BEIRUT: The long-awaited verdict in the case of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination was finally announced Tuesday, surprising some Lebanese, but leaving many disappointed.
“We sacrificed 15 years to gain justice and at the end ... unfortunately the verdict of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon disappointed us,” Sary Dergham, a financial consultant told The Daily Star.
Dergham said he had hoped the STL would uncover who was responsible for Hariri’s assassination. “We all know it’s something bigger ... it must be related to groups or governments,” he said.
The STL found one person, Salim Ayyash, a member of Hezbollah, guilty of multiple counts in relation to the Hariri assassination back in 2005 by the detonation of a massive truck bomb in the heart of Beirut that killed Hariri and 21 others, in addition to injuring 226 people.
The other three suspects, also members of Hezbollah who were charged with being accomplices, were acquitted.
As disappointment was the general sentiment among Lebanese people, some were skeptical and had other theories in mind.
“I personally think that a trial that took almost 10 years should have taken into consideration the possibility of Israel,” Raneem Rostom, a public relations specialist, told The Daily Star.
“What is this silliness? All they came up with was that eight people were behind the assassination [of Hariri, who was in] one of the largest convoys in the Middle East, and then they only found one guilty,” Rostom said. “All the links and people were associated to an ‘unknown.’”
“I strongly believe that Israel was behind the assassination, but was sure the STL would never consider that possibility.”
“I don’t think anyone was expecting such a verdict ... neither the supporters of STL, nor [those opposing it],” she said, adding that there was a lack of evidence behind several points in the case.
“With all due respect to the STL ... the judgement they delivered was not really convincing,” Wissam, a computer engineering student, told The Daily Star.
Wissam said he thought the verdict was disappointing, adding that instead of paying hundreds of millions of dollars, the money could have been put to better use, if it wasn’t stolen, taking a jab at Lebanon’s political class that is accused by the Lebanese of corruption and squandering public money.
“All of this money and 15 years later, so that it turns out there isn’t enough evidence, with missing or dead suspects?”
The UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon was formed in 2009, headquartered in The Hague in The Netherlands, where both international and Lebanese judges and legal staff sit.
The investigation and trial cost around 1$ billion, to which Lebanon contributed by 49 percent.
“I do not completely reject the verdict, but I believe that there is much more to it than what has been said, or allowed to be said, after 15 years,” Nehme Nesr, a student told The Daily Star.
Former Prime Minister and head of the Future Movement Saad Hariri, the son of the assassinated premier, announced that he accepted the STL’s verdict and wants “justice to be served.”
Supporters and members of the Future Movement also echoed the same sentiment, and did not share the disappointment other Lebanese felt.
“We have crossed half the journey ... the remaining one is about letting justice take its place,” Baker Halawi, a member of the youth bureau of the Future Movement told The Daily Star.
“It’s [the verdict] not about whether we like it or what we want, it’s about realistic facts. The STL proved that it doesn’t rely on political affiliations, and isn’t biased,” Halawi said.
“The verdict wasn’t based on any political demand, whether external or internal,” he added.
“What we have now is the truth, which all Lebanese had demanded back in 2005 and throughout the years.”
Halawi said that the verdict was a solid commitment to all the Lebanese and paved the way for justice for all other assassinations committed since 2005 and “sent a message that the murderers will not be forgiven.”
A string of political assassinations between 2004 and 2013 targeted public figures mainly sided with the March 14 political camp who were vocal critics of Syria, starting with an attempt on the life of Progressive Socialist Party MP Marwan Hamade, to Hariri’s assassination in 2005, in addition to the killing of Journalists Gebran Tueini and Samir Kassir, Kataeb MP and Minister Pierre Gemayel in 2006 and former Finance Minister Mohammad Chatah in 2013.
On the other hand, Lokman Hakim, who studies political economy, thought the STL was politicized.
“It caused tension for 15 years due to alleged accusations against Syria and Hezbollah, claiming they were behind it,” he told The Daily Star.
He believes that the verdict was weak since it was based on “phone calls only.”
“Today’s verdict couldn’t reach a conclusion about the main side that stands behind the assassination,” he said.
“I personally, and probably the majority of the Lebanese, including Hezbollah and its supporters, who initially did not recognize the allegations of the STL and verdict, were surprised by today’s decision,” Hakim said, since the court said it found no direct evidence of Hezbollah and Syria’s leaderships in the murder.