A UN-backed court on Tuesday began reading the verdict in the case of four Hezbollah members charged with conspiracy to carry out the 2005 bombing that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others.
The Iran-backed Shia Muslim group Hezbollah has denied any involvement in the Feb. 14, 2005 bombing.
‘International Justice Defeats Intimidation’ read a headline in Lebanon’s an-Nahar daily with a caricature of the slain Hariri’s face looking at a mushroom cloud over the devastated city, with a caption: “May you also (get justice)”, referring to an investigation that could unveil the cause of the blast.
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said on Friday that if any members of the movement were convicted, the group would stand by their innocence.
But views of the case are mixed.
The verdict in The Hague may further polarize the already divided country and complicate an already tumultuous situation after the August 4 blast at Beirut port, where authorities say ammonium nitrate stored unsafely detonated, fueling public outrage and leading to the government’s resignation.
Harri’s killing removed a powerful Sunni leader and allowed the further political expansion of Shia power led by Hezbollah and its allies in Lebanon.
Justice 15 years on
The investigation and trial in absentia of the four Hezbollah members has taken 15 years and cost roughly $1 billion. It could result in a guilty verdict and later sentencing of up to life imprisonment, or acquittal.
DNA evidence showed that the blast that killed Hariri was carried out by a male suicide bomber who was never identified.
Prosecutors used cell phone records to argue the men on trial, Salim Jamil Ayyash, Hassan Habib Merhi, Assad Hassan Sabra and Hussein Hassan Oneissi, carefully monitored Hariri’s movements in the months leading up to the attack to time it and to put forward a fake claim of responsibility as a diversion.
Court-appointed lawyers said there is no physical evidence linking the four to the crime and they should be acquitted.
The reading of the verdict is set to last several hours.
Hariri’s son Saad said he was not seeking revenge, but that justice must prevail.
Some Lebanese say they are now more concerned with finding out the truth behind the Beirut port blast.
“I do want to know what the verdict is … but what matters now is who did this (port blast) to us because this touched more people,” said Francois, a volunteer helping victims in a ruined district.