BEIRUT: The prosecutor at the court investigating the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri struck a confident tone less than a week before the start of the historic terrorism trial, saying the evidence his team gathered presents a “compelling case” that will withstand the court’s scrutiny.
“If you overlay the actual events, the length of time, the fact that you have all the 50 days of surveillance for this very purpose, that over a period of time the former prime minister was basically followed every time he moved, the location of the surveillance, the sophistication of it, the patterns and the repetition of it, this is not coincidental,” Norman Farrell, the prosecutor at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, said in an interview with The Daily Star.
“These are not happenstance bystanders who happened to use the phone coincidentally at the wrong place and the wrong time to be implicated,” he added. “There is a clear, sophisticated and orchestrated activity and it’s quite compelling when you see the overall picture.”
The prosecutor, who has rarely spoken publicly on the case since assuming office, was referring to evidence gathered on five Hezbollah suspects accused of complicity in the Hariri attack, which includes large amounts of telecom data.
“Yes I’m confident in the case; I think it’s a very compelling case,” Farrell said.
In the interview, Farrell said the Lebanese authorities must intensify their efforts to arrest the suspects, that he would seek to issue indictments in other political assassinations connected to the Hariri attack, and discussed the value of conducting a trial in absentia.
The STL has indicted five members of Hezbollah in connection with the 2005 bombing that killed Hariri and 21 others.
The trial for four of the suspects, described in the indictment as “supporters of Hezbollah,” is due to begin Thursday.
Farrell said he was generally satisfied with the cooperation of the Lebanese authorities but stressed the need to arrest the five suspects.
“The one thing that we cannot lose sight of, now that the trial is starting, is that this is a trial that is starting without the five accused persons in court,” he said.
Trial in absentia “is really only second best,” he said.
But Farrell said that understanding the truth behind what happened on the day of the attack was important as well as holding those responsible for the attack accountable.
“We hope that the trial itself ... even regardless of the fact that it’s a trial in absentia, will be one small mechanism of accountability and a representation of the desire for the ending of impunity,” he said.
The significance of trial is “the very fact that there will be evidence brought forward, victims’ voices will be heard, at an international forum where it is being listened to not only by the people in Lebanon but by the rest of the world community,” he said.
A decision in absentia will still have a “moral impact,” said Farrell, who stressed that it was still possible the men might be arrested, given that it took many years to find and apprehend war criminals at the Yugoslavia war crimes tribunal.
Farrell also said he was keen to pursue indictments in the connected cases under his mandate.
In August 2011, the tribunal claimed jurisdiction over attacks against MP Marwan Hamade, former defense minister Elias al-Murr and Communist Party leader George Hawi. The tribunal can investigate political assassinations that took place between October 2004 and December 2005. Attacks that occurred outside this mandate need the approval of the United Nations and Lebanon.
Last year, the prosecutor created a team tasked exclusively with reviewing cases that he said “could be potentially related to the tribunal and to try and assess them in terms of what steps may be taken next.”
The team also handles the connected cases, which are political assassinations or attacks that may be linked to the Hariri assassination.
“Though we are focusing on the trial now ... we still within our office have our eye directed toward the investigations in relation to other cases,” Farrell said.
“In terms of the three connected cases, yes, that matters, they are ongoing, they are being further assessed and reviewed and investigated,” he said. “Yes, I will consider the prospect of further indictments if the evidence so warrants, and we are working in that direction.”
Farrell hinted that the assassination of Captain Wissam Eid, an ISF officer whose work was instrumental in the Hariri case and who was killed after assisting U.N. investigators, was of interest to the tribunal. But he also said that the case remained outside its purview for now.
“It is one of the cases that would fall within the general review,” he said, referring to the team looking into all cases that may be related to the court.
“The case is not within our jurisdiction and I don’t have the authority to actually investigate it,” he said. “I certainly can take note of it and look at it in terms of whether there’s something prima facie connected and will certainly take that into consideration and consider it seriously.”
“But I do have to respect the limits of the jurisdiction of the tribunal,” he added.
Farrell declined to elaborate on why he chose to include a reference to Hezbollah in the indictment, despite the court having to adhere to the principle of individual criminal responsibility, saying the “significance and value” of the affiliation of the suspects would emerge in due course in trial.
Farrell also hinted that he had looked into and discarded the possibility of Israeli involvement in the assassination, a claim made repeatedly by Hezbollah.
When asked if he probed the possibility of Israeli involvement, Farrell said he had conducted a complete review of the case upon his arrival at the STL, including assessing all theories of who may be involved in the Hariri assassination.
“We’re comfortable and confident with the position we’ve taken on the evidence,” he said.