Hezbollah operative sentenced to life over Hariri killing

The UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon on Friday sentenced Hezbollah operative Salim Ayache to five concurrent life sentences in absentia for the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others.

The Hezbollah operative had a “central,” “leading role” as part of the assassination team that was “integral to the assassination,” the court said.

Hariri’s 2005 assassination through a massive car bomb rocked Lebanon, leading to massive protests and international pressure that resulted in the eventual withdrawal of Syrian troops form the country, 30 years after they entered during Lebanon’s civil war.

Hariri had been working to reduce Syria’s influence in Lebanese politics at the time of his killing in a Valentine’s Day explosion that also killed 21 others.

Hezbollah was Syria’s closest ally in Lebanon.

Ayache was convicted on charges of conspiracy of committing a terrorist act, committing a terrorist act by means of an explosive device, and the intentional homicide of Hariri with premeditation by using explosive materials.

In addition, he was also charged with the intentional homicide of 21 persons and the attempted intentional homicide of 226 people.

Ayache has never been apprehended and is thought to be under the protection of Hezbollah, whose leader, Hasan Nasrallah, has described him and three other Hezbollah members who stood trial for the crime — but were not found guilty — as “honorable men of the resistance”.

The STL issued a warrant for Ayache’s arrest in 2011.

“Those who are shielding him from justice should surrender him to the special tribunal,” Trial Chamber Judge David Re said his closing remarks.

The STL called on Lebanon to establish a fund to compensate survivors and the families of victims of the assassination.

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