BEIRUT: A German expert has identified fragments of a vehicle found at the scene of the Hariri assassination as likely belonging to a Mitsubishi Canter van, another step in prosecutors’ intricate case to show that the infamous attack was carried out by a suicide bomber.
Gerhard Geyer, an expert witness who worked with Mitsubishi Deutschland for 17 years, had helped investigators identify the parts of the vehicle that prosecutors would later say was at the center of the explosion that destroyed the motorcade of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri as it drove by.
The van is a crucial part of the case for prosecutors at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, who claim the people who purchased the Canter were part of a broader network of operatives who tracked and killed the former premier.
The STL is tasked with prosecuting those behind the Valentine’s Day bombing in 2005 that killed Hariri and 21 others and plunged Lebanon into political turmoil.
The court has indicted five members of Hezbollah in connection with the bombing. The U.N.-backed tribunal is currently holding their trial in absentia at its headquarters in The Hague.
Geyer, who was flown to Beirut to assist the investigation in September 2005, identified multiple fragments of a vehicle found at the crime scene that were put on display before the trial chamber as likely belonging to a Mitsubishi truck.
Many of the pieces looked twisted and disfigured, blasted by the source of the explosion, while some fit well together, appearing to belong to the same vehicle.
There were also parts of an engine block with serial numbers and the Mitsubishi emblem that could be traced back to specific models.
The identification of the van is a crucial part of the jigsaw puzzle that forms the prosecution’s case.
A vehicle that prosecutors claim is a Mitsubishi Canter was filmed by CCTV cameras in the moments leading up to the explosion that killed Hariri.
Prosecutors say a suicide bomber drove the van to a designated spot and detonated more than 2.5 tons of explosives as the former prime minister’s convoy drove past.
They also say that Salim Ayyash, a key suspect who is an alleged member of the cell that killed Hariri, was involved in the purchase of the Mitsubishi van from Beddawi in Tripoli.
Defense lawyers have contested whether the vehicle seen on the CCTV footage is a Canter and whether it was at the center of the explosion. Some of them say the detonation was likely the result of an underground bomb.
But prosecutors claim that the extent of the destruction of the Canter van shows that it was at the center of the blast.
Geyer had joined Mitsubishi Deutschland in 1990 before managing the company’s truck division in 1995, when he worked extensively with the Canter and another truck, the L200, working directly on technical support and repairing parts.
During his testimony, Geyer identified a serial number on one of the vehicle fragments that he said clearly came from a Canter engine, saying the format was typical of the vehicle at the time.
Other pieces found at the crime scene appeared to belong to the same vehicle, with a square pattern that was similar to that on the numbered engine fragment.
Another part found at the crime scene carried a component number that was known to belong to Canter van parts, and another piston rod bore the Mitsubishi emblem and serial number.