BEIRUT: Ten years ago, a Reuters employee picked up a ringing office phone several hours after Rafik Hariri was assassinated. “Someone said, ‘Write down [what I say]’ and I said ‘Who is speaking’ and he said ‘Keep quiet and write,’” the employee told the Special Tribunal for Lebanon Tuesday.
The employee, who was given protective measures to shield her identity from the public, said that the man spoke to her for about one minute, reading an apparently pre-prepared statement. The speaker, a man with an unusual accent, claimed responsibility for Hariri’s assassination on behalf of the group “Nusra and Jihad in Greater Syria.” “He was very authoritative,” she recalled.
The account offered by the Reuters employee was markedly similar to testimony offered over the past three weeks by a number of Al-Jazeera employees who also spoke to cryptic phone calls from individuals claiming to belong to the group.
Like the witnesses from Al-Jazeera, the Reuters employee was asked extensively about the caller’s accent. She stated that she thought the caller “wanted to change his real accent.”
“I felt it was an unnatural and unusual accent,” she told the court.
The prosecution maintains that the call was placed either by Hussein Oneissi or Assad Sabra, both Hezbollah members, who were pretending to be members of a radical Sunni group to throw investigators off their scent. Oneissi and Sabra are two of the five Hezbollah suspects charged with plotting Hariri’s murder and the ensuing false claim of responsibility.
The defense, which has yet to mount its case, has suggested that radical Sunni groups may indeed have had motive to kill Hariri.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 15, 2015, on page 3.