Defence says 'no motive' to murder Lebanon's Hariri

17th January 2014, Comments 0 comments

Lawyers representing four Hezbollah members being tried in absentia for the 2005 killing of Lebanese ex-premier Rafiq Hariri on Friday dismissed the prosecution's case so far, saying it was "bereft of motive."

Speaking on the second day of the trial before a UN-backed court in The Hague, defence lawyers said the prosecution's allegations over who killed billionaire Hariri and 22 others in the February 15, 2005 car bombing were a "mere theory."

"It's quite surprising to see this crime bereft of motive for the time being," Vincent Courcelle-Labrousse told journalists.

"The prosecutor has not put forward any reason" for the bombing, he said after Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) prosecutors wrapped up their opening statements.

Prosecutor Graeme Cameron told judges the deadly Beirut seafront bomb blast that also injured 226 others was a "sophisticated and meticulously planned operation."

Cameron laid out details of how the killers allegedly used mobile phone networks to conduct surveillance of Hariri until minutes before the explosion.

But Antoine Korkmaz, another court-appointed defence lawyer, said: "The prosecution's case is based on pure theoretical evidence."

"There is nothing tangible, there is no phone tapping, no witnesses, no text messages, there is nothing substantial here."

"We still don't know who killed Rafiq Hariri."

Hariri, Lebanon's Sunni prime minister until his resignation in October 2004, was on his way home for lunch when a suicide bomber detonated a van full of explosives equivalent to 2.5 tonnes of TNT as his armoured convoy passed.

Although the attack was initially blamed on pro-Syrian Lebanese generals, the court in 2011 issued arrest warrants against Mustafa Badreddine, 52, Salim Ayyash, 50, Hussein Oneissi, 39, and Assad Sabra, 37, all members of the Syrian- and Iranian-backed Shiite movement Hezbollah.

A fifth suspect, Hassan Habib Merhi, 48, was indicted last year and his case may yet be joined to the current trial.

The four suspects have been charged with nine counts, ranging from conspiracy to commit a terrorist act to homicide and attempted homicide.

Prosecutors allege that Badreddine and Ayyash "kept Hariri under surveillance" before the Valentine's Day suicide bombing, while Oneissi and Sabra allegedly issued a false claim of responsibility to mislead investigators.

The STL initially sparked fierce debate in Lebanon, sharply divided into the camp led by Hezbollah and its rivals in the March 14 movement, set up in the wake of Hariri's assassination and led by Saad.

The powerful Hezbollah has denied responsibility for the attack, and its leader Hassan Nasrallah has dismissed the tribunal as a US-Israeli conspiracy.

© 2014 AFP

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