By Lauren Holtmeier
The Lebanese man Salim Jamil Ayyash convicted in absentia of the 2005 assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was part of a Hezbollah hit team, according to a new investigation by US-based newspaper the Washington Post.
However, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), the Dutch-based international court that headed the investigation had stopped short of indicting Hezbollah in the assassination. In its trial of four defendants, only Ayyash was found guilty, and the panel said that there was no conclusive evidence that the killing had been ordered by Hezbollah’s leaders.
But the Washington Post article challenges that narrative, while Saad and Bahaa Hariri, the former prime minister’s sons, have called for justice for their father and for Hezbollah to turn in Ayyash, reacting to the news of the investigation that says Ayyash was a member Hezbollah’s Unit 121 assassination squad.
Bahaa, who made his fortune on the coattails of his father’s construction business, said, “It is clear where the guilt for the assassination of my father Rafic Hariri lies. We must have justice,” in a tweet linked to the Washington Post article.
واضح جداً من المذنب في قضية اغتيال والدي الشهيد رفيق الحريري. لا بد أن نعاقب القتلة.https://t.co/WST6K0Vg45— Bahaa Rafik Hariri (@bahaa_hariri_) August 25, 2020
It is clear where the guilt for the assassination of my father Rafic Hariri lies. We must have justice. https://t.co/jFroDyZqvl— Bahaa Rafik Hariri (@bahaa_hariri_) August 25, 2020
Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, speaking to reporters following the ruling, said, “The court came out with satisfying results which we accepted. We also believe that there are many other things that remain unknown. If they are revealed, they will support the court’s ruling.”
Saad Hariri resigned from his post as prime minister last October after nationwide protests against government corruption and years of mismanagement broke out. His name had been floated as a contender to return to the position following his successor Hassan Diab’s resignation from the post in the wake of the Beirut port explosion that left 181 dead. The explosion, caused by 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate catching on fire, set off renewed protests as it became evident that successive governments had been aware of the chemicals stored at the port since 2014 and failed to act.
However, Saad Hariri withdrew his name Tuesday.
Speaking to reporters following the verdict on his father’s assassination, he added that Hezbollah must cooperate and turn in Ayyash, whose whereabouts are not publicly known.
The verdict was scheduled for August 7, but was pushed back after the explosion.
Hezbollah has denied responsibility or involvement in the assassination, and before the verdict was issued said it was not concerned with the announcement. The group has also said it did not have weapons stored at the port.
According to unnamed officials the Washington Post spoke to, “Although the hit squad’s makeup changed, a common thread was the participation of Ayyash, one of four indicted co-conspirators in the Hariri case and later a commander of Unit 121.”
Saad Hariri said that while the STL did not name any specific party as being involved, the party that protects the killer – referring to Hezbollah – bears the responsibility, and “everyone should cooperate on the issue.”
Rafik Hariri’s assassination has been the subject of debate for 15 years, with the provenance of his killers shrouded in mystery. Hariri was staunchly opposed to Syria’s presence in Lebanon, and for years, fingers pointed toward Syrian involvement before eventually pivoting to the Iran-backed Hezbollah.
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