Profiles of accused at Rafik Hariri tribunal in The Hague
- 16 January 2014
- From the section Middle East
Four men have gone on trial in absentia at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) at The Hague, accused of murdering former Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri and 21 others in a huge suicide car bombing in Beirut on 14 February 2005.
The defendants are all linked to the Lebanese Shia Islamist movement, Hezbollah, which has denied any involvement in the attack.
A fifth man has been indicted and his case may be joined to the trial.
Mustafa Amine Badreddine
Mr Badreddine is the most prominent of the four men charged by the STL in 2011 and is described in the indictment as "overall controller of the operation" to assassinate Hariri. He faces five charges, including conspiracy aimed at committing a terrorist act and committing a terrorist act of international homicide with premeditation.
Born in 1961, he is believed to have been a senior figure in Hezbollah's military wing, the Islamic Resistance. He was a cousin and brother-in-law of Imad Mughniyeh, who was chief of the Islamic Resistance until his assassination by car bomb in Damascus in 2008.
Mr Badreddine is reported to have sat on Hezbollah's Shura Council and served as an adviser to the group's secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah. According to one report, a Hezbollah member interrogated by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), is reported to have described Mr Badreddine, an explosives expert, as "more dangerous" than Mughniyeh, who was "his teacher in terrorism". They are alleged to have worked together on the October 1983 bombing of the US Marine Corps barracks in Beirut that killed 241 personnel.
In 1984, a court in Kuwait sentenced a 23-year-old man named Elias Fouad Saab to death after convicting him in connection with the December 1983 suicide car bomb attacks on the US and French embassies there. Mughniyeh is alleged to have organised the hijackings of Kuwaiti airliners, a kidnapping and an attempted assassination of the emir of Kuwait to free Saab and the 16 other Lebanese and Iraqis convicted alongside him. Saab eventually escaped from prison when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. According to STL prosecutors, Elias Fouad Saab is a known alias of Mr Badreddine.
In 2010, STL prosecutors were reported to have been investigating Mr Badreddine. However, then Prime Minister Saad Hariri - the son of Rafik Hariri - is said to have requested that the STL postpone the public identification of Mr Badreddine as a suspect lest it spark unrest.
The STL indictment says analysis of mobile phone records shows that between 1 January 2005 and 14 February 2005, Mr Badreddine was in contact 59 times with Salim Jamil Ayyash. He is alleged to have issued the final authorisation for the attack just under an hour before it happened.
A pre-trial brief submitted by lawyers allocated by the STL says the evidence thus far disclosed does not support a conclusion that Mr Badreddine is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Salim Jamil Ayyash
STL prosecutors allege that Mr Ayyash co-ordinated the assassination team, which conducted surveillance and physically carried out the attack. Like Mr Badreddine, he faces five charges, including conspiracy aimed at committing a terrorist act and committing a terrorist act of international homicide with premeditation.
Born in 1963, Mr Ayyash is related to Mr Badreddine through marriage and was also a brother-in-law of Imad Mughniyeh, Hezbollah's late military chief, according to the indictment. Like the other defendants, Mr Ayyash is described as a Hezbollah "supporter", as prosecutors cannot prove he is a member of the group.
STL prosecutors say communications analysis shows that Mr Ayyash used at least eight phones to communicate with Mr Badreddine, the assassination team and the team behind the false claim of responsibility. The indictment says evidence shows Mr Ayyash and the assassination team observed Hariri on a number of days prior to the attack to learn the routes and movements of his convoy, were involved in the purchase of the van used in the bombing, and were positioned close to the St Georges Hotel shortly before the suicide bomber blew up the van as Hariri's convoy passed by.
The initial pre-trial brief submitted by Mr Ayyash's defence team says it disputes each and every factual and legal allegation made by STL prosecutors, and that they cannot prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.
Hussein Hassan Oneissi
Born in 1974 and a former resident of the Hezbollah stronghold of South Beirut, Mr Oneissi faces five charges, including conspiracy aimed at committing a terrorist act and being an accomplice to the felony of international homicide with premeditation.
The STL indictment says Mr Oneissi and his co-defendant, Assad Hassan Sabra, "had the task of preparing the false claim of responsibility" for Hariri's assassination, "which served to identify the wrong people to investigate, in order to shield the conspirators from justice". They are alleged to have joined the conspiracy in December 2004.
Shortly after the bombing, al-Jazeera received a video with a letter attached on which a man named Ahmad Abu Adass falsely claimed to be the suicide bomber on behalf of a fictional Sunni fundamentalist group called "Victory and Jihad in Greater Syria". STL prosecutors say Mr Oneissi and Mr Sabra identified Mr Abu Adass, a Palestinian man they found at a mosque in Beirut, as a suitable stranger to appear in the video. They are alleged to have delivered the video for broadcast and been in regular contact with an intermediary - Hassan Habib Merhi - who spoke to Mr Ayyash several times. Mr Abu Adass has been missing since 16 January 2005, when he allegedly left home to meet Mr Oneissi.
Mr Oneissi's defence team says the case is based on circumstantial evidence and inferences drawn from it.
Assad Hassan Sabra
Born in 1976 and a former resident of South Beirut, Mr Sabra is accused, along with Mr Oneissi, of preparing the false claim of responsibility. Like his co-defendant, he faces five charges, including conspiracy aimed at committing a terrorist act and being an accomplice to the felony of international homicide with premeditation.
In their pre-trial brief, Mr Sabra's lawyers took issue with "every legal and factual assertion" contained in the indictment, and said none of the evidence appeared to prove the case beyond reasonable doubt.
Fifth suspect: Hassan Habib Merhi
Born in 1965 and a former South Beirut resident, Mr Merhi was indicted by the STL in June 2013. He faces five charges, including conspiracy aimed at committing a terrorist act and being an accomplice to the felony of international homicide with premeditation.
Mr Merhi is accused of co-ordinating, along with Mr Badreddine, the preparation of the false claim of responsibility and of being in contact with Mr Ayyash in relation to the preparations for the attack. He is alleged to have co-ordinated the activities of Mr Oneissi and Mr Sabra in order to identify a suitable individual, Ahmad Abu Adass, who would be used to make a false claim for the assassination.