On appeal, UN-backed court convicts 2 in Hariri killing
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Appeals judges at a United Nations-backed tribunal on Thursday overturned the acquittals of two members of Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
The five-judge appeals panel at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon convicted Hassan Habib Merhi and Hussein Hassan Oneissi of five charges linked to the assassination, including conspiracy to commit a terrorist act and being accomplices to intentional homicide.
The unanimous appeals decision said that judges in the original trial verdict “committed errors of law invalidating the Judgment and errors of fact occasioning a miscarriage of justice,” the tribunal said in a statement.
Merhi and Oneissi were originally cleared in August 2020 of involvement in the assassination outside a seaside hotel in Beirut. A third Hezbollah member, Salim Ayyash, was convicted at the time as a co-conspirator on five charges linked to his involvement in the 2005 suicide truck bombing that killed Hariri and 21 others and wounded 226 people.
Prosecutors said Merhi and Oneissi played “a significant role” in the plot by distributing a video with a false claim of responsibility after the bombing.
“The acts for which they have been convicted were callous and manipulative, designed not only to shield the real perpetrators from justice but to deceive the Lebanese people,” Prosecutor Norman Farrell said in a statement.
All the suspects were tried in their absence as they were never arrested. The court said Merhi and Oneissi will be sentenced at a later date and issued fresh arrest warrants for both men following Thursday’s convictions.
Farrell said “accountability does not end with their conviction. Merhi and Oneissi, along with their co-conspirator Salim Ayyash remain fugitives. Justice demands that they be arrested.”
The tribunal’s 2020 verdict was met with anger and disappointment in parts of Lebanon after judges said there was no evidence that Hezbollah’s leadership and Syria were involved in the attack, despite saying the assassination happened as Hariri and his political allies were discussing calling for Syria to withdraw its forces from Lebanon.