Prosecutor in Hariri killing to call 557 witnesses

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The chief prosecutor for the UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon plans to call 557 witnesses to testify in the trial over the 2005 bombing that killed Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri, a court document said Monday.

Four members of the powerful Hezbollah movement are to go on trial in absentia next year for the massive car bomb attack that killed Hariri and 22 others including a suicide bomber on February 14, 2005.

"The prosecution intends to call 557 witnesses and the total time estimated for the presentation of the prosecution's case is 457 hours," prosecutor Norman Farrell said in a submission made public Monday.

In June last year, the court issued warrants for Mustafa Badreddine, 51, Salim Ayyash, 49, Hussein Anaissi, 38, and Assad Sabra, 36, and Interpol has also issued a "red notice" for the suspects.

But none of them have been arrested.

The court's judges in October turned down an appeal by the four men's lawyers -- who represent them in absentia -- in which they argued that the tribunal had no jurisdiction in the case.

The trial is provisionally scheduled to start on March 25 next year.

Hezbollah has denied any responsibility for the attack, and its leader Hassan Nasrallah has dismissed the tribunal as a US-Israeli conspiracy, vowing that none of the suspects will be arrested.

Hezbollah is a close ally of Syria and the most powerful military force in Lebanon.

Set up by a UN resolution in 2007 at Lebanon's request to probe Hariri's death, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon is the first court of its kind to deal with terrorism as a distinct crime.

But regional turbulence, including the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria and the threat of that violence spilling over into Lebanon, have led many to question the court's relevancy today.

© 2012 AFP

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