Saturday, September 15, 2018

Prosecution Highlights Hezbollah, Syrian Links to Hariri Assassination

Prosecution Highlights Hezbollah, Syrian Links to Hariri Assassination

Hanin Ghaddar

September 14, 2018

This week's closing arguments laid out the clear connections between the plotters, senior Hezbollah figures, and the Assad regime, so the international community can no longer afford to look the other way.

Thirteen years after former prime minister Rafiq Hariri was assassinated by a car bomb in Beirut, the prosecution finally submitted its closing arguments in the Special Tribunal for Lebanon earlier this week, with two important disclosures. One, there is ample evidence to corroborate the link between Hezbollah's leadership and the perpetrators of the killing, including details on their movements and communications ahead of the attack. Two, the Syrian regime was also at the core of the plot.


The closing arguments (released online as two PDFs, see part 1 and part 2) focused on the group's links to the four accused, Salim Jamil Ayyash, Hassan Habib Merhi, Assad Hassan Sabra, and Hussein Hassan Oneissi. According to the prosecutor, Hezbollah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah has repeatedly acknowledged this connection, including the fact that the covert Green Network used by the defendants was in fact part of the Hezbollah security apparatus.

Telecom data was the main evidence used to prove these links, coupled with the political context of the time and the political affiliation of the accused. In all, the prosecution examined more than 3,000 pieces of evidence and 307 witness testimonies before concluding that the February 2005 attack was executed as part of a sophisticated, multifaceted mission that could only have been the product of a conspiracy.

One of the main advances the prosecution has made is in showing how Hariri's movements were under surveillance during and after his famous December 2004 visit to Nasrallah in the Beirut suburb of Haret Hreik—this despite the fact that neither Hariri nor his security team knew the location of the meeting beforehand. Yet this week's most striking revelation was the reference to Hezbollah security chief Wafiq Safa, who apparently served as the group's link with the Syrian regime. According to the prosecutor, Safa "formed part of a call flow with [senior Hezbollah military official Mustafa] Badreddine and Ayyash that immediately preceded the final preparatory activity in the early hours of the morning of the attack." And on the eve of the assassination, Safa and Badreddine's phones converged in the same area. In addition, Ayyash coordinated with Badreddine on conducting preoperational surveillance of Hariri and purchasing the Mitsubishi Canter van used to perpetrate the bombing.


Rustum Ghazaleh, the head of Syrian military intelligence in Lebanon at the time, visited Haret Hreik often and was in regular touch with Safa, and the prosecution argued that this activity began under very specific circumstances: after the February 2005 Lebanese opposition meeting at the Bristol Hotel in Beirut, where participants demanded an end to Syria's military occupation. The report noted that Ghazaleh's visits and Hezbollah contacts formed part of a pattern of behavior immediately following key challenges to Syrian control in Lebanon, and immediately prior to Hariri's assassination that same month.

"When put in context with these events," the prosecution concluded, "the rationale and motivation behind the behavior of the networks becomes evident." Indeed, the motives and actions of Syrian and Hezbollah officials were intimately connected at the time, and the corresponding reaction of covert networks involved in the plot reinforces the conclusion that they were operated by a single entity, coordinated by the accused and overseen by Badreddine.


Although the final verdict is not expected for another five to six months, the revelations in the prosecutor's closing arguments should not be taken lightly by Lebanon or the international community. If found guilty by the tribunal for killing a prime minister, Hezbollah will be regarded as a criminal organization by countries worldwide. This includes European governments, which will find it more difficult to deal with Hezbollah's "political wing" if an international court officially determines that its parent organization carried out the assassination. In fact, such a finding should finally spur them to designate Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization rather than perpetuating the untenable "wings" approach.

Likewise, international relations with Lebanon's state institutions will become highly problematic if Hezbollah remains part of the government. In 2004, UN Security Council Resolution 1559 called on Syria to withdraw its forces and cease interfering in Lebanon's internal politics. Although Damascus largely complied with that requirement, the second part of the resolution—which calls on all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias to disband—has yet to be implemented. Other long-postponed requirements were issued in Resolution 1701, which called for border demarcation between Syria and Lebanon.

Perhaps sensing potential progress on these fronts, Nasrallah warned the tribunal and its backers not to "play with fire" in an August 27 address. Whenever Hezbollah makes such threats, decisionmakers inside and outside Lebanon tend to give the group what it wants for fear of causing local instability. There are numerous examples of this appeasement, such as the electoral law that facilitated the victory of Hezbollah's camp in this year's parliamentary elections, or the events of May 2008, when the group used its weapons against other Lebanese citizens and wound up with a national unity government and the Doha agreement.

