THE HAGUE: The brothers of two of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s bodyguards became the first witnesses to testify before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon Wednesday, in an emotional opening to the latest phase in the court’s work meant to highlight the damage and devastation to the lives of the victims in the attack.
Their testimony was followed by the first expert witness in the case who analyzed CCTV footage that showed the Mitsubishi Canter van the prosecution claims was used in the attack approaching the blast site.
The STL opened its fourth trial hearing Wednesday, with the court’s broadcast delayed by 30 minutes to prevent confidential information from being accidentally revealed during the session.
The prosecution opened the hearing by drawing tragic portraits of all 22 victims of the assassination.
“We’ve heard many numbers, the case is not about numbers,” senior trial counsel Alexander Milne said. “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.
Images and brief biographies of all the victims were read out to the court, drawing attention to the human cost of the attack.
The prosecution then introduced the first two witnesses, identified as Abdul-Qader Darwish and Mamdouh Tarraf, the brothers of Mohammad Darwish and Ziad Tarraf, Hariri’s bodyguards who both died in the attack.
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 3-year-old girl and a 1-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 went to several Beirut hospitals looking for his elder brother.
When he found his remains, all that was left was his torso, lower body and fragments of his head. Five members of Hezbollah have been indicted by the court in connection with the attack. Four of them are being tried in absentia at the tribunal’s headquarters in Leidschendam, a suburb of The Hague.
The prosecution also presented its first expert witness, Robyn Fraser, a former investigator who analyzed the CCTV footage taken by cameras in the vicinity on the day of the attack. The prosecution offered a second-by-second review of CCTV footage taken from six cameras in the Suleiman Frangieh tunnel in Downtown Beirut as well as from a single CCTV camera mounted on an outward-facing corner of the Phoenicia Hotel.
The tunnel footage showed a Mitsubishi Canter van moving through the tunnel about an hour before the bombing. The van exited the tunnel and turned right. It reappeared at the same intersection nearly an hour later, just a few minutes before the explosion, and turned right, back onto the road leading toward the site of the bombing.
Prosecutors allege the Mitsubishi van was loaded with 2 tons of explosives detonated by an unidentified suicide bomber as Hariri’s convoy passed by.
The second set of CCTV footage was obtained from a camera at the Phoenicia Hotel nearby that captured the van in just one frame of video around the same time as it passed between it and the Monroe Hotel in the Downtown district near the St. George Marina.
The prosecution will show one more set of CCTV footage captured by the cameras belonging to the nearby HSBC bank which briefly recorded the van as it passed by. The speed of the van, which prosecutors say was moving very slowly along the road, was deduced from the speed at which a man seen nearby walked toward the bank.
However, there does not appear to be any CCTV footage of the Mitsubishi Canter van at the moment of the explosion, despite extensive surveillance in the area and the van’s proximity to the Monroe Hotel, which faced the scene of the attack. The prosecution did not indicate that it possessed CCTV footage from the Monroe Hotel.
The extent of the surveillance in the area can be gleaned from the number of CCTV cameras in the Phoenicia Hotel, which has 82 such units, according to the prosecution, though the majority of them face inward toward the hotel.
The blow-by-blow analysis of the footage was likely meant to address small discrepancies in the time stamps shown on the CCTV footage, and to orient viewers on the broader crime scene. They will also likely be used to deduce the slow speed of the van, possibly as a marker showing that it carried a heavy load of explosives.
Defense lawyers earlier this week challenged the very idea that the explosion was carried out by a suicide bomber in the van, saying it was likely an underground explosion and questioning why no CCTV footage or satellite images of the scene at the moment of explosion had survived.