Four arrest warrants have been issued by the UN-backed tribunal investigating the 2005 murder of Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Lebanon’s state prosecutor said.
Hariri’s son, Saad, welcomed the indictments and described them as a “historic moment” for Lebanon.
Local reports say the warrants name senior members of the Shia militant and political group Hezbollah.
Hezbollah has repeatedly denounced the tribunal and vowed to retaliate.
Divisions over the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), based in The Hague, have thrown the country into political turmoil and prompted fears of sectarian unrest.
‘Innocent until proven guilty’
Rafik Hariri and 21 others were killed in February 2005 in central Beirut when a huge bomb went off as his motorcade passed by.
Hezbollah has attempted to discredit the tribunal, claiming it is a plot involving the United States, Israel and France.
The group has denied any role in the assassination.
On Thursday, Lebanon’s state prosecutor Saeed Mirza confirmed that he had received the indictments and four arrest warrants from an STL delegation in the Lebanese capital Beirut.
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said his government would deal “responsibly and realistically” with the UN indictment, while “bearing in mind that these are accusations and not verdicts”.
“All suspects are innocent until proven guilty,” Mr Mikati told a news conference.
Saad Hariri – himself a former prime minister – described the indictment as a milestone for the country.
“After many years of patience, of struggle… today, we witness a historic moment in Lebanese politics, justice and security,” he said in a statement quoted by the AFP news agency.
He urged Lebanon’s new Hezbollah-dominated government to live up to its international obligations.
Hezbollah forced the collapse of Saad Hariri’s government in January after he refused to stop co-operating with the tribunal.
Mr Mikati has previously said that he would strive to uphold Lebanon’s international obligations, but that he was also mindful of his responsibilities when it came to the country’s stability.
According to tribunal officials, Lebanon now has 30 days to serve out the arrest warrants.
If the suspects are not arrested within that period, the STL will then make public the indictment and summon the suspects to appear before the court
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