Tribunal says Hariri trial to start March 25
LEIDSCHENDAM, Netherlands—A judge at the U.N.-backed tribunal investigating the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri set March 25 as the tentative date to start the trial in absentia of four suspects, the court announced Thursday.
Hariri, one of Lebanon's most powerful Sunni leaders, was killed along with 22 others in a truck bomb blast on Feb. 14, 2005. The Special Tribunal for Lebanon has indicted four members of the Shiite Muslim Hezbollah group which, along with its allies, now holds a majority in Lebanon's Cabinet. Hezbollah denies involvement in Hariri's killing and has refused to extradite the suspects.
Thursday's announcement sets the stage for an unusual event in international justice -- a trial without suspects in court. The Hariri tribunal is the only international court that allows trials in absentia. Still, the court said developments such as any of the suspects being arrested could delay the starting date.
"The setting of a provisional date for trial by Judge Daniel Fransen is an important judicial step on the road to trial," tribunal spokesman Marten Youssef said.
The four suspects include Mustafa Badreddine, a Hezbollah commander who also is the suspected bomb maker in the 1983 blast at the U.S. Marines barracks in Beirut that killed 241 Americans. The other suspects are Salim Ayyash, also known as Abu Salim; Assad Sabra and Hassan Oneissi, who changed his name to Hassan Issa.