A United Nations tribunal convicted Hezbollah member Salim Jamil Ayyash for the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri on Tuesday over his role in a 2005 terror attack that led to years of violent conflict between the country’s political factions.
Hariri, a Sunni Muslim billionaire and business tycoon, developed close ties with the West and Sunni Arab allies before his resignation as Prime Minister in 2004 and was widely considered a hindrance to Syrian and Iranian influence in Lebanon. He was also credited with leading the reconstruction of Beirut following the devastating impact of the 1975-1990 civil war.
The court concluded that, although there was no evidence of direct involvement between the Assad regime in Syria and the leadership of Iranian-backed terror group Hezbollah, the killing was a case of politically-motivated terrorism.
“Mr. Ayyash had a central role in the execution of the attack and directly contributed to it,” said Presiding Judge David Re, reading from a mammoth 2,600-page ruling. “[He] intended to kill Mr. Hariri and had the required knowledge about the circumstances of the assassination mission, including that explosives were the means to be used.”
The court also acquitted three other men who had been charged as accomplices in the attack due to insufficient evidence, despite them also being members of the Shi’ite Muslim terror group. All four defendants were tried in absentia.
The verdict drew fury from opponents of Hezbollah, particularly from Hariri’s son Saad, also a former Lebanese prime minister, who vowed not to rest until the organization was brought to justice. “Hezbollah is the one that should make sacrifices today,” he said. “I repeat: we will not rest until punishment is served.”
It also drew reactions from neighboring countries, with Saudi Arabia declaring it the first step in ensuring that “Hezbollah and its terrorist elements” will be punished. Meanwhile, Israel’s Foreign Ministry described the ruling as “unequivocal,” warning that Hezbollah had “taken hostage the future of the Lebanese in the service of foreign interests.”
Lebanon is still reeling from the massive explosion in Beirut that killed 178 people on August 4th, causing $15 billion dollars of damage to the already struggling city. Observers initially suspected that a group such as Hezbollah may be behind the attack, although it now appears it was the result of an explosion at the city’s port after the detonation of unsafely stored ammonium nitrate.