The Special Tribunal for Lebanon (TEL) issues this Friday judgment in the process developed between 2014 and 2018 for the assassination of the country's former prime minister, Rafik Hariri. In 2005, the Sunni leader was the victim in Beirut of an attack in which another 21 people also lost their lives, and this is the first sentence since the opening of this court in 2007. The four defendants, related to the Shiite militia Lebanese Hezbollah, have been tried in absentia because they were not handed over by Beirut. Hariri and his party were traveling in armored cars, which did not resist the explosion of the van that killed all the victims, loaded with 3,000 kilos of explosives. About 226 people were injured, and the crater opened by the deflagration destroyed the city's maritime avenue. It is the first time since the Nuremberg trials, after the Second World War, that a trial has been held without the presence of the accused.
The four defendants are Hussein Hassan Oneissi, Assad Hassan Sabra, Hassan Habib Merhi and Salim Hamil Ayyash, and the case is headed by the name of the latter: Ayyash et al (and others). The accusatory statement indicates that they organized, perpetrated and later falsified the authorship of the attack in a video. The commander of Hezbollah, Mustafa Badredine, the alleged mastermind of the attack, died in 2016. During the sessions, the court has been able to analyze what happened with the help of a model of the scene. On all of them weighs the charge of "conspiracy to commit a terrorist act." Ayyash is accused of "perpetrating the attack, as well as murder and attempted murder." None are singled out by the chief prosecutor, Canadian Norman Farrell, for having personally detonated the explosive charge. But the prosecution alleges that Ayyash's involvement was decisive during the preparations and execution of the murder. Hezbollah, for its part, denies having anything to do with what happened.
The Special Tribunal for Lebanon was created jointly by the United Nations and Lebanon, and despite the efforts made all these years, Oneissi, Sabra, Merhi and Ayyash remain unaccounted for by judges and prosecutors. They have not participated in the trial nor have they contacted the public defenders representing them. Rafik Hariri was the Prime Minister of Lebanon five times after the civil war that lasted between 1975 and 1990, and the year before his death he signed an amendment to the Constitution that allowed for extending the mandate of the country's president, Prosyrian Émile Lahoud. Hariri was not in favor of change, but he did, and the UN issued a resolution calling for free presidential elections, the withdrawal of foreign troops and the dismantling of armed groups like Hezbollah, favorable to Damascus. Hariri ended up resigning at a time of great tension in the area after the US invasion of Iraq, which fueled the rivalry between the Shiite community, supported by Syria and Iran, and the Sunni, inclined towards the United States and Saudi Arabia. His death led to the so-called Cedar Revolution, a series of massive demonstrations against the Syrian presence in Lebanon, which ended with the withdrawal of the latter's troops.