BEIRUT: Judges at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon ordered Friday that a fifth Hezbollah suspect accused of taking part in the Hariri assassination be tried in absentia.
The decision may pave the way to join his case with that of four other suspects who belong to the party and whose trial is scheduled to begin next month.
“The Trial Chamber has concluded that Mr. [Hassan] Merhi has absconded or otherwise cannot be found and all reasonable steps have been taken to secure his appearance before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and to inform him of the charges by the pretrial judge,” the decision said.
The STL is tasked with investigating the 2005 Valentine’s Day bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others and ushered in a wave of political assassinations.
Hassan Habib Merhi is accused of helping orchestrate a false claim of responsibility for the Hariri attack and being one of the leaders of the assassination team.
Five Hezbollah members have been indicted in connection with the attack. Mustafa Badreddine, Salim Ayyash, Hussein Oneissi and Assad Sabra were all indicted in 2011. Merhi was indicted in July this year.
The STL can try the men accused of carrying out the assassination in their absence because its rules are a mixture of international and Lebanese law. The trial chamber can choose such a measure as a last resort, if all efforts to reach out to the suspect have been exhausted.
This case will be the first international trial held in absentia since the Nuremberg tribunal that prosecuted Nazi war criminals.
The court said in a statement that the judges relied on reports from the Lebanese authorities detailing their efforts to arrest Merhi and inform him of the charges. They also relied on the court’s efforts to publicize the indictment and its widespread coverage in the Lebanese media.