Rafik Hariri was a billionaire businessman who served as prime minister of Lebanon five times following the 1975-90 civil war. His last term in office ended in 2004, after which he aligned himself with the opposition in parliament and backed calls for Syria to withdraw it’s forces, which had been in Lebanon since 1976.
On February 14 2005, Hariri was traveling in a motorcade past the St George Hotel in downtown Beirut when the bomb hidden in a van exploded. The blast was said to have created a crater at least 10m (32ft) wide and 2m deep in the area. It also left a close-by vehicles smouldering and shopfronts blown out and blackened.
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The blast brought about the protest on the street against the Pro- Syrian government, with the finger of blame for the assassination pointed at Lebanon’s heavily influential neighbor. Two weeks later the government resigned. The UN and Lebanon set up the STL in 2007 to investigate the bombing, and four suspects were ultimately put on trial in absentia.
Hariri Tribunal: Guilty Verdict Over Assassination Of Lebanon Ex-PM
It’s been more than 15 years after Hariri was killed along with 21 others in a suicide bomb blast on February 14, 2005, the verdict is finally out. According to Aljazeera a United Nations- backed tribunal has found a member of the Lebanese group Hezbollah guilty of assassinating former Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri in the bomb blast in 2005.
Three other Hezbollah suspects were cleared of the charges while Salim Ayyash was convicted. The four members of the Iran-backed group and political party were accused of organizing and carrying out the attack, although the group was not formally charged and it denied any involvement.
Judges at the Netherlands bases special Tribunal for Lebanon said Ayyash Salim had a central role in the bomb attack one Beirut in 2005 that killed Hariri. According to BBC, The son of Harris, Saad, told reporters outside the court “ I think today everybody’s expectation was much higher than what came out, but I believe the tribunal came out with a verdict that is satisfying and we accept it.”
He continued, “ it is clear that the network responsible is from it’s ranks, we will not rest until the punishment is carried out”.
The verdict came during the crisis in Lebanon. With the country still reeling from a devastating explosion at Beirut’s port two weeks ago that killed at least 180 people. This led to the resignation of the government, already embattled by protests over an economic collapse that has seen many people lose their savings and Jobs.
Some grievously said “ The tribunal’s verdicts will disappoint supporters of Rafik Hariri as well as his families of the 21 others who were killed and those wounded.”
Salim Ayyash was a well connected, mid-level operative in Hezbollah, the most powerful military and political group in Lebanon. It is classified as a terrorist organization by UK, US and others.
Hasan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, has denied it was involved and refused to allow the arrest of Ayyash or the other men that was cleared. His military commander, Mustafa Badreddine was also indicted until he was killed in Syria in 2016.
The judges found 56 year old, Salim Ayyash guilty of five charges, including conspiracy aimed at committing a terrorist act. That is, committing a terrorist act by the means of an explosive device and the internal murder of Hariri with premeditation by using explosive materials.
The STL prosecutors alleged that Ayyash Salim coordinated the physical perpetration of the attack and together with Mustafa Badreddine, the surveillance of Hariri.
Salim Ayyash was also accused of purchasing the van that exploded, and of having played a role in preparing what prosecutors said was a false claim of responsibility made by a palestinian man on behalf of a fictional Sunni fundamentalist group.
The defense lawyers said the prosecution case relied only on circumstantial evidence that did not prove his involvement in the conspiracy.
On Tuesday, Judge David told the court again “ Mr Ayyash had a central role in the execution of the attack and directly contributed to it.”
“Mr Ayyash intended to kill Mr Rafik Hariri and ha the required knowledge about the circumstances of the assassination mission, including the explosive were the means to be used”.
According to the Judge, there was no enough evidence to prove beyond doubt the guilt of the other defendants- Hussein Oneissi,46, Assad,43 and Hassan Habib Merhi,54.
Furthermore, the panel concluded that while Syria and Hezbollah may have had motives to eliminate Hariri and some of his political allies, there was no evidence that the Hezbollah leadership had any involvement one Hariri’s murder. And there’s no direct evidence of Syrian involvement”, said by Judge Re.