THE HAGUE: The Special Tribunal for Lebanon opened its fourth trial hearing Wednesday, with witnesses testifying for the first time before the court probing former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s 2005 assassination.
The court's broadcast was delayed by 30 minutes to prevent confidential information being accidentally revealed during the session which heard the testimony of three witnesses including an expert witness discussing CCTV footage.
The prosecution opened the hearing by drawing tragic portraits of all 22 victims of the assassination with senior trial counsel Alexander Milne saying “each is a loss that is felt by their families.”
“We've heard many numbers, the case is not about numbers,” he said, adding “it was about individuals who perished in this atrocity.”
Milne told the story of Abdul Hamid Ghalayeeni who died while jogging near the site of the explosion. Ghalayeeni, Milne said, did not belong to any political party.
Milne also named Aalaa Osfour who he said was a technical college student from the southern town of Nabatieh. She had come to Beirut to apply for a job in the capital and was killed in the massive explosion.
The prosecution then introduced the first two witnesses identified as Abdul Qader Darwish and Mamdouh Tarraf, the brothers of slain Mohammed Darwish and Ziad Tarraf.
Darwish and Tarraf were Hariri’s bodyguards and accompanied him on the day of the blast.
The two witnesses recounted their grief, detailing the moments they found out about their beloved siblings.
A visibly emotional Mamdouh Tarraf said he was able to identify his brother’s charred body from his foot, after he searched several hospitals in the capital.
“He was close to our hearts,” Tarraf said. “He was my friend, brother and companion.”
Ziad Tarraf was a father of a three-year-old girl and a one-year-old boy. Mamdouh said he raised the children, who “only remember their father from old pictures.”
Abdul Qader Darwish, dressed in a black suit and silver tie, said he was working at an office of Future Television at Sin el Fil, several kilometers away from the site of the explosion.
He also went to several Beirut hospitals looking for his elder brother who he said was providing for the entire family.
At one of the hospitals, Darwish said he spotted a member of Hariri’s convoy.
“Was my brother in the convoy? He [the member] said yes. I [replied]: Tell me about him. He [then] said: May God have mercy on him,” Darwish said.
All that was left of his brother’s body was his torso, Darwish added.
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.
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.