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Middle East
Hezbollah: Hariri case lacks evidence
Hezbollah leader dismisses UN tribunal indictment as "pure speculation" and chides it for relying only on phone records.
Last Modified: 17 Aug 2011 20:53

The leader of Hezbollah has said that an indictment accusing four members of the Shia group of taking part in the murder of former Lebanese prime minister, Rafiq al-Hariri, contained "no direct evidence" against them.

Hassan Nasrallah was responding to the publication earlier on Wednesday of an indictment, which linked the four Hezbollah members to the attack largely through circumstantial evidence gleaned from telephone records in the months leading up to Hariri's February 2005 assassination.

Sealed arrest warrants for the men were issued in June by the UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), setting the stage for the case to go to trial, but none of the four has been detained by Lebanese authorities and Hezbollah said they will never be arrested.

Nasrallah accused the tribunal of being unscientific, saying: "When you read the text released by the tribunal, you will not find any substantial evidence, not a single piece of direct evidence is included."

"The only thing the tribunal relies on in is the mobile phone records, and even that is circumstantial. It doesn't even prove that any of these alleged suspects made any of these calls or even owned these phones.

"All of this is pure speculation. That's why the text is littered with sentences like 'it is possible to deduce, or it is likely that this or that' ... What kind of ridiculous evidence is this?" he asked.

Telephone networks

The suspects are Mustafa Amine Badreddine, a senior Hezbollah figure and brother-in-law of assassinated Hezbollah commander Imad Moughniyeh, as well as Salim Jamil Ayyash, Hussein Hassan Oneissi and Assad Hassan Sabra.

Read the documents
  Order to lift confidentiality
  Decision confirming indictment
  The Indictment
  Warrants of Arrest
  Salim Jamil Ayyash
  Mustafa Amine Badreddine
  Hussein Hassan Oneissi
  Assad Hassan Sabra

The indictment said Badreddine served as overall commander of the operation while Ayyash coordinated the assassination team. Oneissi and Sabra were part of the conspiracy and prepared a false claim of responsibility, it said.

The indictment identified five networks of telephones used in the buildup to Hariri's killing, and set out a detailed account of the days and hours leading to the detonation of 2.5 tonnes of explosives by a suicide bomber in a Mitsubishi van, which struck Hariri's convoy as it drove along the Beirut seafront.

The "red network", used by members of the assassination team, was "operational from 4 January 2005, until it ceased all activity two minutes before the attack on 14 February 2005", the indictment said.

The location of those phones and of another "blue network" showed surveillance of Hariri at least 15 days before he was killed. The last 33 calls made from the phones were mostly in areas where Hariri was in the two hours leading up to his death.

A little over an hour after the explosion, Oneissi and Sabra made calls to Reuters news agency and Al Jazeera claiming responsibility in the name of a fictional group, "Victory and Jihad in Greater Syria".

However, Nasrallah cast doubt on any case relying on telephone calls, saying Israel had successfully penetrated Lebanon's telecoms network in the past and could falsify data to implicate his group.

"Either way, during the past year, and through official agencies and international conferences, using communications specialists and through interrogating those who spied for Israel, we have proven beyond a doubt the huge extent to which Israel has infiltrated the communication network in Lebanon," he said.

Scott Heidler, Al Jazeera's correspondent in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, said that the evidence gathered by the tribunal was criticised by many analysts for being circumstantial.

'No new evidence'

Naim Salem, a professor of international affairs and diplomacy at Notre Dame University in Beirut, told Al Jazeera that people would be disappointed that the indictment did not bring much new evidence to the fore.

"We were expecting the indictment to bring some new data that had not been heard or seen before but 90 per cent of what's been said today was published before," he said.

"It is a shortcoming that will not convince many Lebanese and Arabs [of the tribunal's legitimacy]. The problem is that it's mostly circumstantial [evidence] and we know that Israel and others have the capability to duplicate mobile phone cards."

The STL, which was established by the United Nations in 2007 to investigate the killing, has had a polarising effect on Lebanese domestic politics, dividing the country into two distinct camps; those who believe the STL is pushing forward a political agenda to bring down Hezbollah, and those who believe that the court is the only institution that will be able to objectively rule on the killing.

Hezbollah and its cabinet allies have dominated Lebanon's coalition government since members of a coalition led by Saad Hariri, Rafiq al-Hariri's son, quit amid controversy over the STL investigation.

Hezbollah has denied any involvement in the assassination, saying that the investigation leading up to the indictments had been politically motivated and ignored the possibility of investigating other suspects.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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