BEIRUT: Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah has rejected a U.N.-backed court’s indictment implicating four party members in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, vowing never to turn over the four suspects – a move that is likely to embarrass the new government which has promised to respect international obligations.
In a defiant speech two days after the Special Tribunal for Lebanon issued its long-awaited indictment and arrest warrants against four Hezbollah members, including a military commander, accused of involvement in Hariri’s killing, Nasrallah dismissed the tribunal as an “American-Israeli court,” saying that Lebanese authorities will not be able to arrest the four suspects “even in 300 years.”
Despite fears of sectarian strife over the indictment, Nasrallah assured the Lebanese there would be no civil war between the Lebanese or between Sunnis and Shiites.
“This tribunal, along with its decisions and findings, is in our view clearly an American-Israeli [tribunal]. Based on this, we reject it and reject the invalid accusations and invalid rulings to be issued by it and consider them an aggression against us and against our resistance fighters and an injustice against the honorable of this [Islamic] nation,” Nasrallah said in a speech broadcast by Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television Saturday night.
Under the STL’s proceedings, Lebanese authorities have 30 days to arrest suspects. But Nasrallah said authorities would not be able to arrest the four suspects even in 300 years.
Nasrallah, who has repeatedly denied his party’s involvement in the massive suicide truck bombing that killed Hariri and 22 others on Feb. 14, 2005, last year threatened cut off the hand of anyone who tries to arrest any Hezbollah member.
“They cannot find or arrest the accused in 30 days or 60 days, 30 years or 300 years,” Nasrallah said. As such, he said the four Hezbollah suspects would be tried and sentenced in absentia. “The sentence is finished and has been issued in advance,” he said, casting doubts about the STL’s credibility.
Nasrallah confirmed that the four suspects are Hezbollah members. They are brothers “who have an honorable history in resisting the Israeli occupation,” he said.
One of the men named in the indictment, is Mustafa Badreddine, a military commander and a brother-in-law of Hezbollah’s slain military chief Imad Mughniyeh. The sealed indictment handed by an STL delegation to State Prosecutor Saeed Mirza Thursday did not name the four suspects, but Lebanese officials and media leaks said they included Badreddine.
Addressing leaders and politicians of the March 14 coalition, who are now in the opposition and who have urged the government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati to carry out the arrest warrants, Nasrallah said: “Don’t ask the Mikati government to do what the Hariri government could not do. Had the government been headed by Hariri or [former Prime Minister Fouad] Siniora, would it be able to arrest these people or carry out the arrest warrants? It would not and we all know this … I don’t think they can find or arrest the accused.”
During the speech, Nasrallah questioned the credibility of STL’s Prosecutor General Daniel Bellemare, accusing some investigators, legal experts and key advisers to Bellemare of having links to the CIA and the Israeli intelligence agency, backing up the accusations with footage. He said some of these advisers and legal experts had “a negative background” against resistance and Islamic movements. He said one of Bellemare’s most important advisers was a senior CIA officer who worked in Lebanon for 10 or 15 years trying to hunt down Mughniyeh who was killed in a bomb explosion in Syria in February 2008.
Nasrallah also accused top investigators at the tribunal, including the first U.N. chief investigator, Detlev Mehlis, and his deputy, Gerhard Lehmann, of corruption. The tribunal is full of “financial and moral corruption,” Nasrallah said.
In footage aired by Al-Manar TV, a smiling Lehmann was shown allegedly receiving a stack of money for providing information about the U.N. investigation into Hariri’s killing.
“Do you expect this tribunal to be fair with resistance fighters who fought against Israel?” Nasrallah asked. “This tribunal, since the beginning, was formed for a clear political target.”
Nasrallah lashed out at STL President Antonio Cassese, claiming that he was a “great friend” of Israel.
Footage aired by Al-Manar showed a man speaking at an Israeli security conference in Herzliya and hailing Cassese as a “great friend” of Israel.
“Cassese is a close friend of [many] Israelis,” Nasrallah said, adding that Cassese held prejudices against his group. “The one who is supposed to govern the tribunal is a great friend of Israel and holds prejudices against the resistance.”
“He thinks the resistance is a terrorist organization.”
There was no immediate comment from the Netherlands-based STL on Nasrallah’s speech.
“The tribunal] is unprofessional and the indictment is merely a step toward more results of this American-Israeli court. It is an aggression against us and the resistance and we will not allow it to drag Lebanon into any strife. The only victim in this case is the martyr [former] Prime Minister Rafik Hariri,” Nasrallah said.
He said the highlights of the STL’s indictment accusing some Hezbollah members in Hariri’s assassination first appeared a few days after the 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon in the German weekly magazine Der Spiegel and the French daily Le Figaro.
The indictment is aimed at “tarnishing the image of the resistance and its members and holy warriors and weakening the resistance fighters’ determination. The most dangerous objective is to incite strife between Sunnis and Shiites in Lebanon. These are the main objectives [of the indictment],” Nasrallah said. “There will not be sectarian strife in Lebanon, or between Sunnis and Shiites.”
Nasrallah sought to assure his supporters despite “this unjust accusation against our brothers.”
“Don’t worry.This is part of the war we have been waging together since the establishment of the [Israeli] entity on the land of Palestine and attacks on Lebanon. This is part of a psychological and media war,” Nasrallah said. “They want us to go to an internal confrontation. In order to protect our country, our people, security, stability and civil peace, we must be patient with provocations, even though the biggest provocation has happened through this unjust accusation against our brothers.”