BEIRUT: The bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri left a blast crater that was over 11 meters wide at the top and nearly 2 meters deep, a forensic expert told judges at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon at a trial hearing Tuesday.
The evidence from the expert, a Dutch image analyst who relied on 3-D modeling and pictures taken of the massive crater left by the attack to confirm its dimensions, will likely form part of a broader narrative by prosecutors, who argue that a suicide bomber detonated nearly 3 tons of explosives hidden in a truck as Hariri’s convoy drove by.
The STL is tasked with prosecuting those responsible for the Valentine’s Day bombing in 2005 that killed Hariri and 21 others, plunging Lebanon into political turmoil and setting the stage for the end of Syria’s occupation of its smaller neighbor.
The Hague-based court has indicted five members of Hezbollah in connection with the attack. Their trial in absentia is ongoing at the U.N.-backed tribunal’s headquarters.
Bart Hoogeboom, the expert witness, detailed how he used images taken minutes after the attack, along with later footage and a device that employs laser beams to calculate the size of the buildings surrounding the crime scene in order to measure the size of the crater.
The resulting models showed that the blast that killed Hariri left a roughly cone-shaped crater that was 11.4 meters wide at the top and 8.3 meters wide at its bottom rim, with a depth of 1.9 meters.
The size of the crater, along with analysis of samples from the crime scene, can be used to estimate the amount of explosives used in the bomb’s detonation.
The prosecution says that the attack was carried out using between 2.5 and 3 tons of RDX, a military grade mix of explosives that includes TNT, laden in a Mitsubishi Canter vehicle and detonated by a suicide bomber.
But that narrative has been challenged by defense lawyers for the Hezbollah suspects, who say the bombing may have been an underground explosion.
Analysis of the crater will likely form part of the prosecution’s case for an above-ground explosion.
Hoogeboom worked for the Netherlands Forensic Institute as an image analyst and expert on photogrammetry – a technique that allows investigators to discern the size, position or speed of an object or person from still images and video footage, as well as 3-D models of an area.
The expert had also worked with NFI on analyzing the crime scene in Downtown Beirut where Hariri was assassinated.
Dressed in a black suit jacket and navy blue shirt, Hoogeboom explained to the trial chamber’s judges how he used different points in the crater and models of the surrounding buildings to develop a scale and measure the bomb’s impact.
The images showed the devastation wrought by the bombing and offered a glimpse of the destruction at the nearby St. Georges Hotel. Some showed cars that were still on fire.
The Special Tribunal will resume hearings Wednesday at 11 a.m. Beirut time to hear more expert witness testimony.
The evidence so far has focused on the crime scene, the first segment of a three-part case that prosecutors say will include reams of telecommunications evidence that allegedly shows the suspects carrying out extensive surveillance of the former prime minister, and the alleged roles of the suspects in planning and executing the attack.