UN-backed court mulls trial for Hariri murder suspects

11th November 2011, Comments 0 comments

A UN-backed court Friday mulled a possible trial in absentia of four Hezbollah members accused of killing former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, a move prosecutors said would be a "last resort."

Senior trial prosecutor Iain Morley opened the hearing saying a trial in absentia for the four operatives of the Iran-backed Shiite militia would be "premature", and that not enough has been done to track and arrest them.

"A trial in absentia should be a last resort and not a first choice," Morley told the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), based in the suburb of Leidschendam outside The Hague.

The four men 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.

"Before we embark on this expensive exercise (of running a trial without the accused being present), it has to be clear that we have reached a last resort," Morley told the tribunal.

"The Lebanese authorities have duly and diligently set about to serve the arrest warrants, which is not the same as arresting the person," Morley said.

He said he believed Beirut had reached the point where "these suspects will not be located and arrested and that a trial in absentia proceedings would be applicable."

However, Morley said, "we haven't reached a point where we have exhausted all investigative efforts."

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.

Ayyash, 48 and Badreddine, 50, face charges of "committing a terrorist act by means of an explosive device" and homicide, while Anaissi, 37, and Sabra, 35, face charges of conspiring to commit the same acts.

The prosecutor accused Badreddine of "being the overall controller of the attack," said a summary of the indictment.

"Ayyash coordinated the assassination team that was responsible for the physical perpetration of the attack," it added.

"Anaissi and Sabra, in addition to being conspirators, prepared and delivered a false claim of responsibility video, which sought to blame the wrong people," the prosecution said.

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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