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Hezbollah member sentenced to life in prison in assassination of Lebanon’s Hariri

Presiding Judge David Re and Judge Janet Nosworthy in court in Leidschendam, Netherlands,
Presiding Judge David Re, right, and Judge Janet Nosworthy in court in Leidschendam, Netherlands, where a member of the Hezbollah militant group was sentenced in absentia to life in prison for his involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others.
(Peter Dejong / Associated Press)

A United Nations-backed tribunal sentenced a member of the Hezbollah militant group to life in prison Friday for his involvement in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The defendant, Salim Ayyash, has never been arrested and was not in court at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon for Friday’s sentencing hearing.

The tribunal convicted Ayyash in August of being a co-perpetrator in five charges linked to the suicide truck bombing on Beirut’s seafront on Feb. 14, 2005. The huge blast killed Hariri and 21 others and injured 226.

“Mr. Ayyash participated in an act of terrorism that caused mass murder. His role ... was vital to the success of the attack,” Presiding Judge David Re said.

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“The trial chamber is satisfied that it should impose the maximum sentence for each of the five crimes of life imprisonment, to be served concurrently,” Re added.

The court issued new international arrest warrants for Ayyash and authorized its prosecutor to ask international law enforcement agency Interpol to issue “red notices” to its member states seeking his arrest.

Three other Hezbollah members were acquitted in August of all charges that they also were involved in the killing that sent shock waves through the Middle East.

Only two judges and a small team of court officials were present in the courtroom Friday amid coronavirus restrictions, with other judges and lawyers attending the hearing remotely.

In a verdict met with disappointment in Beirut in August, the tribunal ruled that there was no evidence that the Hezbollah leadership and the Syrian government were involved in the attack, despite saying the assassination happened as Hariri and his political allies were discussing calling for an “immediate and total withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon.”

On Friday, one of the trial judges, Janet Nosworthy, said the assassination “most probably had to have involved a state actor” and that the state “with most to gain from Mr. Hariri’s elimination most likely was Syria.”


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