By Dalila Mahdawi
BEIRUT: Hizbullah vigorously denied on Sunday allegations made by a German magazine that a UN-backed tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri has obtained new evidence proving Hizbullah was behind his murder, calling the "fabrications" a cheap attempt at influencing Lebanon's June 7 elections.
"This is a pure fabrication aimed at influencing the election campaign and deflecting attention from the news about the dismantling of spy networks working for Israel," a statement issued by Hizbullah's press office said on Sunday.
There are "signs that the investigation [launched by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon] has yielded new and explosive results," Der Spiegel magazine's English version, Spiegel International, said on Saturday.
"Spiegel has learned from sources close to the tribunal and verified by examining internal documents that the Hariri case is about to take a sensational turn," the report said. "Intensive investigations in Lebanon are all pointing to a new conclusion: that it was not the Syrians, but instead special forces of Hizbullah that planned and executed [Hariri's assassination]." Hariri was killed along with 22 others, including Economy and Trade Minister Basil Fuleihan, in a massive car bomb that ripped through Beirut's seafront as Hariri's motorcade passed. His murder was widely blamed on Syria, though Damascus has always denied involvement.
According to Der Spiegel, a special team of the Lebanese security forces headed by Captain Wissam Eid had uncovered eight mobile phones that were traced to areas near Hariri on the days leading up to his assassination and on February 14 itself. The phones, which were all purchased on the same day in Tripoli and activated six weeks prior to Hariri's killing, were used exclusively for communication among their users.
"But there was also a "second circle of hell"; a network of about 20 mobile phones that were identified as being in proximity to the first eight phones noticeably often," the Spiegal report said. All of the phone numbers apparently belonged to Hizbullah.
One of the assassins - Abd al-Majid Ghamlush - made the mistake of calling his girlfriend from one phone, allowing investigators to trace him. He was also identified as purchasing the phones, but has since disappeared and could be dead. His error, said Spiegel, "led investigators to the man they now suspect was the mastermind of the terrorist attack: Hajj Salim, 45."
Salim is thought to have assumed the role of commander of Hizbullah's military wing after its leader Imad Mughniyeh was assassinated in February 2008, and reports directly to Nasrallah, the magazine added. According to sources quoted in the report, investigators have also identified which Hizbullah member purchased the Mitsubishi truck used in the assassination. "They have also been able to trace the origins of the explosives, more than 1,000 kilograms of TNT, C4 and hexogen," Spiegel said. There was also evidence that Hizbullah members were behind the January 2008 assassination of Captain Eid, which was "apparently intended to slow down the investigation."
The German magazine said Tribunal chief prosecutor Daniel Bellemare and his colleagues have apparently been aware of the information for a month, but wanted to keep it under wraps for fear of destabilizing the political situation in Lebanon.
Hizbullah responded to the report with indignation, saying Der Spiegel was not the first media outlet to take aim at the party. "Publishing these accusations and attributing them to sources close to the international court dents the credibility and honesty of the tribunal and its work and requires firm and clear action toward the publishers of these wicked fabrications," Hizbullah added.
"These are nothing but police-like fabrications made in the same dark room that for four years fabricated similar stories regarding the [involvement of] Syrians and the four officers," the Hizbullah statement said in reference to four former Lebanese generals released last month after spending almost four years in prison on suspicion of involvement in Hariri's killing.
Former LAF Intelligence chief Raymond Azar, Mustapha Hamdan of the presidential guard, Internal Security Forces director Ali Hajj and General Security director Jamil al-Sayyed were released on April 29 after the Tribunal's prosecutor Daniel Bellemare said he could not justify their continued incarceration. They had been the only remaining suspects in custody after three others were released earlier this year.
In separate comments Sunday, Hizbullah MP Nawar Saheli also dismissed the report as "a big lie." "We are waiting for the international tribunal to react and to see where the German magazine got its information from," Saheli told AP.
Lebanese Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh likewise rejected the Der Spiegel report as "totally false." UN officials have not questioned any Hizbullah members as part of their investigation, Salloukh said from Damascus, where he was participating in a foreign ministers meeting.
