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Lebanon Tribunal releases previously secret details in Hariri killing

by Richard Allen Greene

Former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was killed in a February 2005 Beirut bombing.

(CNN) — The special court trying to bring the killers of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri to justice published Wednesday previously secret details of the case against four men it has charged.

Prosecutors assert that the ringleader of the group had earlier been sentenced to death in Kuwait over the 1983 bombings of the U.S. and French embassies there.

The suspect, Mustafa Amine Badreddine, escaped from prison in 1990 when Saddam Hussein’s forces invaded Kuwait, the tribunal says in the indictment.

He and three other men were indicted by the United Nations-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon in June, and their identities and the charges against them were made public last month. But they remain at-large.

The tribunal says it asked Lebanese authorities on June 30 to arrest Badreddine, Salim Jamil Ayyash, Hussein Hassan Oneissi and Assad Hassan Sabra.

As of August 9, there had been no progress, the court said Wednesday.

The four are accused of involvement in the bombing that ripped apart Hariri’s armored car in Beirut on February 14, 2005. It destroyed his motorcade, killing him and 21 others, and injuring 231 people.

Badreddine was the ringleader, prosecutors charge. Ayyash was the head of what they call the “assassination team,” and Oneissi and Sabra were involved in planting a false claim of responsibility in the media, prosecutors say.

They add that all four are supporters of Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militant group, and that Badreddine and Ayyash are related to one of its founders.

In a speech, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said the indictment contained “no direct evidence” against the men. “The text (of the indictment) is based on circumstantial evidence whose credibility is contested,” he said. “This makes us more convinced that what is happening is highly unjust and politicized, and this is unfair to the suspects.”

Investigators pieced together a timeline of the assassination plot dating back at least as far as November 11, 2004, based on cell phone data.

They identified five networks of cell phones, including one they claim was used by the assassination team. Prosecutors label that the “Red Network.”

A “Green Network” was used by leaders of the operation, with the last call between phones in that group made about an hour before the blast. Prosecutors assume that that 14-second last call was final authorization for the attack to go ahead.

The last call on the Red Network was made about five minutes before the explosion, prosecutors allege.

Cell phone data suggests that Hariri had been under surveillance for at least 15 days before he was killed. It also places Ayyash in the location where the vehicle used in the bombing was bought, the indictment says.

Prosecutors concede in the indictment that the charges are based heavily on circumstantial evidence, but they argue that such information “can be stronger than direct evidence” because it does not rely on things like potentially faulty witness accounts.

Hariri’s supporters say the businessman-turned-politician was killed because of his opposition to Syria’s long-time military presence in his country, and his death led to popular protests, nicknamed the “Cedar Revolution,” that led Damascus to withdraw its troops.

Syria has denied accusations that it was behind the bombing.

The special tribunal’s prosecutor welcomed the publishing of previously confidential parts of the indictment.

Unsealing the indictment “answers many questions about the 14 February 2005 attack,” Daniel Bellemare said in a statement. “The full story will however only unfold in the courtroom, where an open, public, fair and transparent trial will render a final verdict.”

Judge Antonio Cassese, the president of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, last week publicly urged the suspects to cooperate.

He said in an open letter to the four men that they will be treated fairly if they appear before the court or participate in the trial proceedings without being present.

Cassese issued the statement after Lebanese authorities told him they had been unable to serve the accused warrants and arrest them.

In Washington, the State Department lauded the process. “This process is a means of ending the era of impunity for the terrible and tragic violence that has touched all of Lebanon’s communities,” the department said in a statement.

CNN’s Nada Husseini contributed to this report.

(Source: CNN)

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