August 19, 2011 / 1:57 PM / 9 years ago

U.N.'s Lebanon court to probe three Hariri-linked attacks

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The U.N.-backed Lebanon tribunal said on Friday it will investigate three bomb attacks which it believes are connected to a separate bombing which killed Lebanese politician Rafik al-Hariri in 2005.

Women sit at the gravesite of Lebanon's assassinated former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri in downtown Beirut August 19, 2011. REUTERS/Jamal Saidi

Hariri’s killing plunged Lebanon into a series of political crises and assassinations that provoked clashes in May 2008, leading to fears of a revival of sectarian tensions in a country still scarred by its 1975-1990 civil war.

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon was set up to investigate the Beirut bombing that killed Hariri.

In June it issued arrest warrants for four men, identified by Lebanese officials as members of Shi’ite Muslim group Hezbollah, a billionaire Sunni Muslim politician and former prime minister. So far, they have not been arrested.

On Friday, pre-trial judge Danial Fransen ordered the Lebanese authorities to hand over information about attacks and assassination attempts on three other politicians — Marwan Hamadeh, George Hawi, and Elias al-Murr.

“The prosecutor had presented prima facie evidence that each of the three cases are connected (to the Hariri killing), and are thus within the tribunal’s jurisdiction,” the court said in a statement.

Hamadeh is a former telecoms minister who survived an assassination attempt in 2004, while al-Murr, a former deputy prime minister and former defense minister, was wounded in a bombing in 2005.

Hawi, a former Communist Party chief and critic of Syria, was killed by a bomb in his car in Beirut in 2005.

Tribunal president Antonio Cassese on Thursday urged Beirut to intensify its efforts to arrest the four men wanted for Hariri’s assassination.

Cassese said Lebanon, which reported back to the court earlier this month about its efforts to track down the suspects, has a “continuing obligation” to arrest and transfer them to the Hague-based court to stand trial.

The report said the Lebanese authorities had carried out surveillance, interviewed alleged associates of the suspects, visited places where they are said to have connections and met municipality officials.

Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran and Syria, has denied any role in the huge explosion in Beirut which killed Hariri and 21 others in February 2005.

Hezbollah’s leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, has dismissed the indictments as a failed attempt to sow strife and bring down Lebanon’s new Hezbollah-backed government, and has said the authorities would never arrest members of the group.

The tribunal has jurisdiction over attacks that took place in Lebanon between October 1, 2004 and December 12, 2005, but only if the pre-trial judge sees a connection to the Hariri attack.

Reporting by Aaron Gray-Block; Editing by Louise Ireland

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