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Special Lebanon tribunal indicts fifth suspect in Hariri assassination

A UN-backed tribunal has indicted a fifth suspect in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. Prosecutors claim that Hassan Habib Merhi has ties to the Hezbollah militant group.

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) released the indictment of Merhi on Thursday, accusing the 47-year-old of helping to plan the bomb attack that killed Hariri (pictured above) and trying to cover up the perpetrators' involvement afterwards.

Judges at the STL had issued the indictment in secret on July 31 in order to give authorities time to arrest Merhi. After failing to track down the suspect, the tribunal decided on Thursday to make the indictment public.

In the 35-page indictment, prosecutors use cell phone records to establish how Merhi allegedly tracked Prime Minister Hariri's movements in the final weeks of his life. It says he worked with two other Hezbollah-connected suspects, Salim Jamil Ayyash and Mustafa Amine Badreddine.

A Mitsubishi van packed with 2.5 tons of explosives was detonated as Hariri's motorcade drove by Beirut's waterfront on February 14th, 2005. Hariri and 22 others were killed in the blast. A further 226 people were wounded.

Alleged cover up

After the assassination, