Lebanon tribunal on Hariri assassination set to issue first indictments
An international tribunal investigating the 2005 Hariri assassination in Lebanon will focus on Hezbollah in its first indictments this month. But it still sees Syria as playing a key role.
A murder mystery that has gripped Lebanon and much of the Middle East for nearly six years is nearing a climax. This month a Netherlands-based international tribunal is expected to issue the first set of indictments in its investigation into the 2005 murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was killed in a massive bomb blast that rattled Beirut and shook Middle East politics.Skip to next paragraph
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Although the United Nations-sanctioned tribunal has remained tight-lipped, it's widely speculated that members of Hezbollah, the powerful Lebanese Shiite militia with ties to Iran and Syria, will face charges.
While some Lebanese believe the tribunal is necessary to end the era of assassinations and bloodshed, others fear that laying blame for Mr. Hariri's murder on Hezbollah could end the relative calm of the past two years and return Lebanon to political paralysis and possible violence.
How focus shifted from Syria to Hezbollah
Lebanon, despite being a small country of some 4 million people, punches well above its weight in the region. It is strategically placed between enemies Syria and Israel, and its multitude of diverse religious sects draws regional powers – including heavyweights Iran and Saudi Arabia – to vie for influence here.
Hezbollah emerged as a potential suspect in the Hariri assassination last year. Originally, all fingers pointed to Syria, which dominated Lebanon at the time of Hariri's death. Relations between Hariri and the Syrian leadership deteriorated badly in the months before the February 2005 assassination. Syria was widely suspected of having ordered his murder to protect its dominant status in Lebanon.
The suspected Syria connection, however, was overshadowed when reports emerged in 2009 alleging Hezbollah's involvement in the crime. The investigation has uncovered evidence to suggest that the assassination plot was multi-tiered and involved a large network of people.
The extent of Hezbollah's alleged role remains unclear, although it has been reported that Hezbollah members had monitored Hariri's movements in the weeks before his death. Diplomats say that Syria is not off the hook, however; while the first indictments are expected to focus on Hezbollah, investigators still consider Syria has having played a lead role.
Diplomats: Three people to be indicted initially
Diplomats briefed on aspects of the tribunal's activities say that indictments are being prepared against approximately three people initially, but more could be issued in the months and years ahead as fresh evidence emerges.
Hezbollah, which views the tribunal as politically tainted and a judicial weapon wielded by its enemies, has hinted that it could take action in the streets if its members are indicted.
Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's leader, warned that the hand of anyone attempting to arrest his cadres would be "cut off" and declared that any Lebanese cooperating with the tribunal is working against the "resistance," a term used to describe the party's formidable military wing.