BEIRUT: A former Internal Security Forces explosives expert told judges at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon that his team found the remains of mortar bombs that were likely mixed with the explosives used to kill former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The evidence, however, appears to have mysteriously disappeared.
Walid Othman, a former Lebanese police officer, said that mortar bomb fragments were found at the crime scene, and were perhaps used in order to add shrapnel damage as Hariri’s convoy passed by.
But prosecutors said that despite the testimony, no such fragments have ever been delivered to the Hague-based court.
“We cannot find any trace of them being passed to the tribunal,” said Alexander Milne, senior counsel for the prosecution.
“I’m afraid these are not available for further investigation,” he said.
If the mortar bomb fragments were indeed found at the crime scene and never delivered, the issue raises the prospect of evidence in the case being tampered with during the investigation. Defense lawyers have repeatedly pointed out that the crime scene was treated with abandon and carelessness in the aftermath of the explosion.
The STL is tasked with prosecuting those responsible for the 2005 Valentine’s Day bombing that killed Hariri and 21 others and plunged Lebanon into turmoil.
The U.N.-backed tribunal has indicted five members of Hezbollah in connection with the attack, and began their trial in absentia earlier this year.
Othman’s testimony was part of the evidence presented around the day of the attack and the crime scene itself. His team measured the size of the crater and the surrounding devastation in Downtown Beirut.
Othman also studied the damage that was caused to the convoy vehicles in order to understand how the explosion took place.
Othman was also the latest expert to conclude before the court that the explosion that killed Hariri was likely above the ground.
“Whoever wants to cause the biggest amount of danger and damage puts the explosive above ground,” he said.
Prosecutors say Hariri’s motorcade was destroyed by an explosives-laden Mitsubishi Canter van that was detonated by a suicide bomber on the side of the road. They have argued that two senior members of the conspiracy, Mustafa Badreddine and Salim Ayyash, were involved in the purchase of the vehicle.
Defense lawyers have challenged this key aspect of the case, saying the bomb may have been underground.