings associated with the different Shiite groups.

The agreement between the two blocs was the only way to end the violence and prevent a slide into intra-Shiite  fighting, senior leaders involved in the talks said.

Several meetings between Al-Sadr and Al-Amiri were held in Al-Sadr’s residency in the holy city of Najaf last week to defuse the crisis.

Both parties’ desire for a truce seemed clear on Saturday at a parliament session to elect the speaker and his deputies. The two blocks showed their influence without colliding with each other. Al-Binna’a presented its candidate for the speaker post and stepped down after winning to make way for the Reform bloc to present its candidate for the post of first deputy of the speaker without competition.

The negotiations teams continued their meetings over the following days to agree on the details of the government program and select the nominee for the prime minister among the dozens of candidates presented by the forces belonging to the two alliances.

The first results of talks between the two blocs came out on Tuesday when Al-Amiri withdrew from the race “to open doors for more talks,” and avoid  conflict between the alliances.

“We will not talk on behalf of Al-Binna’a or the Reform. We both will agree on a candidate. Compatibility is our only choice,” Al-Amiri, said at a press conference in Baghdad.

“Today, Iraq needs to be saved, as we saved it from Daesh, so we have only two options, either we choose to impose the wills and twist each others arms or choose the understanding between us.”

 Iraq has been a battleground for regional and international powers, especially Iran and the United States, since 2003 US-led invasion. 

Brett McGurk, the US envoy to Iraq and Syria, and General Qassim Soleimani, commander of Iran's Al Quds Force, are deeply involved in the negotiations. 

The candidate for prime minister should also enjoy the blessing of the religious powers in Najaf, represented by Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, the Shiite spiritual leader and most revered figure in Iraq, negotiators said.

“The situation is complicated as there are three different sides that enjoy the right to use veto. They are Iran, US and Najaf,” a key negotiator of Al-Sadr’s negotiation team told Arab News.

“One ‘no’ is enough to exclude any candidate. Not only that, Sadr and Amiri also have their conditions and we still have difficulty reconciling all of them.”

The marathon negotiations, which run every day until late at night, finally reached a shortlist for prime minister.

The three names reached were Adel Abdul Mahdi, a former leader of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, Falih Al-Fayadh, the former national security adviser, and Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, the head of the intelligence service.

Adel Abdul Mahdi was the chosen one, three negotiators from different sides told Arab News.

“We have agreed to nominate Adel Abdul Mahdi as he is the only one who was approved by the three sides (Iran, the US and Najaf),” an Al-Sadr negotiator told Arab News.