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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.

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They include Ghazi Kenaan, for many years Syria’s proconsul in Lebanon, who was found dead in his Damascus office in October 2005 apparently from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Imad Mughniyah was killed in an unclaimed car bomb blast in February 2008. Six months later Gen. Mohammed Suleiman, a top security adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Syria’s liaison to Iran and Hezbollah, was fatally shot at his beach chalet in Tartous on the Mediterranean coast.

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It is highly unlikely that the Hezbollah suspects ever will be caught and sent to the tribunal in The Hague for trial (the tribunal last year tightened internal bylaws to allow trials in absentia). But the danger of the indictments for Hezbollah is that it will tarnish its carefully cultivated image as a resistance force against Israel by showing it to also be waging war at home.

Lebanon unlikely to diligently pursue indicted suspects

Last year, Hezbollah mounted a skillful public relations campaign to discredit the tribunal as a tool of the United States and Israel to weaken “the resistance.” The campaign culminated in January when Hezbollah and its allies brought down the government after Saad Hariri, the prime minister, refused to disavow the tribunal.

The policy statement of the new government, which is dominated by Hezbollah and its allies, is expected to announce a formal cooperation with the tribunal, but it is not expected to pursue the indicted suspects with much diligence.

Of the names contained within the indictment, only Mustafa Badreddine is familiar to the general public. In the late 1970s, Badreddine was a member of Fatah, the Palestinian group then headed by Yasser Arafat. Following Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and the expulsion of the Palestinians from Beirut, Badreddine and Imad Mughniyah joined the nascent Hezbollah.

Badreddine, operating under the Christian Lebanese name of Elias Saab, was sentenced to death and jailed by a Kuwaiti court in 1984, one of the so-called “Kuwait 17” found guilty of organizing a string of bomb attacks against Western targets in the emirates. The release of the Kuwait 17 became a key demand of the Lebanese militants who kidnapped dozens of foreigners in Beirut in the late 1980s, an operation allegedly overseen by Mughniyah. Badreddine escaped from jail in the chaos following Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait and from then disappeared.

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