Lebanon tribunal issues new murder charges against man accused of former PM’s assassination

This Jan. 16, 2014, file photo, shows an exterior view of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, in Leidschendam, Netherlands. (Reuters)
Updated 17 September 2019

Lebanon tribunal issues new murder charges against man accused of former PM’s assassination

  • Hezbollah suspect Salim Ayyash is one of four defendants accused of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005 and is on trial in absentia

BEIRUT: The Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) on Monday issued five new charges against Hezbollah cadre Salim Ayyash relating to the killings of three men including former secretary-general of the Lebanese Communist Party, George Hawi.

Pre-trial judge, Daniel Fransen, also sent out warrants for the arrest of court fugitive Ayyash to the Lebanese government and international police organizations.

Ayyash is one of four defendants accused of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005 and is on trial in absentia.

Fransen declassified an indictment against Ayyash, born in 1963, concerning attacks targeting Lebanese ministers Marwan Hamadeh (assassination attempt, 2004) and Elias Murr (assassination attempt, 2005), and Hawi (assassination, 2005).

The pre-trial judge’s move opens the way for a new case before the international tribunal which was set up to try the killers of Hariri and other connected terrorist crimes.

Ayyash has been charged with five counts of “conspiracy to commit terrorist acts” which include the intentional homicide with premeditation of Ghazi Abou-Karroum, Khaled Moura and Hawi, and the attempted intentional homicide with premeditation of Murr, Hamadeh and 17 other people.

According to the STL’s press office, the confirmation of the indictment means that “the pre-trial judge is satisfied, based on the supporting materials, that the prosecutor has established a prima facie case against Mr. Salim Jamil Ayyash and that there are grounds to initiate trial proceedings.

“This is not a verdict of guilt and Mr. Ayyash is presumed innocent unless his guilt is established beyond reasonable doubt at trial.”

The indictment and arrest warrant were transmitted to the Lebanese authorities, which “have the obligation to search for, arrest and transfer the accused to the STL’s custody.”

The STL said that Ayyash must now be formally notified of the charges against him. “If the accused cannot be found, the trial chamber may decide to try him in absentia.”

The press office said that following “reasonable attempts” to locate the accused and serve the indictment, the tribunal president could, after consulting the pre-trial judge, advertise the indictment in an effort to alert Ayyash of the need to appear before the tribunal and encourage anyone with information about his whereabouts to inform the tribunal.

It added: “If within 30 calendar days following such an advertisement, the accused is not under the tribunal’s authority, the pre-trial judge shall ask the trial chamber to initiate proceedings in absentia.”

In February, the STL concluded trials in absentia of four men accused of masterminding and executing the assassination of Hariri and is expected to rule on the defendants Assad Hassan Sabra (born 1976), Hussein Hassan Enissi (born 1974), Hassan Habib Merhi (born 1965), and Ayyash.

The STL overturned the prosecution of a fifth defendant, Mustafa Badreddine, who was killed in a mysterious operation in the Syrian capital Damascus in 2016.

The STL has more than 6 million papers and documents relating to the case.

Syrian and Russian troops sweep into Manbij as US withdraws

Updated 45 min 55 sec ago

Syrian and Russian troops sweep into Manbij as US withdraws

  • Standoff looms in northern Syrian town of Manbij as Turkish offensive continues
  • Trump's fresh sanctions fail to halt Turkish advance

