THE HAGUE: The prosecution of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which opened its trial Thursday for the 2005 assassination of former PM Rafik Hariri, offered a distressing account of the deadly attack as some of the victims present in the court wept at the horrifying footage.
The lead lawyer of the bombing victims, Peter Haynes, described the opening of the trial as a “huge day" for those who suffered as a result of the assassination.
“The mood last night as people arrived was they didn't think they'd ever see this day,” Haynes told The Daily Star during a trial break.
“One person in particular said if this was the last thing I saw, I'd be happy. So there's a great sense of relief and rejoicing.”
“It is difficult if you see an image, a completely decimated car and you know your husband was driving it, it takes you in a place that you're not psychologically comfortable with,” he said.
In his opening statements, Prosecutor Norman Farrell described the assassination as an “attack [that] captured the attention of the world,” saying the people of Lebanon had the right to seek the truth.
The prosecutor, standing behind a model of Downtown Beirut where the explosion took place, opened the trial with emotional images of the devastation in Downtown Beirut following the attack including images of the remains of Hariri's convoy.
“It is not that the perpetrators simply did not care about killing their fellow citizens,” Farrell said. “They intended to do so.”
The attack was carried out in a street full of people, the prosecutor said, and the victims were “a student, hotel worker, cousin, father, a brother, a daughter, [and] friends.”
Voicing confidence that the evidence would prove the guilt of the suspects beyond reasonable doubt, Farrell said the assassination was aimed at sending “a terrifying message and to cause panic among the population of Beirut and Lebanon.”
He said the telecommunications evidence shows a complex and sophisticated surveillance plan of the former prime minister, which was not “innocent” or coincidental. He added that the suspects took steps to conceal their identities and to create a false trail to mislead investigators.
The court indicted in 2011 four members of Hezbollah - Mustafa Badreddine, Salim Ayyash, Assad Sabra and Hussein Oneissi – for involvement in the Feb. 14, 2005 assassination. The four are being tried in absentia after efforts failed to apprehend them.
A fifth Hezbollah suspect, Hassan Merhi, was accused last year of complicity in the killing. The STL has not yet decided whether to try the fifth man along with the others.
A delegation of the victims and their families is attending the court’s opening whose hopes hang on the outcome of the trial.
Among them is former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Rafik’s son, who is present along with MPs Sami Gemayel and Marwan Hamade.
Senior Trial Counsel Alexander Milne spoke about Hariri’s activities that day including his visit to Parliament and his unexpected stop at Cafe de l'Etoile.
The delay caused the assassination plan to be “put on hold” until he continued on his route, he said.
The prosecution showed CCTV footage showing the explosive-rigged Mitsubishi Canter van slowly moving before Hariri’s convoy passed by.
The footage also showed images after the blast including scenes of anguished bystanders and security personnel as well as the blanket-covered body of the former premier.
“Those who died were victims, those who were injured were victims, their families were victims, and the people of Lebanon as a whole were victims of this attack,” said Milne.
The prosecution said the bomb was detonated manually, saying there is no evidence to suggest it was done wirelessly.
The suicide bomber, Milne said, was blown “into tiny pieces” and faced “disintegration” as a result of the explosion.
He said the “generous” Lebanese onlookers rushed to help without any regard for their safety.
They prosecution said that there was no evidence that the man who appeared in a claim of responsibility for the attack by the group Nusra and Jihad in Greater Syria, Abu Adass, had anything to do with the assassination.
The prosecution also said the bomb was most likely placed above the ground when it was manually detonated and contained two tons of RDX, an explosive material more powerful than TNT.
“The focus today is on the primary case, the assassination of martyred Prime Minister Rafik Hariri,” said MP Marwan Hamade, who is attending the start of trial, during a break in proceedings. “If we punish for one crime, we will have punished all the murderers in all the cases.”
The court is likely to proceed next week to presenting some of the prosecution's first witnesses.