Crime & Justice

Al-Hariri prosecutors seek life term for Hizbullah member



Judge Janet Nosworthy, Presiding Judge David Re and Judge Micheline Braidy (back row, from left) attend a session of the UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon at Leidschendam on August 18th. [Piroschka van de Wouw/ANP/AFP]

The Hizbullah member convicted of the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik al-Hariri should receive a life sentence, even though he remains at large, prosecutors said Tuesday (November 10th).

Salim Ayyash was found guilty in absentia of murder by a UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon in the Netherlands on August 18th, but three other alleged members of the Iran-aligned party were acquitted.

Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah has refused to hand over the defendants in the trial over the suicide bombing that killed the billionaire politician and 21 others.

Judges were on Tuesday hearing evidence from the prosecution, victims and the defence about what sentence 56-year-old Ayyash should receive. The sentencing itself will happen at a later date.


A man rides a motorbike past a billboard bearing a picture of slain Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, on a street in his southern hometown city of Sidon, on August 18th. [Mahmoud Zayyat/AFP]

"The severest penalty available to the tribunal for the offences is life imprisonment, and in the submission of the prosecution that is the only just and proportionate sentence," prosecutor Nigel Povoas told the court.

"Why life imprisonment? These were offences of extreme gravity, it is hard to imagine offences of this type more serious than this. This is considered to be the most serious terrorist attack that has occurred on Lebanese soil," he said.

Prosecutors also are arguing for a seizure of Ayyash's assets.

In their long-awaited ruling in August, judges said there was sufficient evidence to show that Ayyash was at the centre of a network of mobile phone users who scoped out al-Hariri's movements for months before his assassination.

But there was not enough evidence to convict Ayyash's co-defendants Assad Sabra, Hussein Oneissi and Hassan Habib Merhi, they said.

The judges added that there was no proof to tie Hizbullah's leadership or its allies in Damascus to the attack.

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