This time, however, the charges against Hezbollah will be coming from an international entity, and foreign governments should deal with them forthrightly rather than ducking them. The United States and other countries need not be cowed by the specter of instability—on the contrary, allowing Hezbollah to get away with Hariri's murder would only agitate sectarian tensions, the true driver of instability across the region.

Specifically, Washington and European governments should be prepared to delay their acceptance of any new Lebanese government that includes Hezbollah figures, particularly in the security realm. They should also question Beirut about any perceived Hezbollah influence on these decisions. Prime Minister Saad Hariri needs strong, united international support to resist the group's intimidation. To protect Lebanese state institutions, Hezbollah must be kept at a distance, and this requires close coordination.

Finally, the revelations about Syria's role in the assassination should put an end to the notion that Bashar al-Assad can be part of his country's political future. Even if Western and Arab governments were willing to overlook his brutal actions against his own people, there must be consequences for his regime being legally implicated in the killing of a foreign political leader.

Hanin Ghaddar, a veteran Lebanese journalist and researcher, is the Friedmann Visiting Fellow at The Washington Institute.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Trial Chamber reschedules filing of final briefs and oral closing arguments in July and August 2018 in the Ayyash et al. case

Trial Chamber reschedules filing of final briefs and oral closing arguments in July and August 2018 in the Ayyash et al. case

Leidschendam, 13 June 2018 - The Trial Chamber ordered the Prosecutor and the Legal Representatives of Victims in the Ayyash et al. case to file their final trial briefs by Monday 16 July 2018 and the Defence counsel for the four Accused by 13 August 2018.

In a revised scheduling order issued yesterday, the Trial Chamber stated that it will hear oral closing arguments from the parties and participating victims in the weeks of Monday 27 August to Friday 7 September 2018.

Under Rule 147 of the STL Rules of Procedure and Evidence, following the presentation of all the evidence, the Prosecutor, the participating victims and the Defence may file final trial briefs and present closing arguments.

The presentation of the closing arguments concludes the trial in the Ayyash et al. case. The Judges will then withdraw to deliberate and will issue a Judgement in due course. A finding of guilt may be reached only when a majority of the Trial Chamber is satisfied that guilt has been proved beyond reasonable doubt (Rule 148).

Background information:

The Prosecution closed its case against the four Accused on 7 February 2018.

On 7 March 2018, the Trial Chamber dismissed an application for a judgement of acquittal, under Rule 167, made by the Defence of Mr Hussein Hassan Oneissi. No other Defence counsel made applications under this Rule.

Further, of the four Accused, only counsel for Mr Oneissi elected to present a Defence case.

In April, the Trial Chamber had initially scheduled the filing of final briefs and closing arguments for June and July, respectively, but the order was later suspended due to procedural developments.

UN Secretary-General appoints Dorothée Le Fraper du Hellen as Head of the Defence Office at the STL

Leidschendam, 18 June 2018 – The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, has appointed on 8 June Ms Dorothée Le Fraper du Hellen to the post of Head of the Defence Office at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL).

Dorothée Le Fraper du Hellen, a French national, will assume her new functions in a few weeks, following a transitional period succeeding Maître François Roux who served as the Head of the Defence Office from March 2009 until February 2018.

Ms Le Fraper du Hellen has 25 years of experience in the fields of international and criminal law. From 2013 until her appointment, she was assigned to protect the interests and rights of the accused Hassan Habib Merhi at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, where she was admitted on the list of Counsel since 2012.

Ms Dorothée Le Fraper du Hellen has been registered at the Montpellier Bar, France, since 1993. She first worked at the International Commission of Jurists in Geneva, before joining a Montpellier law firm. She has acquired an extensive experience in international criminal law namely at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), has developed expertise in the field of human rights, and has undertaken a number of assessment missions on the state of human rights and the administration of justice in various countries throughout Europe and Africa. She has also been responsible for a number of applications before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Ms Dorothée Le Fraper du Hellen thanked the UN Secretary General for her nomination and quoted Silvio Pellico as an inspiration for her upcoming mission: "Whenever accusations are preferred, do not you disdain to hear a defence."

The STL President congratulated Ms Le Fraper du Hellen and said "one of the 'firsts' at the STL is the establishment of an independent Defence office. The equality of arms is an essential principal in criminal law in general and of course in international criminal law. I wish Ms Le Fraper all the best in performing her functions as the new Head of the Defence Office".

