Middle East

STL 'probe' of Hizbullah members can 'create strife'

BEIRUT: A UN-backed tribunal set up to probe the killing of former Premier Rafik Hariri could “instigate trouble” after summoning Hizbullah members, a former minister said Saturday.

Wi’am Wahhab, leader of the Druze opposition Tawheed Movement and a close Syria ally, claimed investigators from the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) had in the last few days questioned several Hizbullah members over the 2005 assassination of Hariri. “Problems could occur in the country because the investigating panel will create strife,” Wahab told Al-Jadeed TV, calling on Premier Saad Hariri to “avoid the trap set up by the tribunal.”

Wahhab’s allegations were neither confirmed nor denied by the STL media spokesperson Radhia Achouri, who has repeatedly told The Daily Star her office does not comment on media reports.

Achouri also said she would not remark on an An-Nahar report claiming that 11 STL investigators had recently arrived in Beirut to continue questioning witnesses.

But she told Naharnet last Wednesday the STL “always had” investigators in Beirut.

Meanwhile, Hizbullah MP Nawwaf Moussawi told Al-Jadeed his party “does not comment on everything that has to do with the tribunal,” though he added Hizbullah would “comment in due course.”

Media reports in the past have frequently tried to implicate Hizbullah in Hariri’s killing. A number of reports published by the German magazine Der Spiegel in the last year have claimed that special forces from Hizbullah planned and executed Hariri’s murder and that it was involved in cocaine smuggling across Europe. French daily Le Monde also published reports claiming Hizbullah had taken photographs of the STL headquarters in The Hague and that Der Spiegel’s claim the group had orchestrated the killing were “trustworthy.”

MP Robert Ghanem said Sunday that even if the STL had questioned Hizbullah officials, it did not necessarily mean they were responsible for Hariri’s death. “We are careful about Lebanon’s interests … so we should not accuse anyone of treason since the case is about justice and uncovering the truth,” he told the Voice of Lebanon radio station.

The former  prime minister was assassinated on February 14, 2005, along with 22 other people in a truck bombing as his convoy passed through Beirut’s seafront.

The STL was established by a UN Security Council resolution in 2007 to prosecute suspects in his assassination. Unlike most other tribunals, it applies Lebanese law to acts of terrorism, gives a greater active role to its judges, allows for trials in absentia, and employs a pre-trial judge with considerable authority. In the STL’s first annual report, released earlier this month, tribunal President Antonio Cassesse said he believed the court would move to prosecution within 12 months.

In April 2009, four Lebanese generals, held since 2005 without charge in connection with Hariri’s killing, were released from prison. The STL currently has no suspects in custody and has yet to issue any indictments. Despite this, over 280 interviews have taken place since March 2009 and “significant progress” has been made in building a case against Hariri’s killers, Cassesse said in the report. – Additional reporting by Wassim Mroueh





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