BEIRUT: Four members of Hezbollah, including a senior military commander, were accused Thursday of the 2005 assassination of former statesman Rafik Hariri, as the U.N.-backed court probing the crime issued its first indictment to authorities in Beirut.
State Prosecutor Saeed Mirza confirmed that he had received a sealed indictment from the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. A judicial source told The Daily Star that the indictment identified four suspects as Mustafa Badreddine, Salim al-Ayyash, Hasan Oneissy and Asad Sabra.
Badreddine, Hezbollah’s military commander, was accused of masterminding the plot to kill Hariri. Ayyash, another senior party official, was accused of carrying out the attack, the source added.
“I will now examine the indictment and the warrants to take the appropriate measures,” Mirza said after meeting with three STL officials in Beirut.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged “all states” to cooperate with the international tribunal.
Washington welcomed the indictment and urged the government in Beirut to act on it.
Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who entered politics following his father’s assassination, called the release of the indictment an “historic moment.”
“This progress in the course of justice and the Special Tribunal is for all the Lebanese without any exception, and it should be a turning point in the history of fighting organized political crime in Lebanon and the Arab world,” he said in a statement.
Hariri also appealed to political parties to continue Lebanon’s commitment to the tribunal.
“Responsibility requires that everyone … refrain from disturbing the course of justice, and to find in the announcement of the indictment an opportunity for the Lebanese state to assume its responsibilities, as well as the Lebanese government’s commitment to cooperate fully with the international tribunal and not to evade pursuing the accused and handing them over to justice, which is a guarantee of democracy and stability,” Hariri said.
“The Lebanese government is invited politically, nationally, legally and morally, to implement Lebanon’s obligations toward the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, and nobody has an excuse to escape from this responsibility.”
The international court said it would not comment on the contents of the indictment and stressed that names appearing in it should be considered innocent until proven otherwise.
“The confirmation of the indictment means that [STL Pre-Trial] Judge Daniel Fransen is satisfied that there is prima facie evidence for this case to proceed to trial,” an STL statement said. “This is not a verdict of guilt and any accused person is presumed innocent unless his or her guilt is established at trial.
“At this time, the STL has no comment on the identity or identities of the person or persons named in the indictment,” the court added.
“Indeed, Judge Fransen has ruled that the indictment shall remain confidential in order to assist the Lebanese authorities in fulfilling their obligations to arrest the accused.”
Hezbollah declined to comment on the indictment, although its television channel Al-Manar reported that the indictment’s content proved the court “is politicized.”
There have been increased fears in Beirut of sectarian conflict over the court in recent weeks, with several of those opposed to the STL warning that civil strife could follow the indictment.
Cabinet, which finally completed its policy statement following the indictment’s release, stopped short of reiterating the country’s commitment to the STL, which Lebanon signed with the U.N. in 2007.
The statement, the text of which was not officially released before being submitted to Parliament, stressed Lebanon’s respect of U.N. resolutions and pledged to follow the tribunal’s path in order to reach the truth about Hariri’s assassination, according to Mikati.
While Lebanon is obligated under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1757 to uphold cooperation with the court, the reported intent of the STL to arrest senior Hezbollah members has raised questions over the March 8 government’s willingness to continue supporting the tribunal.
The court said that Lebanon was legally obliged to see through its commitment. “U.N. Security Council Resolution 1757 and the provisions of its annexes are clear on the steps that must be taken by the Lebanese authorities,” its statement said. “These include the service of the indictment on the accused person or persons, their arrest and detention, as well as their transfer to the STL.
“Under the STL’s Rules of Procedures and Evidence, the Lebanese authorities have to report to the STL on the measures that they have taken to arrest the accused, at least within 30 days of the transmission of the indictment,” the court added.
Five-time Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was killed when a massive car bomb struck his motorcade as it sped through Downtown Beirut on Feb. 14, 2005. Twenty-two others were killed in the attack, which prompted mass demonstrations leading to the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon after three decades of military tutelage.
The immediate aftermath of the attack saw a slew of accusations leveled against Damascus, which has consistently denied involvement. The STL issues indictments to all states in which it is believed suspects are living.
A source told The Daily Star that the STL delegation would soon head to Damascus “on a similar mission” to that which saw Mirza in possession of arrest warrants Thursday.
In a media advisory following the indictment release, the Special Tribunal said that arrest warrants “may also be sent to relevant international authorities including INTERPOL.”