Officials from the Future party meanwhile said they would make no comment on the Spiegel report, although Walid Jumblatt, a Druze leader in the March 14 coalition, said the report was aimed at heightening tension between Lebanon's different sects. "Beware of rumors and press leaks, they could damage the work of justice and provoke discord and sedition," he said during a rally on Sunday. "It seems that some newspaper reports are trying to precede the tribunal's verdict in order to foment strife, hatred and divisions."
Information provided by Bellemare or through his official spokesperson was the only dependable information about the investigation, the statement said, reiterating that the office's work was "evidence-driven, objective, neutral and impartial and leaves no room for a prejudged outcome."
The Spiegel report comes just two weeks ahead of Lebanon's parliamentary elections, which have been described as the country's most competitive in decades. The polls pit the March 14 coalition headed by Hariri's Future Movement against the Hizbullah-led March 8 coalition.
Upon learning of the Der Spiegel report, Israel's hardliner Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called for the arrest of Hizbullah's secretary general, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. The report "on Nasrallah's direct involvement in the assassination of Hariri should raise concern in the entire international community," he told reporters in Jerusalem. "He should have an international arrest warrant issued against him, and if not, he should be arrested by force." Nasrallah remains at the top of an Israeli most wanted list after Hizbullah and Tel Aviv fought a 34-day war in July 2006.
Tensions between the neighboring countries have grown in the wake of the discovery of several undercover intelligence operations. Dozens of Lebanese and one Palestinian have been detained by Lebanon's intelligence services since January, in what Lebanon's security chief General Ashraf Rifi has called the country's strongest ever strike against covert operations by Israel's Mossad agency.
By Dalila Mahdawi
Background - خلفية
On 13 December 2005 the Government of the Lebanese Republic requested the UN to establish a tribunal of an international character to try all those who are alleged responsible for the attack of 14 february 2005 that killed the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and 22 others. The United Nations and the Lebanese Republic consequently negotiated an agreement on the establishment of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.
Chronology - Chronologie
Détenus - Detainees - المعتقلون
International Criminal Justice
Videos - فيديو
- Now Lebanon : Crowds Gather to Show Support for International Tribunal, August 4, 2010
- IRIS Institute:La creation du TSL est-elle justifiee? - June 18, 2009
- Al Manar : Interview with Ali Hajj right after his release - April 30, 2009
- Al Manar: Summary of Jamil Al Sayyed's press conference, April 30, 2009
- AFP, Freed Lebanese prisoner speaks out - April 30, 2009
- OTV : exclusive interview with Jamil Sayyed - April 30, 2009
- Al Jazeeera English : Crowds celebrate Hariri suspects'release - April 29, 2009
- OTV : report about Ali el Hajj - March 18, 2009
Liens - Links - مواقع ذات صلة
Frederic Megret, McGill University, 2008. A special tribunal for Lebanon: the UN Security Council and the emancipation of International Criminal Justice
International Center for Transitional Justice Handbook on the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, April 10, 2008
Conférence de presse de Nicolas Michel, 19 Sept 2007
Conférence de presse de Nicolas Michel, 27 Mars 2008
Département d'Etat américain
* 2009 Human Rights report
* 2008 Human Rights report
* 2007 Human Rights report
* 2006 Human Rights report
* 2005 Human Rights report
ICG - International Crisis Group
The Hariri Tribunal: Separate the Political and the Judicial, 19 July, 2007. [Fr]
HCSS - Hague Centre for strategic studies
Hariri, Homicide and the Hague
Human Rights Watch
* Hariri Tribunal can restore faith in law, 11 may 2006
* Letter to Secretary-General Kofi Annan, april 27, 2006
* STL insufficient without wider action to combat impunity
* Liban : le Tribunal de tous les dangers, mai 2007
* Jeu de mecano
Courrier de l'ACAT - Wadih Al Asmar
Le Tribunal spécial pour le Liban : entre espoir et inquiétude
La justice penale internationale pour le Liban : bienfait ou malediction?
Nadim Shedadi and Elizabeth Wilmshurt, Chatham House
The Special Tribunal for Lebanon : the UN on Trial?, July 2007
Issam Michael Saliba, Law Library of Congress
International Tribunals, National Crimes and the Hariri Assassination : a novel development in International Criminal Law, June 2007
Mona Yacoubian, Council on Foreign Relations
Linkages between Special UN Tribunal, Lebanon, and Syria, June 1, 2007