The head of the UN-backed tribunal probing the 2005 death of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, on Thursday urged four Hezbollah members wanted in the case to appear before the court.
The Special Tribunal for Lebanon’s president, Judge Antonio Cassese, made the appeal in an open letter two days after he was told by Lebanese authorities that none of the four men identified by the tribunal as suspects has been arrested.
“A major safeguard of a fair and just trial is the active participation of the accused. I therefore urge all indictees to come before the tribunal,” said Cassese’s letter, of which a copy was sent to AFP.
The Hague-based tribunal’s head said he was studying Lebanon’s report, with the next possible step to advertise the indictment, or part of it, in Lebanese media.
Lebanese authorities had until Thursday to report on progress made in arresting four men wanted in connection with the February 14, 2005, massive car bomb explosion in Beirut that killed Hariri and 22 others. Interpol has also issued wanted notices for the men.
The tribunal first submitted warrants for the four to Lebanon in late June.
Judge Daniel Fransen last month ordered confidentiality be partially dropped around the names and charges against Salim Ayyash, 47, Mustafa Badreddine, 50, Hussein Anaissi, 37 and Assad Sabra, 34.
Ayyash and Badreddine face among others, charges of “committing a terrorist act by means of an explosive device” and homicide including Hariri’s death, while Anaissi and Sabra faced charges of conspiring to commit the same acts.
Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Iran-backed Hezbollah militia which is now a key player in Lebanon’s coalition government, has ruled out the arrest of the four suspects, hinting that the STL was heading for a trial in absentia.
He has repeatedly dismissed the tribunal as a US-Israeli conspiracy against his armed party.
But said Cassese: “Any claim that the tribunal is under the influence of certain countries is simply preposterous.”
“The tribunal shall never convict anybody unless guilt is established beyond any reasonable doubt,” the Italian judge said.
But should the accused not be arrested within time limits set, the tribunal’s procedures allow it to continue with a trial in absentia.
“The march to justice is inexorable and one way or another we will end up with a trial,” Cassese said.
The Western-backed government of Saad Hariri, Rafiq Hariri’s son, collapsed in January when Hezbollah and its allies pulled their ministers from the colaition, capping a long-running feud over the tribunal.
The militant movement and its allies control the majority of seats in Lebanon’s new government.