THE HAGUE: Witnesses will testify for the first time at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon Wednesday about the day of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in a milestone for the trial that began last week.
Three witnesses are scheduled to speak in-person before the trial chamber, two days after the end of opening statements in the case were made by prosecutors, defense lawyers and the lawyers for victims.
The prosecution has not yet named the witnesses, identifying them so far by codes. The three witnesses who will speak Wednesday are PRH284, PRH599 and PRH283.
Witness PRH283 is expected to testify Thursday as well.
Three witnesses will speak before the court Friday, including one by videoconference, and another two Monday and Tuesday, according to a schedule provided by the prosecution.
The initial witness testimony will focus on the day of the attack, likely describing the devastation and damage wrought when a massive bomb ripped through Hariri’s motorcade and Downtown Beirut on Valentine’s Day 2005.
Five members of Hezbollah have been indicted by the court in connection with the attack, four of whom are being tried in absentia at the tribunal’s headquarters in Leidschendam, a suburb of The Hague.
Confidential witnesses whose identities are not supposed to be disclosed to the public can have their testimony audibly distorted to conceal their voices.
The start of testimony marks the beginning of a new phase in the trial where evidence is actually presented inside the courtroom.
Last week, prosecutors delivered opening statements outlining their scenario of the day of the attack, and the role of the suspects in carrying out extensive surveillance of Hariri’s whereabouts. They also offered a glimpse into the personal lives and role of the suspects, including Mustafa Badreddine, a leading Hezbollah operative alleged to be the “apex” of the assassination squad.
The prosecution believes the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber who detonated two tons of explosives carried in a Mitsubishi Canter van as Hariri’s convoy passed by near the St. George Hotel.
Defense lawyers challenged the prosecution’s case in opening statements Monday. They claimed that the explosion was likely an underground bomb, and said the telecommunications evidence gathered by the prosecution did not prove the guilt of the suspects.
The hearing is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. Beirut time.