First Published: 2018-03-07

Hariri tribunal rejects bid to acquit Hezbollah suspect
Lawyers for Hussein Oneissi had argued five charges against him should be dropped as prosecution failed to provide sufficient evidence.
Middle East Online

Presiding judge David Re said Hariri's assassination in 2005 was 'obviously a carefully planned and rehearsed event.'

LEIDSCHENDAM - Judges at a UN-backed tribunal Wednesday threw out a bid to acquit an alleged Hezbollah member of any role in the 2005 assassination of ex-Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

The chamber at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon "finds that the prosecution has provided a sufficiency of evidence upon which it could convict" Hussein Oneissi, presiding judge David Re said.

"Application for his acquittal is therefore dismissed," Re added.

The judge stressed however the court "could still acquit Mr Oneissi at the end of the trial" if the prosecution has not proved the charges "beyond reasonable doubt".

The prosecution last month concluded its case against Oneissi, and three other suspected Hezbollah members, all being tried in absentia in the court in the Netherlands.

Before opening the defence case, lawyers for Oneissi, 44, argued the five charges should be dropped as the prosecution had failed to provide sufficient evidence.

The judges agreed much of the evidence against Oneissi, largely based on mobile phone records and SIM cards used in the attack, was circumstantial.

But "the number of coincidental actions is such that the trial chamber has sufficient evidence from which it could convict Mr Oneissi of his involvement in the attack on Mr Hariri," judge Janet Nosworthy said.

"There is sufficient evidence from which the trial chamber could conclude that Mr Oneissi ... must have been aware in advance of the nature of the plot to assassinate Mr Hariri, namely by using an explosive device in a public place," added Re.

Hariri, who was Lebanon's Sunni Muslim prime minister until his resignation in October 2004, was killed in February 2005, when a suicide bomber detonated a van packed with tonnes of explosives next to his armoured convoy on the Beirut seafront.

Another 21 people were killed and 226 injured in the assassination, with fingers pointing at Syria which had long been a power-broker in the country.

"The assassination of Mr. Hariri was obviously a carefully planned and rehearsed event requiring... military precision," said Re.

- Decoy to shield attackers -

Oneissi is notably accused of having recruited Lebanese Islamist Ahmed Abu Adass and helping him to make a videotape falsely claiming the assassination.

Within minutes of the attack, the claim was made in several phone calls to Reuters news agency. Shortly afterwards a tape of Abu Adass's "confession" was left in a tree outside the Beirut offices of broadcaster Al-Jazeera.

The court agreed that since the trial opened in January 2014 no evidence had been found that Abu Adass was the suicide bomber. His DNA was not found at the scene.

Rather Abu Adass had been used as a decoy "to divert attention from the attackers" to a "fictional fundamentalist group", Nosworthy said.

Co-defendant Salim Ayyash is accused of masterminding the plot, with Oneissi, Assad Sabra and Hassan Habib Merhi as accomplices.


Israel confirms it hit suspected Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007

Syrian rebels reach evacuation deal in Eastern Ghouta town

Abbas calls US ambassador to Israel 'son of a dog'

UN says Turkey security measures 'curtail human rights'

'Saudization' taking its toll on salesmen

Saudis revamp school curriculum to combat Muslim Brotherhood

American mother trapped in Syria’s Ghouta calls out Trump

Syria workers say French firm abandoned them to jihadists

Grim Nowruz for Kurds fleeing Afrin

Sarkozy back in custody for second day of questioning

Netanyahu says African migrants threaten Jewish majority

US Senate votes on involvement in Yemen war as Saudi prince visits

What a ‘limited strike’ against Syria’s Assad might mean

Natural gas in eastern Mediterranean fuels increasing tensions

Erdogan tells US to stop ‘deceiving’, start helping on Syria

IS controls Damascus district in surprise attack

French ex-president held over Libya financing allegations

NGO says Israeli army violating Palestinian minors’ rights

Human rights chief slams Security Council for inaction on Syria

US warns Turkey over civilians caught in Syria assault

Saudi crown prince keen to cement ties with US

Erdogan vows to expand Syria op to other Kurdish-held areas

Kurdish envoy accuses foreign powers of ignoring Turkish war crimes

Morocco authorities vow to close Jerada's abandoned mines

Israeli soldier sees manslaughter sentence slashed

Turkey insists no plans to remain in Afrin

Cairo voters show unwavering support for native son Sisi

Forum in Jordan explores new teaching techniques

Gaza Strip woes receive renewed attention but no fix is expected

Kurds, Syrian opposition condemn Afrin looting

36 jihadists killed in Egypt’s Sinai

Israel arrests French consulate worker for gun smuggling

Pro-Turkish forces loot Afrin

Israel prepares to demolish Jerusalem attacker's home

Saudi crown prince says his country to seek nuclear bomb if Iran does

Arab women artists in diaspora focus on identity and loss

Tunisia’s Central Bank targets inflation but may hurt growth prospects

Libya’s health system reflects a larger humanitarian crisis

Israel blasts Gaza underground tunnel

Abu Dhabi awards France's Total stakes in oil concessions

Erdogan says Afrin city centre under ‘total’ control

Egypt tries to contain Sudan but challenges, suspicions remain

US defence secretary presses Oman on Iran weapons smuggling

Syrian regime retakes two towns from Ghouta rebels

Hamas shutters mobile firm after Gaza attack on PM