Judges at a United Nations-backed tribunal have rejected a request for acquittal by one of four suspects on trial in absentia for their alleged roles in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
In a lengthy decision issued on Wednesday at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, judges said the case against Hussein Hassan Oneissi will continue.
Lawyers representing Oneissi called for his acquittal after the presentation of the prosecution’s case, saying his trial should be halted because of insufficient evidence to convict him.
Judges disagreed saying the evidence was strong enough for the long-running trial to go forth against Oneissi and the three others, who are suspected members of the Lebanese group Hezbollah.
Hariri – father of current Prime Minister Saad Hariri – was killed along with 21 others on February 14, 2005, when a massive truck bomb blast hit his convoy in the capital Beirut. More than 200 people were wounded in the explosion.
Presiding Judge David Re said the attack was an “act of terrorism” intended to sow fear among the Lebanese people, and could only have been carried out by a sophisticated group, with intricate planning over a long period of time.
“The assassination of Mr Hariri was obviously a carefully planned and rehearsed event requiring … military precision,” said Re.
Judge Janet Nosworthy said evidence – including mobile phone records presented by prosecutors – showed Oneissi may have been involved in an elaborate attempt to blame the attack on a fictional “terrorist” group. It also could imply he knew the attack itself was being prepared.
“The trial chamber has sufficient evidence from which it could convict Mr Oneissi of his involvement in the attack on Mr Hariri,” she said.
Lawyers for the four, who remain at large and are being tried in absentia, must now present their defences in the months to come after Wednesday’s ruling. Prosecutors rested their case last month.
Lawyers for the other suspects – Salim Jamil Ayyash, Hassan Habib Merhi, and Assad Hassan Sabra – did not seek early acquittal.