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Lebanon tribunal opens Hariri assassination trial

The trial of four Hezbollah [START backgrounder] members accused of perpetrating a terrorist attack that killed former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri [BBC profile, JURIST news archive] and 21 others in 2005 began [press release] Thursday before the UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) [official website; UN backgrounder].The trial is being held in absentia as the four accused men [STL profiles], Salim Jamil Ayyash, Mustafa Amine Badreddine, Hussein Hassan Oneissi and Assad Hassan Sabra are currently at large. Prosecutor Norman Farrell [STL profile] pre-trial brief [text; PDF] indicates among the evidence put forth against the accused are five mobile phone groups allegedly used to communicate while preparing and perpetrating the terrorist attack against Hariri.

In October the STL indicted [JURIST report] Hassan Merhi on charges including terrorism and intentional homicide in the attack. Merhi is charged with helping to create a video claiming false responsibility for the attack, the coordination of the video's delivery, and conspiracy aimed at committing a terrorist act. Hezbollah has denied involvement [BBC report] in Hariri's killing, refusing to extradite the first four suspects. In July the STL confirmed its jurisdiction [JURIST report] over the trials of the alleged assassins. Earlier that month the STL upheld [JURIST report] the decision to try the four accused in absentia, and their trial is scheduled to start in January 2014 in their absence if they are not detained. In February 2012 the STL granted [JURIST report] the prosecution's office permission to proceed with the case against the four accused assassins. In August 2011 the STL announced [JURIST report] that it would investigate three additional bombings that is believed to be connected to the February 2005 bomb attack.

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