The tribunal investigating the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri has been asked to decide whether to try in absentia four Hezbollah members accused in the case, the court said on Monday.
“The pre-trial judge has asked the trial chamber to determine whether the proceedings in absentia should be initiated in the case of Ayyash et al,” said a statement from Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL).
Salim Ayyash, Mustafa Badreddine, Hussein Anaissi, and Assad Sabra are wanted for the February 14, 2005 suicide car bomb attack in Beirut that killed Hariri and 22 others, including the suicide bomber.
All four are members of the Iran-backed Shiite militia.
The tribunal, based in The Hague, was created by a 2007 UN Security Council resolution, at Lebanon’s request.
The court on August 17 unsealed the indictment against the four suspects and has said Lebanon must try harder to apprehend them, but the country’s Hezbollah-backed government is widely seen as resistant to the tribunal’s work.
A Western-backed government led by Hariri’s son Saad collapsed in January largely over its support for the the tribunal.
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, now a key player in Lebanese politics, has said he doubts the four indictees will ever be found and has branded the tribunal a US-Israeli conspiracy aimed at bringing down Hezbollah.
“The Tribunal’s rules state that if the accused have not been arrested within 30 calendar days of the public advertisement of an indictment, then the Pre-Trial Judge can request that the Trial Chamber initiate proceedings in absentia,” the statement published on the tribunal’s website said.
“This period of public advertisement started at the latest on 15 September 2011 when a wanted poster displaying the pictures of the accused, their personal details and the counts against them were published in major Lebanese newspapers,” the statement added.
The court must now decide whether to start in absentia proceedings, “whilst preserving the rights of the accused,” the statement concluded.
Ayyash and Badreddine face five charges including that of “committing a terrorist act by means of an explosive device” and homicide, while Anaissi and Sabra faced charges of conspiring to commit the same acts.