February 21, 2018 / 3:45 PM / a month ago

Lebanon tribunal hears motion to dismiss charges against Hariri murder suspects

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Prosecutors on Wednesday asked judges at an international tribunal investigating the 2005 murder of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri to reject a motion for early dismissal of charges against two of the four suspects.

The main trial at the United Nations-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon in The Hague is at its halfway point, after prosecutors finished presenting their case earlier this month.

Prosecutor Alexander Milne acknowledged “a lack of direct evidence” in the case. The four suspects are all charged with conspiracy to commit a terrorist act and murder, or being an accomplice to murder, in the waterfront bomb blast that killed Hariri and 21 others.

But Milne said circumstantial evidence was compelling.

“The pattern only emerges when you see all the pieces,” Alexander Milne said.

Earlier, court-appointed defense lawyer Vincent Courcelle-Labrousse said the prosecution’s evidence, based mainly on analysis of telecoms data, is “built on a fictional world”.

Representing suspect Hussein Hassan Oneissi, the lawyer argued were “no prints, no photos, no texts, no email” nor any video evidence linking his client to the alleged bomb plot to kill Hariri. Lawyers for Salim Jamil Ayyash also said the prosecution had not met its burden of proof.  

Lawyers for the two other suspects, Hassan Habib Merhi and Assad Hassan Sabra, did not seek early acquittal.

The suspects — all with links to Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah movement — are all fugitives.

The tribunal was established in the Netherlands in 2009 after Lebanon’s then-government said it lacked the resources and means to investigate the killing, which pushed the eastern Mediterranean country to the brink of civil war.

Judges will rule on the applications for acquittal as soon as practicable, a court spokeswoman said.

Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg, Editing by William Maclean

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