MANBIJ, Syria: Turkey ignored US sanctions and pressed on with its assault on northern Syria on Tuesday, while the Russia-backed Syrian army roared into one of the most hotly contested cities abandoned by US forces in Donald Trump’s retreat.
Reuters journalists accompanied Syrian government forces who entered the center of the city of Manbij, a flashpoint where US troops had previously conducted joint patrols with Turkey.
Russian and Syrian flags were flying from a building on the city outskirts, and from a convoy of military vehicles.
US forces announced they had pulled out of the city.
A week after reversing US policy and moving troops out of the way to allow Turkey to attack Washington’s Syrian allies, Trump announced a package of sanctions to punish Ankara.
But the measures — mainly a hike in steel tariffs and a pause in trade talks — were less robust than financial markets had expected, and Trump’s critics derided them as too feeble to have an impact.
The Turkish lira, which had fallen on the expectation of tougher US measures, recovered after the sanctions were announced, as did its bond and stock markets, with traders noting that Trump had spared Turkish banks.
Trump’s unexpected decision to withhold protection from Syria’s Kurds after a phone call with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan a week ago swiftly upended five years of US policy in the Middle East.
The withdrawal gives a free hand to Washington’s adversaries in the world’s deadliest ongoing war, namely Syrian President Bashar Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies.
The United States announced on Sunday it was withdrawing its entire force of 1,000 troops from northern Syria. Its former Kurdish allies immediately forged a new alliance with Assad’s Russia-backed government, inviting the army into towns across the breadth of their territory.
Russian-backed Syrian forces moved swiftly to fill the void left by departing Americans from Manbij west of the Euphrates river, which Turkey has vowed to capture.
“We are out of Manbij,” said Col. Myles B Caggins, spokesman for the US-led coalition in Syria. Troops “are executing a deliberate withdrawal from northeast Syria.”
A group of journalists accompanied by Syrian army personnel journeyed into Manbij city where upon their arrival a group of people gathered, waving the Syrian flag and pictures of Assad.
However the reporters left when gunfire was heard and a group of some 10 young men in Kurdish YPG uniforms began breaking cameras and yelling.
Syrian state media said SDF fighters had opened fire on a march organized by the people of Manbij to welcome the army.
Trump’s pullout ends joint US-Turkish patrols of the Manbij area under a deal aimed to persuade Turkey not to invade.
Syrian state television broadcast footage of what it said was government troops entering Manbij on Tuesday, under their new deal with the Kurds. A resident inside the city told Reuters the Syrian troops were on its outskirts. Turkey-backed Syrian fighters said they would continue their advance toward Manbij.
A Reuters cameraman on the Turkish frontier reported heavy bombardment on Tuesday morning of the Syrian border town of Ras Al-Ain, where a spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces reported a fierce battle was taking place.
Trump has defended his reversal of US policy as part of a plan to withdraw the United States from “endless” wars in the Middle East.
But his critics, including senior figures in his own Republican Party, cast it as a betrayal of the Kurds, loyal allies who lost thousands of fighters as the principal ground forces in Washington’s battle against Daesh.
The Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, said Trump’s sanctions were too little, too late.
“His announcement of a package of sanctions against Turkey falls very short of reversing that humanitarian disaster.”
Turkey says it aims to defeat the Kurdish YPG militia, which it sees as terrorists for their links to separatists in Turkey, and to create a “safe zone” where millions of Syrian refugees can be resettled.
The United Nations says 160,000 people have fled their homes as Turkish forces advance. The Kurdish administration puts the number of displaced at 270,000.
The UN Human Rights office said on Tuesday Turkey could be held responsible for war crimes by fighters under its direction, potentially including the assassination of Hevrin Khalaf, a leading Kurdish politician killed on the side of a highway on Saturday by gunmen who posted the incident on the Internet.
Turkish-backed fighters have denied blame for her murder.
Erdogan, who has pledged to continue military operations come what may, said Turkey was giving the world a chance to bring peace to the region.
“The international community missed its opportunity to prevent the Syrian crisis from pulling an entire region into a maelstrom of instability,” he wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “The European Union — and the world — should support what Turkey is trying to do.”
The Syrian army deployments into Kurdish-held territory evacuated by Washington are a victory for President Bashar Assad and his most powerful ally, Russia, giving them a foothold in the biggest remaining swath of the country that had been beyond their grasp.
Trump allies insisted Washington had not given its blessing to the Turkish offensive, and demanded a cease-fire.
“The United States of America simply is not going to tolerate Turkey’s invasion in Syria any further,” Vice President Mike Pence said. “We are calling on Turkey to stand down, end the violence and come to the negotiating table.”
Trump’s sanctions include reimposing steel tariffs and halting talks on a trade deal. But bilateral trade between Turkey and the United States is small — around a tenth the size of Turkey’s trade with Europe. Washington’s most effective form of economic leverage would be to hinder Turkey’s access to US financial markets, a step Trump has so far avoided.
“The sanctions are not related to banking, so the markets will have a positive perception,” said Cem Tozge, asset management director at Ata Invest.
In a potentially more damaging blow, German carmaker Volkswagen said it was postponing a final decision on whether to build a 1 billion euro ($1.1 billion) plant in Turkey, citing concern over “current developments” after international condemnation of the incursion.
European countries have criticized the offensive but have limited their response so far to announcing suspensions of arms sales, although weapons account for only a small fraction of EU-Turkish trade.
Trump said US troops would remain at a small garrison at Tanf in southern Syria “to continue to disrupt remnants” of Daesh. The base on the southern border is hundreds of miles away from the Kurdish area in the north that had previously been the main US theater.