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UN tribunal indicts Hezbollah members in Hariri assassination

The highly anticipated indictments could help bring accountability for former prime minister Rafik Hariri's 2005 assassination. But they could also stir sectarian tensions.

By Correspondent / June 30, 2011

Lebanese women pass by a giant portrait of slain Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri near his grave, in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, on Thursday, June 30. A UN-backed court investigating the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri delivered an indictment and three arrest warrants Thursday, the latest turn in a case that has transformed the Arab nation and brought down the government earlier this year.

Hussein Malla/AP

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Beirut, Lebanon

A United Nations tribunal on Thursday handed over its first set of indictments in a six-year investigation into the murder of Rafik Hariri, a former Lebanese prime minister, naming at least two members of Hezbollah.

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While the highly anticipated indictments move the Special Tribunal for Lebanon closer to its goal of establishing greater accountability in Lebanon, they could also have serious repercussions. The tribunal's fingering of Lebanon's militant Shiite Hezbollah movement as playing a role in the assassination of a powerful Sunni politician is expected to antagonize sectarian relations in Lebanon, which already are frayed as a result of three months anti-regime violence in neighboring Syria.

“We should set the country’s peace above all else as the indictments are not judgments,” said Najib Mikati, the Lebanese prime minister, following the release of the indictments. “The sensitivity of the circumstances call on us to act reasonably to prevent those seeking to create strife from achieving their goals.

The focus on Hezbollah has relieved some pressure on the Syrian regime, which was initially blamed by many for Hariri's murder. However, sources close to the tribunal say that the working assumption of the investigators is that the order for Hariri’s assassination came from the Syrian leadership, possibly in coordination with Iran, even if a unit within Hezbollah was contracted to carry out the operation. More indictments are possible depending on the progress of the investigation.

Lebanon has 30 days to arrest three suspects indicted

Three officials from the Netherlands-based tribunal have delivered the indictments to Said Mirza, Lebanon’s prosecutor-general, who now has a 30-day period to arrest the suspects.

Although the names are supposed to remain sealed for the first 30 days, they were quickly leaked to the Lebanese media. They included Mustafa Badreddine, a senior Hezbollah official who is also a cousin and brother-in-law of Imad Mughniyah, Hezbollah’s military commander who was assassinated in Damascus in 2008.

According to sources close to the Lebanese judiciary, Mr. Badreddine is a Shiite who operates under the alias of Sami Issa, a Lebanese Christian, and was in overall charge of planning and coordinating Hariri’s murder. Other names included Salim Ayyache, reportedly the head of Hezbollah’s Execution Unit; Hassan Aneissy, also known as Hassan Issa; and Assad Sabra.

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