Crime & Justice

Son of Lebanon's slain al-Hariri demands 'justice' as trial wraps up



Lebanese premier-designate Saad al-Hariri on September 10th, speaks to the press in front of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in The Hague after the presentation of the closing arguments in the trial of four Hizbullah suspects accused of the 2005 assassination of his father Rafiq al-Hariri. [Bas Czerwinski/ANP/AFP]

Lebanon's incoming prime minister called for "justice" on Monday (September 10th) as a UN-backed tribunal into the huge bombing that killed his father Rafiq al-Hariri in 2005 entered its last stage.

Saad al-Hariri was in court in the Netherlands as closing arguments began in the trial in absentia of four Hizbullah suspects over the attack that changed the face of the Middle East.

Prosecutors said the suicide bomb, which also killed 21 other people and wounded 226, was a deliberate attempt to create "horror" and that billionaire former premier Rafiq al-Hariri was assassinated because he opposed Syrian control of Lebanon.

"There is no doubt that this day is difficult for me, as the son of Rafiq al-Hariri," Saad al-Hariri told reporters outside the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in Leidschendam, a suburb of The Hague.

"From the start, we demanded justice because we believe that justice and the truth protect Lebanon," added al-Hariri, recently designated for a third term as prime minister.

The tribunal is unique in international justice because it is trying the four suspects even though they are not present, as Hizbullah has refused to hand them over.

They have been on trial since 2014 accused of core roles in the Valentine's Day attack on Beirut's waterfront targeting al-Hariri, Lebanon's prime minister until his resignation in October 2004.

'Darkness and horror'

Salim Ayyash, 50, is accused of leading the team that carried out the attack, while Assad Sabra, 41, and Hussein Oneissi, 41, allegedly sent a fake video to the al-Jazeera news channel claiming responsibility on behalf of a made-up group. Hassan Habib Merhi, 52, is accused of general involvement in the plot.

The alleged mastermind, Hizbullah commander Mustafa Badreddine, was indicted by the court but is now believed to have died while fighting with the Syrian regime in May 2016.

Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah has refused to hand over the suspects and warned the tribunal "do not play with fire".

Prosecutors said their case -- which relies on mobile phone records allegedly showing the suspects conducting intense surveillance of al-Hariri from just after his resignation until minutes before the blast -- was "circumstantial" but "compelling".

Prosecuting counsel Nigel Povoas said the huge scale of the attack "undoubtedly had a political purpose" linked to al-Hariri's opposition to Damascus's long involvement in his country.

"The scene was plunged into darkness and horror, cars were eviscerated, incinerated and on fire, people were on fire. Lebanon itself was plunged into darkness and horror, that was exactly what was intended by the attack," he told the court.

"Al-Hariri was perceived by those who supported Syrian control as a severe threat to their interests and security, a proxy of the West," he told the court. "This is the reason, the non-personal motive, behind the crime."

Prosecutors said the suspects had been feted in Tehran and Damascus, Hizbullah's backers.

'Not seeking revenge'

As it was, the bombing had the opposite effect -- triggering a wave of mass demonstrations that ended with the departure of Syrian forces from Lebanon after a 30-year presence, after which Saad al-Hariri became premier.

The younger al-Hariri agreed Syria was a factor but insisted he would not seek revenge when the verdict is announced, most likely early next year.

"Regarding the Syrian regime, I have no doubt that it had a huge problem with martyr prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri. I want to deal with this issue as a responsible official who has the responsibility to protect the country and the Lebanese people," he told journalists outside the heavily secured court.

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