UN-backed court discuss Hariri murder suspects' trial

11th November 2011, Comments 0 comments

A special UN-backed court kicked off a hearing Friday to discuss a possible trial in absentia of four Hezbollah members accused of assassinating former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

Prosecutors were set to open proceedings at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon's (STL) headquarters in Leidschendam near The Hague, the first public sitting of the court's trial chamber, before handing the floor to the defence.

Four operatives of Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Shiite militia, are accused of murdering Hariri and 22 others in a massive car bomb blast in Beirut on February 14, 2005.

The STL sent arrest warrants for Salim Ayyash, Mustafa Badreddine, Hussein Anaissi and Assad Sabra to Lebanese authorities on June 30, and Interpol issued a "red notice" in July, but so far Beirut has failed to arrest them.

Earlier this week, prosecutors however said it was premature to begin a trial in absentia against the accused.

"Not enough time has been allowed for the Lebanese authorities to effect the arrests of the four accused," STL chief prosecutor Daniel Bellemare said in a submission to the court.

A previous Beirut government, led by Hariri's son Saad, cooperated with the tribunal, but in January Hezbollah toppled that Western-backed coalition, largely over its support for the special tribunal.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, whose militant party is blacklisted as a terrorist group by Washington, has dismissed the STL as a US-Israeli conspiracy, vowing that no member of Hezbollah would ever be found or arrested.

Last month, a judge asked the trial chamber to determine whether proceedings in absentia against the four Hezbollah members were appropriate.

The STL was created by a 2007 UN Security Council resolution at Lebanon's request. It opened its doors in 2009, tasked with trying those suspected of responsibility for Hariri's assassination.

It is the first international criminal tribunal with jurisdiction over the crime of terrorism with a mandate to try defendants in absentia.

© 2011 AFP

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