The prosecution in the case over the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri resumed its indictment of four suspects and a fifth “co-conspirator” it argued had orchestrated the crime during the second day of the trial Friday.
Prosecutor Graeme Cameron continued with his opening from the previous day to describe how tracking data and call logs from mobile phones allegedly used by the suspects showed that they had kept their target under close surveillance and anticipated his movements on February 14, the day of the attack.
The slain leader arrived at parliament in downtown Beirut the morning of February 14 as the suspects held different positions around areas where Hariri was expected to travel. He remained inside the parliament building for about an hour, from 10:54 am to 11:57 am, as the conspirators kept him under surveillance, the prosecution told the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) in a suburb of The Hague.
Cameron said the suspects had anticipated his movements that day after months of close surveillance. Patterns in the cell phone tracking data of the suspects on February 14 very closely matched the data gathered on February 8 when they followed the billionaire from Parliament to his palace in West Beirut.
“In same minute that [Hariri] stepped out of parliament,” a suspect who was sitting on Hariri’s location at Parliament called another. Several calls were placed between the cell phones believed to have been carried by the suspects after Hariri exited Parliament, which was about one hour before a Mitsubishi truck carrying at least 2.5 tons of explosives detonated near his convoy, killing him and 21 others.
The truck was captured by CCTV cameras travelling through a tunnel towards the crime scene near a downtown hotel during this period.
Cameron unveiled slides that alleged to show that suspects who were monitoring Hariri after he left Parliament made contact with their co-conspirators believed to be driving the explosives-laden truck, or in a separate vehicle within close vicinity to it.
After leaving Parliament, Hariri visited a cafe and chatted with people outside. Phone activity was limited while Hariri was in the cafe as the suspect “held their positions and waited” for him to exit, Cameron said.
Hariri exited the cafe and entered his vehicle at 12:49 pm, at which point cellphone activity resumed. The observers tracked Hariri and alerted their co-conspirators to his positions before a suicide bomber driving the Mitsubishi detonated the truck as it crossed paths with the convoy carrying the ex-leader.
An image shown to the court by the prosecution shows a map of Beirut with the cellphone activity of the suspected attackers in red on the the day of the killing, with a photo from a CCTV camera showing the vehicle used in the attack as it exits a tunnel minutes before it detonated.
The prosecution charged suspects Mustafa Badreddine, Salim Ayyash, Hussein Oneissi, and Assad Sabra each with two counts of terrorism, and three counts of homicides in 2011. A fifth man, Hassan Habib Merhi, was charged last year with the same crimes and is expected to have his case merged with the that of the other four. They are all being tried in absentia.
The men are known to have affiliations with the powerful Hezbollah Movement, which has vehemently denied any involvement in the attack. It accuses the STL of being a US-Israeli project designed to discredit the group.
Minutes after the explosion that killed Hariri, Cameron argues, the suspects executed the next step of their conspiracy that involved contacting news media to claim responsibility for the attack on behalf of an known jihadist group called Victory and Jihad in Greater Syria.
Four calls were places after the explosion from four different pay phones around Beirut by suspects Sabra, Oneissi and Merhi, the prosecutor said. One call was placed to to Reuters, and the other three contacted Al Jazeera.
In one of the calls to Al Jazeera, the caller informed the station that a video tape with the group’s claims of responsibility could be found outside their office in a tree.
The video, which Al Jazeera broadcast soon after retrieving it from the tree, showed Ahmed Abu Adas claiming responsibility for the attack.
A slide shown to the court by the prosecution shows Ahmed Abu Adas who the prosecution alleges was a scapegoat used by suspects to claim responsibility for the attack on behalf of a fictitious jihadist group.
“There is no doubt that the figure in the video is Abu Adas,” Cameron said, but argued that his admission of guilt was forced by suspects who had lured him from his home on January 16 to serve as their scapegoat.
Cameron on Thursday told the court that Abu Adas was approached by a man in December 2004 who introduced himself as Mohammed, claiming to have been born to a Muslim family, but raised as a Christian in an orphanage.
The prosecution deduced that “Mohammed” may have actually been Hussein Oneissi, one of the five Hezbollah suspects, based on the coordinates of his phone traced back to an area around a mosque in Beirut’s Tarik al-Jdide district where Abu Adas worshipped.
The man reportedly reached out to Abu Adas to help him discover his Muslim roots.
On Friday, Cameron elaborated on this point, saying that “Mohammed” called Abu Adas at his family’s home on January 15 and told him that he would pick him up the next morning at 7:00 am.
Abu Adas’ family reportedly told investigators that Mohammed “had a surprise” for him. He left the morning of January 16 as planned, but promised his family that he would return in the evening to help them wash a carpet, Cameron told the court.
Abu Adas did not return home that day as promised. The next morning, on January 17, Mohammed called Abu Adas’ family home to inform them that they were stuck in Tripoli because their car had broken down, and that Abu Adas would return in the afternoon to clean the carpet.
But that night, around 9:00 pm, Mohammed called back and informed the family that Abu Adas was not going to return home, but would instead travel to Iraq, according to the prosecution.
Cameron noted that none of the suspects cellphones ever connected to transmission towers near the mosque in Tarik al-Jdide after January 16.
The defense is expected to argue its case on Monday