BEIRUT: The names and phone numbers of potentially hundreds of Lebanese students at a local university will be handed over to defense lawyers at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon as part of their investigation into the killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
The details of the students were requested as part of the investigation into a key witness who will testify against Hussein Oneissi, one of five suspects in the case and a member of Hezbollah.
Oneissi allegedly helped recruit Ahmad Abu Adass, a man who appeared in what prosecutors say was a false claim of responsibility for the Hariri attack.
Although the college in question was not named, Oneissi first met Abu Adass at Beirut Arab University’s mosque, according to public court documents.
In a decision published on the STL website, the court’s trial chamber ordered the handover to the defense of the names and phone numbers of students who attended an unidentified Lebanese university between 2004 and 2005.
The details of students in 2006 who were in contact by phone with the key witness are also to be disclosed to the defense as part of the probe.
Defense counsel argued they need the data to investigate the witness and prepare for his cross-examination.
“The trial chamber is satisfied that defense counsel could find investigative leads from contacting students who attended the university at the same time as the witness, and especially those who were in his faculty and, presumably attended classes with him,” the judges said in the order.
The STL is tasked with investigating the 2005 Valentine’s Day bombing that killed Hariri and 21 other victims and plunged Lebanon into years of political turmoil.
Five members of Hezbollah are wanted by the Hague-based court, which began their trial in absentia on Jan. 16.
The Abu Adass saga is a key point of contention in the Hariri trial. Prosecutors say he met Oneissi when the latter posed as a recent convert to Islam who wanted to learn how to pray, and was duped and abducted by members of the assassination team.
He was then allegedly forced to record a video claiming responsibility for the bombing on behalf of a fictitious fundamentalist group called Nusra and Jihad in Greater Syria.
Defense lawyers, on the other hand, have said that they are investigating the possibility that members of Al-Qaeda could be responsible for the attack.
The order to disclose the student details offers a glimpse into the sheer volume of call data records and details on Lebanese citizens that has been gathered in the course of the Hariri investigation.
For example, the prosecution already has a list of students who attended the unnamed university between 2004 and 2010, a list that includes their contact details.
Defense lawyers, who pledged to uphold codes of professional conduct on data privacy, already have access to all call data and SMS records of the telephone belonging to the witness.
They also have a much more wide-ranging set of call data records all the way to 2010, likely spanning a large percentage of the population.