An UN-backed tribunal on Tuesday convicted one member of the Hezbollah militant group and acquitted three others of involvement in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
The verdicts from the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon near The Hague in the Netherlands were delivered more than 15 years after Hariri was killed in bomb attack that also claimed the lives of 21 other people.
The Special Tribunal for Lebanon said Salim Ayyash was guilty as a co-conspirator of five charges linked to his involvement in the suicide truck bombing.
Earlier on Tuesday, Presiding Judge David Re said the trial found no evidence that Hezbollah leadership or the Syrian government were involved in the attack, even though they “may have had motives to eliminate Hariri.”
The verdict, which follows a years-long investigation, comes at a difficult time for Lebanon, following a devastating Aug. 4 explosion in Beirut.
Their verdicts concerned four identified Hezbollah suspects- Salim Ayyash, also known as Abu Salim; Assad Sabra, Hassan Oneissi, who changed his name to Hassan Issa and Hassan Habib Merhi-who had been charged with offences including conspiracy to commit a terrorist act, and face maximum sentences of life imprisonment if convicted.
Only Salim Ayyash was found guilty on all charges but he is unlikely to serve any prison time- the four suspects have never been detained despite international arrest warrants and Hezbollah has vowed never to hand over any suspects.
Rafik Hariri’s son, Saad, himself a former Prime Minister of Lebanon, was among those present at the UN tribunal.
“We accept the court’s ruling and we want justice to be done so that the criminals are handed over to justice,” he wrote on Twitter after the court handed out its verdicts.
He described the ruling as “a historical moment” and “a message to those who committed and planned this terrorist crime that the time for using crime in politics without punishment or price is over”.
Hariri added that “a sacrifice must be made today by Hezbollah”.
(With agencies inputs)