BEIRUT: Beirut-based reporter Nicholas Blanford said Monday he would assist the U.N.-backed court probing the assassination of statesman Rafik Hariri if asked regarding a controversial interview with one of the suspects in the crime.
“I have no problem in going to the [Special] Tribunal [for Lebanon],” Blanford told reporters when asked if he would respond to a request from the court.
Blanford, who is the Lebanon correspondent for American TIME magazine, made his comments after meeting State Prosecutor Saeed Mirza at the Justice Palace in Beirut.
In an interview published Thursday on TIME’s website, a man claiming to be one of the four suspects wanted in the assassination of Hariri said he was wrongfully accused of the crime and that Lebanese authorities had knowledge of his whereabouts but could not apprehend him.
The interview has sparked controversy and sharp accusations from the opposition that authorities are failing to apprehend the four suspects given the unwillingness of Hezbollah, which has a strong presence in Cabinet through its allies, to cooperate with the STL.
Hezbollah denies its officials took part in an interview with TIME magazine.
“No senior Hezbollah sources met with the TIME reporter, individually or in the presence of someone else. Consequently, the said report is not valid at all and the alleged interview did not take place,” a Hezbollah statement said Saturday.
Blanford, who arrived at the Justice Palace earlier in the day with his attorney, Hussein Qazan, reiterated that that he had not conducted the interview with the suspect, stressing that his contribution was the first paragraph of the story, which was taken from an article he was writing for the magazine.
Blanford told The Daily Star Sunday that he was automatically suspected of having conducted the interview given his extensive reporting in the country.
“I know everyone jumped to the conclusion that I conducted the interview strictly because I have been here for a long time and I have good relations with Hezbollah but it wasn’t me,” Blanford said.
While Hezbollah insists the interview never took place, TIME magazine stands by its story.
Howard Chua-Eoan, TIME magazine’s editor-in-chief, defended the interview Saturday against Hezbollah’s allegations in an email sent to Future News TV and said it stood by the story.
The STL is one of the main divisive issues between Lebanon’s major political factions, with the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance asking the government to end its cooperation and funding of the STL, and the March 14 coalition describing the court as the only means to achieve justice.
In one of the first reactions to the article, Hariri’s son, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, accused the government of failing to apprehend the wanted individuals and slammed Prime Minister Mikati’s government as “two-faced and two-tongued,” and as having succumbed to the will of Hezbollah.
Last month, the STL indicted four Hezbollah members of being involved in the assassination and gave the Lebanese government 30 working days to apprehend the suspects, which Lebanon failed to do.
Hezbollah denies involvement in Rafik Hariri’s killing and has vowed not to cooperate with The Hague-based court which it describes as part of a conspiracy by the U.S. and Israel to target the resistance group.
The STL refused Sunday to comment on the interview when contacted by The Daily Star. – Additional reporting by Rima S. Aboulmona.