Hezbollah Member Sentenced in Absentia in Hariri Assassination

BEIRUT, Lebanon – A United Nations-backed tribunal in The Hague on Friday sentenced a member of the Hezbollah militant group to life imprisonment after convicting him in the absence of a conspiracy in the 2005 car bomb attack in which former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik was responsible Hariri was killed.

The defendant, Salim Ayyash, was convicted in August on five counts related to the attack, and on Friday the court sentenced him to life imprisonment for each individual, serving at the same time. However, the verdict was entirely symbolic as Mr. Ayyash, whose whereabouts are unknown, was tried in absentia. This means that if he is arrested, he will have to be tried again.

The condemnation was a muted final remark in a daunting and costly effort to bring the perpetrators to justice in the most significant political assassination attempt in modern Lebanon history. But after spending millions of dollars identifying and convicting suspects of the 15 year crime, not a single person was punished.

Judge Janet Nosworthy pronounced the verdict in a session, partly held virtually, over the coronavirus, saying that Mr Ayyash’s serious crimes deserve severe punishment.

“Lebanon is a parliamentary democracy,” said Judge Nosworthy. “Your politicians and leaders should be removed from office by the ballot box, not by a bullet or bomb.”

Recognition…Special Tribunal for Lebanon via Reuters

The special court was set up in 2009 at the behest of the United Nations Security Council after Lebanon failed to investigate the crime. Only individuals can try, but Judge Nosworthy said that one state is most likely behind Mr Hariri’s murder and that the country that benefits the most is “most likely Syria”.

At the time of Mr. Hariri’s murder, Syrian forces were occupying Lebanon and meddling deeply in the country’s politics, supporting Syria’s Lebanese allies, including Hezbollah, and undermining its enemies. Many in Lebanon believe that Syria monitored the assassination of Mr. Hariri in order to eliminate a political challenger. Syrian officials have repeatedly denied their government’s involvement.

The judge also suggested that Hezbollah, a powerful militia and political party backed by Iran that the United States and other countries consider a terrorist organization, had protected Mr. Ayyash from arrest.

The court issued new arrest warrants for Mr Ayyash and authorized his prosecutor to request a “red notice” from Interpol, the international law enforcement organization, asking Member States to secure his arrest.

A giant car bomb killed Mr. Hariri and 21 others on February 14, 2005 near the Mediterranean coast of Beirut.

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