THE HAGUE: The Special Tribunal for Lebanon opened its second day of deliberations Friday, with the prosecution further outlining the telecoms evidence it relied on to identify five Hezbollah suspects being tried over the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
The team also offered portraits of Abu Adass, the man the prosecution says appeared in a false claim of responsibility for the Feb. 14, 2005 killing, and Mustafa Badreddine, who the prosecution described as a “ghost” and “apex” of the hierarchy of the assassination team.
Also Friday, lawyer Peter Haynes introduced all the victims present in the courtroom including Hariri’s son – former Prime Minister and Future Movement leader Saad Hariri - in an emotional and moving description of the damage wrought on their lives by the attack.
The prosecution began the proceedings, attended by seven of the victims, by elaborating on an alleged false claim of responsibility in which a man named Abu Adass took credit for the bombing on behalf of a fictitious group called Nusra and Jihad in Greater Syria.
They outlined telecommunications evidence they said showed Oneissi, accused of orchestrating the false claim, in the vicinity of Arab University mosque where Abu Adass regularly prayed, and where he met a man called “Mohammad,” claimed to be Oneissi by the prosecution.
The telecoms evidence also shows Oneissi in the vicinity of Abu Adass' home.
Oneissi was also in contact around that time on the “purple network” of telephones with Assad Sabra and Hassan Merhi, two of the other suspects in the case.
The purple network is a group of telephones allegedly used by the group involved in orchestrating the false claim of responsibility.
The network showed activity farther away from Abu Adass' mosque and home coinciding with week-long disappearances by him.
The prosecutor also offered a chilling account of the disappearance of Abu Adass, saying he told his family that he would be leaving on the day he disappeared with “Mohammad,” who had prepared a surprise, and would be back later that day to help clean the carpet.
He left on Jan. 16, 2005, leaving his belongings and copy of the Koran at home, never to return.
A caller telephoned his family the next day, saying Abu Adass was stuck in Tripoli, north Lebanon, after his car broke down and that he would be coming back to “clean the carpet.”
But in a second call, a caller said the car had not broken down and that Abu Adass wanted to go to Iraq and would not be coming back.
The prosecution also discussed the purchase of the Mitsubishi Canter van that was loaded with explosives ahead of the attack.
The van was set up on display in December 2004 in a car dealership in al Baddawi in Tripoli and purchased on Jan. 25, 2005.
The blue and yellow networks of telephones, which are linked to the purchase of the van ahead of the assassination, were activated in an area north of Tripoli around the time of the purchase, the prosecution said.
During the proceedings, the prosecution also offered a portrait of Abu Adass aimed at disproving the theory he had carried out the killing, with the devastating revelation that he was not even able to drive.
Abu Adass was painted as a frail and simple man, who lacked the confidence and even driving skills to maneuver the manual-transmission, massive Mitsubishi Canter van laden with explosives to the desired spot to kill Hariri.
Someone who knew Abu Adass “very well” had told the prosecution that he was a “simple” man, generous with his money and weak physically, while the delivery of the van at “the right spot at just the right time was the culmination of all those months of preparation” and required a skilled and confident driver in Beirut's busy streets.
The prosecution said Abu Adass was most likely dead.
The prosecution sought to explain the fact that none of the suspects in the alleged conspiracy spoke out about the crime and turned against the cell, by saying they shared special bonds of kinship and religion.
All the suspects are Muslim Shiites who lived within a couple of kilometers of each other in south Beirut, the prosecution said.
In addition, Salim Ayyash, another suspect in the case, is married to a relative of Badreddine.
“Despite the enormity of the contemplated crime, no one broke ranks and informed after the crime, the most horrendous in Lebanese history,” said senior trial counsel Graham Cameron.
They also offered some personal details on the suspects: Ayyash, for instance, worked at several civil defense stations and dealt in cars. Oneissi, who was 30 when the attack happened, is the youngest of 13 children and has three children of his own, and worked as a “self-employed accountant” on a very modest income. Sabra was at some point an Army reservist and house painter and employee of a printing firm. Merhi had five children and has no records of bank accounts for him or his family.
But the most intriguing description was of Badreddine, whom the prosecution described as “ghost” and one with at least two identities.
He drove an expensive Mercedes automobile and had an apartment in Jounieh, had “several concurrent girlfriends” and was seen regularly in restaurants and cafes socializing with friends, accompanied by armed bodyguards. He had five children from his first marriage and a sixth child from a second wife.
Personal records of Badreddine are rare after 2000. He was never issued a passport or driver's license, the prosecutor said, and is not the registered owner of any properties in Lebanon.
He has never officially left Lebanon nor does he have any bank accounts and there are no photographs of him at the time of the assassination.
He was “fastidious in avoiding having his picture taken.”
“This was well-funded, well-organized and meticulously planned over a long period of time,” said Cameron, who described Badreddine as the “apex” of the assassination cell.
“Badreddine passes as an unrecognizable and untraceable ghost throughout Lebanon, leaving no footprint as he passes,” said Cameron.
Haynes, for his part, said the victims were part of a “large breadth” of sect, religion and background.
He also reiterated the independence of the victims' team. "We are not the prosecution's deputy,” he said. “We are not the Hariri family's lawyers."
Haynes introduced victims whose families bore the scars of psychological distress after the attack.
One victim suffered amnesia in the attack and lost her sense of taste and smell. Another victim survived three bombings in Lebanon and jokes that her luck will run out, said Haynes.
The wife of one of the victims of the attack was five-months pregnant and her son now asks about his father, he said.
The wife of Abdel-Hamid Ghalayeeni was also present, a man who was jogging near the St. Georges Hotel when the bombing destroyed him.
Haynes also introduced Saad Hariri, saying he was here as a “son who lost his father,” not as a politician or former head of state.
The victims of the attack had suffered a sense of “hopelessness” and a keen frustration at the political process, and the trial would aim to provide closure to the victims.
“That is why we are here,” said Haynes.