In accordance with Article 13 of the STL Statute, the United Nations Secretary-General, in consultation with the President of the Special Tribunal, appoints an independent Head of the Defence Office, who shall be responsible for the appointment of the Office staff and the drawing up of a list of Defence counsel. The Defence Office shall protect the rights of the Defence, provide support and assistance to Defence counsel and to the persons entitled to legal assistance, including, where appropriate, legal research, collection of evidence and advice.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

STL Media Advisory- Trial Chamber schedules public hearing on 7 March 2018 for the delivery of the decision on Defence application for a judgement of acquittal

Leidschendam, 5 March 2018 - A public hearing will take place on Wednesday 7 March 2018 at 10:00 am C.E.T, and the STL Trial Chamber Judges will render a decision on an application submitted by the Oneissi Defence seeking a judgement of acquittal under Rule 167 of the STL's Rule of Procedure and Evidence. The Defence for Mr Ayyash, Mr Merhi and Mr Sabra did not make submissions under Rule 167.

In accordance with this Rule entitled "Judgement of Acquittal at the Close of the Prosecution Case", the Trial Chamber, after hearing submissions of the Parties, will issue a judgement of acquittal on any count if they find that there is no evidence capable of supporting a conviction on that count. The Prosecutor may appeal any judgement of acquittal under this Rule.

On Tuesday and Wednesday 20 and 21 February 2018, lead counsel for the Accused Mr Hussein Hassan Oneissi made oral submissions seeking a judgement of acquittal under Rule 167 in respect of all charges against Mr Oneissi in the amended consolidated indictment. The Prosecution responded on Wednesday 21 February 2018, followed by a reply from the Oneissi Defence. The Prosecution and the Oneissi Defence also filed written submissions in accordance with an oral order of the Trial Chamber on the sufficiency of evidence on each count Mr Oneissi is charged with and on the elements of complicity in Article 129 of the Lebanese Criminal Law.

Background information: The Ayyash et al. case relates to the 14 February 2005 attack which killed 22 individuals, including the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and injured 226 others. The Accused Salim Jamil Ayyash, Hassan Habib Merhi, Hussein Hassan Oneissi and Assad Hassan Sabra remain at large. The proceedings against them are being held in absentia. On 11 July 2016, the Appeals Chamber ordered the termination of the proceedings against Mustafa Badreddine, without prejudice to the right to resume the proceedings, should evidence that he is alive emerge in the future.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Prosecution completes the presentation of evidence in the Ayyash et al. case

Leidschendam, 7 February 2018 - Today, the Prosecutor completed the presentation of evidence in the Ayyash et al. before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) marking the conclusion of the prosecution case.

Since the start of the Prosecution case, the Prosecution has presented evidence from over 260 individual witnesses and about 2470 exhibits in documentary form.

The next step in the proceedings will be in accordance with Rule 167 of the STL Rules of Procedure and Evidence entitled "Judgement of Acquittal at the Close of the Prosecution Case". In accordance with that rule, the judges will issue such a judgement on any count if they find that there is no evidence capable of supporting a conviction on that count, even in the absence of a Defence case.

On 20 and 21 February, the Trial Chamber will hear the Rule 167 submissions of the Defence, any response from the Prosecution and any reply from the Defence. A judgement of acquittal or a decision dismissing the application will be delivered in court as soon as practicable thereafter.

Background: The Ayyash et al. case relates to the 14 February 2005 attack which killed 22 individuals, including the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and injured 226 others. The Accused Salim Jamil Ayyash, Hassan Habib Merhi, Hussein Hassan Oneissi and Assad Hassan Sabra remain at large. The proceedings against them are being held in absentia. On 11 July 2016, the Appeals Chamber ordered the termination of the proceedings against Mustafa Badreddine, without prejudice to the right to resume the proceedings, should evidence that he is alive emerge in the future.

The trial is making it possible for the Lebanese people to see evidence being presented and challenged, as well as witnesses testifying and being cross-examined in public.

You can follow the trial proceedings on the STL website with a 30- minute delay in Arabic, English and French.

More information on the case can be found in the case information sheets and in the STL's Bulletin.

Friday, January 12, 2018

STL Registrar ends a working visit to Beirut

Leidschendam, 12 January 2018 – Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) Registrar Daryl Mundis met with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri this week, on the first working visit to Beirut in 2018 and discussed various matters relating to the Tribunal's work.

Mr Mundis also met with Justice Minister Salim Jreissati, Prosecutor General Samir Hammoud, Lebanese Armed Forces Commander General Joseph Aoun as well as the Director General of the Internal Security Forces, Major General Imad Osman.

"My visits to Beirut are key to maintain the good cooperation between the STL and the Lebanese authorities, allowing me to personally thank Lebanese officials for their continued commitment to support the work of the Tribunal," said Mr Mundis.

The STL Registrar is responsible for all aspects of the Tribunal's administration including the budget, fundraising, human resources and providing security. His responsibilities also include court management, the oversight of the Victims' Participation Unit, witness protection and language services.

Background information: On 22 December 2017, the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres extended the STL's mandate for a period of three years from 1 March 2018, or upon the completion of the cases before the STL if sooner.