BEIRUT: Prosecutors at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon will decide this year whether they have enough evidence to formally accuse suspects in connection with the attempted assassinations of MP Marwan Hamade and former Defense Minister Elias Murr and the killing of former Communist Party leader George Hawi.
The Hague-based court could also be a model for a permanent tribunal to prosecute crimes of terrorism throughout the world, its president said in the annual report released Monday.
The STL said in a statement that the report, the fifth since it opened its doors in March 2009, was delivered last week to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, President Michel Sleiman and Prime Minister Tammam Salam.
“Justice can and must play its part in restoring peace and security to Lebanon,” the STL said in the 46-page document, which covers the period from the beginning of March last year until the end of February this year and outlines milestones in the court’s work.
The tribunal began the Hariri trial in January. Four members of Hezbollah stood accused of complicity in the Valentine’s Day bombing that killed Hariri and 21 others, plunging Lebanon into political turmoil and ending Syria’s formal tutelage over its smaller neighbor.
The case of a fifth suspect, who is also accused of helping orchestrate the assassination, was joined to the first four in February. All are being tried in absentia.
The court described the start of trial as a “watershed” in its operations that revealed the magnitude of the case.
But the report’s most intriguing passage refers to other cases the tribunal may decide to hear.
The section of the report written by the prosecution refers to the creation of a “related cases” team that would continue to “investigate and analyze material” related to cases within the tribunal’s mandate, as well as attacks that happened later.
The STL can decide to try any political assassinations that occurred between October 2004 and December 2005 – ending with the car bomb attack that killed journalist and politician Gebran Tueni.
But the prosecution’s statement confirms that it has taken an interest in attacks that occurred later and that may have links to Hariri’s killing.
Such cases are likely to include the killing of the ISF’s top terrorism investigator Wissam Eid, who was closely involved in the analysis of telecommunications data that would go on to form the backbone of the case against the five Hezbollah suspects.
Even if it is not allowed to submit indictments in such cases, the prosecution said it would share the results of its analysis with Lebanese authorities “as assistance to their domestic investigations.”
The March 14 political bloc has asked that all political assassinations following the tribunal’s creation be referred to the STL.
In addition, the prosecution said it continued to investigate the attacks against Hamade, Murr and Hawi and added that it would decide whether to submit indictments in the cases this year.
The STL claimed jurisdiction over the three attacks in August 2011, saying there was evidence that they were “connected” to the Hariri bombing.
The court has maintained a conspicuous silence since then on whether there has been any progress in the cases.
But the prosecution said it would finally decide whether to submit indictments in the cases this year.
“During the coming year, a decision will be taken in this regard,” they said in the report.
This is the first time the prosecutor has given a clear deadline in the cases. New indictments would help deflect criticism that the tribunal’s mandate is too limited and would begin to outline a pattern behind the series of political assassinations that upended Lebanon’s political order.
“The next year will be as busy as this past year, if not more so, for the office of the prosecutor,” it said.
The court has so far heard the testimony of 15 witnesses, admitted statements by 45, as well as 186 pieces of evidence into the trial, including 7,342 pages of documents and reports.
But the beginning of the long-awaited trial, nearly nine years after Hariri was killed, has not brought an end to attacks in Lebanon. The country has endured a series of bombings linked to the Syrian crisis and witnessed the killing of former Finance Minister Mohammad Shatah by a car bomb in December.
“The resumption of bombing attacks has once again imposed strains and pressures on Lebanon, a founding member of the United Nations,” the court said.
The report also offered glimpses into the scale of the tribunal’s work.
The STL’s budget for 2014 is just under 60 million euros, and the court employs 394 staff members, 58 of whom are Lebanese.
The European Union, along with 28 countries, has so far helped fund the tribunal. Its financial backers include four of the five permanent members of the Security Council – the U.S., Russia, the U.K. and France. The court also receives funding from Arab countries, but does not identify them individually, calling them only “regional states.”