BEIRUT: A police official with the explosives division described Jamea Jamea, Syria’s former strongman in Lebanon, as a “ruler” with whom he had to maintain good relations, in the first allusion during the Special Tribunal for Lebanon trial to Syria’s dominance at the time of the Hariri assassination.
The ISF official was in charge of a team of explosives experts and was required to inform the top Syrian general of developments related to the Feb. 14, 2005, attack that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others.
The official, whose identity was concealed for protection and who spoke via video link from Beirut, also said pieces of a Mitsubishi van that the prosecution alleges was used to assassinate Hariri were found as far away as the seabed of the waterfront near the St. Georges Hotel. This suggests that it was at the center of the massive explosion.
General Jamea was killed in October last year during combat with rebels in Syria. Some suspect him of complicity in the assassinations of Hariri as well as former President-elect Rene Mouawad in 1989.
“Yes, I contacted him multiple times, given that he was the ruler, and I’m not ashamed about that,” the official said when asked if he had been in contact with the notorious general following the Hariri assassination. He said all the calls were about developments related to the attack, but did not elaborate.
The official said he had been introduced to Jamea by colleagues and that it was important to maintain the right connections to guarantee his safety and that of his family. It was unclear what the purpose of highlighting Jamea’s role was for the defense.
The Syrian military and intelligence apparatus had pervasive control over Lebanon in the years leading up to Hariri’s killing. Initial reports by the U.N. investigation into the attack pointed to both Syrian and Lebanese complicity in the bombing, suggesting that it could not have happened without their foreknowledge.
The contact with Jamea came up during a cross-examination by defense lawyers for Hussein Oneissi, one of four members of Hezbollah that are standing trial in absentia at the STL in connection with the Hariri attack.
One of Oneissi’s defense lawyers, Yasser Hasan, suggested at the start of trial that potential defense witnesses including Jamea, former Syria security chief Assef Shawkat and former ISF intelligence head Wissam al-Hasan had been systematically assassinated ahead of trial.
The witness was a manager in charge of a team of ISF explosives experts tasked with crime scene investigations and worked at the scene of the Hariri assassination.
He described efforts to collect the fragments of the van found in and around the crime scene, including on the seabed near the St. Georges in March 2005 as well as inside nearby buildings.
The prosecution showed maps detailing the location of fragments of the van. The fact that they were scattered so far may suggest that the vehicle was at the center of the explosion.
The ISF confirmed that the van was a Mitsubishi after consulting with the dealership, the witness said.
The prosecution holds that the alleged Canter van was loaded with 2 tons of explosives, the massive detonation of which smashed through Hariri’s motorcade.
Defense lawyers maintain, however, that the attack was likely an underground explosion.