UN tribunal urged to overturn acquittal of Hariri murder suspects

Prosecutors at the UN-backed court challenge the acquittals of suspects in the murder of ex-Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri.

Rafik Hariri
Prosecutors said judges at the tribunal had failed to consider circumstantial evidence against the suspects [File: Wael Hamzeh/EPA]

Prosecutors at a UN-backed court are seeking to overturn the acquittal of two men for the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, claiming there had been “fundamental errors” in the judgement.

Prosecutors claimed on Monday that judges at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon based in the Dutch city of the Hague had failed to consider circumstantial evidence based almost entirely on mobile phone records when they cleared last year two suspected Hezbollah members, Hussein Oneissi and Hassan Habib Merhi.

“It is this incorrect approach to assessing the evidence which infects the judgement as a whole and is fundamental in understanding how, in the prosecution’s submission, the judgement went wrong,” prosecutor Norman Farrell said.

The hearing was scheduled to last five days. A judgement will follow later.

The Hague-based court in August 2020 had convicted a former member of the Shia movement Hezbollah, Salim Jamil Ayyash, for the bombing that killed veteran Sunni Muslim politician Hariri and 21 others in Beirut on February 14, 2005.

Ayyash used a mobile phone identified by prosecutors as critical in the attack, Judge Janet Nosworthy ruled in August 2020.

Nosworthy said four different networks of mobile phones “were interconnected and coordinated with each other, and operated as covert networks at the relevant times”.

However, the court concluded that insufficient evidence had been provided to prove that the three other defendants – Oneissi, Merhi, and a fourth man, Assad Sabra, were accomplices. Prosecutors are only seeking to overturn the acquittals of the first two.

All suspects were tried in absentia and remain at large. Ayyash is a fugitive and has yet to be brought to justice.

Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the head of the Shia Hezbollah movement, refused to hand over any of the suspects or to recognise the UN-backed court. The group was not formally charged and it denied any involvement.

The Lebanon tribunal was created by a 2007 UN Security Council resolution and it is funded by voluntary contributions and by the Lebanese government.

The court said in June it was at risk of closing due to funding problems. It has since secured enough funding to see the appeal through, but is expected to wrap up soon after.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies