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STL prosecutor outlines evidence in Hariri killing

The defence council of the U.N. Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) (front row, L to R) R. Maison, Pauline Baranes, S. Codde and Antoine Korkmaz attend the opening of the public hearing at the court in Leidschendam, near The Hague June 13, 2012. (REUTERS/Robert Vos/Pool)

BEIRUT: Of the four Hezbollah members indicted by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, only one is allegedly part of a six-member hit squad the prosecution claims directly oversaw the killing.

In a pretrial brief made public Monday, STL Prosecutor Norman Farrell outlined five mobile phone networks – called the Red, Green, Blue, Yellow and Purple Networks – whose members he argued had played different roles in the planning and execution of the 2005 bombing.

The crux of the prosecution’s case depends on the phone networks, using information gathered from witnesses, analysis of frequently called numbers, SMS content and data showing cellphones users were in the same location, to tie individuals to phones used in the networks and the crime.

The six members of what Farrell called the “Assassination Team” allegedly used phones in the Red Network. This network, whose members were in contact almost exclusively with each other and stopped all activity two minutes before the attack, are said to have tracked Hariri’s movements in the month running up to the assassination, as well as the day of the bombing.

“On Feb. 14, 2005, [Salim] Ayyash and other members of the Assassination Team positioned themselves in locations where they were able to track and observe Hariri’s convoy at Qoraitem Palace, Parliament, and his return as far as the St. Georges Hotel, enabling them to execute the attack,” the brief said.

But the prosecution’s summary of the Red Network includes no names other than that of Ayyash, who has been charged by the U.N.-backed court with committing a terrorist act and premediated murder. The rest are identified as Subjects 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9.

The prosecutor presents Ayyash, who allegedly used phones in the Red, Green, Blue and Yellow Networks, as a key coordinator who oversaw the plot. Two other members of the Red Network were part of the Blue and Yellow Networks, suggesting they also helped coordinate the different networks.

Farrell maintains that these two individuals, identified as Subject 6 and Subject 8, were in communication with each other and other members of the Assassination Team, some near St. Georges Hotel – the crime scene – or in the vicinity of Parliament – where Hariri’s convoy left from – in the hour before the bombing.

Mustafa Badreddine, who faces the same charges as Ayyash, was not part of the Red Network but the prosecution argues that he maintained close contact with Ayyash using Green Network phones, helping monitor Hariri as well as help purchase the truck that was eventually used by a suicide bomber. Farrell argues that there were at least 50 days of surveillance of Hariri, beginning at the latest on Oct. 20, the day he resigned as prime minister.

“By observing relevant locations, as well as Hariri’s movements and those of his security team, Badreddine, Ayyash and the Assassination Team determined the most suitable location and method for the attack, which they then executed,” the brief says.

The in-absentia trial for the four men is tentatively set to start March 25. According to the pretrial brief, the prosecution intends to call 557 witnesses and there are 13,170 exhibits on the exhibit list. They estimate it will take over 450 hours to present. The defense has until January to file its pretrial brief.

The brief provides details of the evidence the prosecution will use to try to tie the four indicted men to the networks, and in some cases providing glimpses of their domestic life.

Farrell links Badreddine to a specific phone because, in addition to other forms of evidence, it received seven messages of birthday greetings on April 6, 2004 and 2005, his birthday.

The prosecution will try to tie Ayyash to one phone, because of a road accident he was in and the subsequent rash of phone calls he made to have his car repaired. A second phone linked to the networks was allegedly used to call a medical clinic on the day Ayyash’s wife had an appointment.

The other two men named in the indictment, Hussein Oneissi and Assad Sabra, are purportedly members of the Purple Network. They accused them of finding an individual to make a false claim of responsibility for the attack, and for contacting news agencies to disseminate the claim directly following the bombing.

Oneissi also allegedly participated in the “disappearance” of the man, Ahmad Abu Adass, who was seen in a video claiming responsibility for the assassination on behalf of a nonexistent militant group.

None of the “biological material” collected at the crime scene could be tied to Abu Adass, according the prosecutor’s brief, and his fate is unclear.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 20, 2012, on page 1.

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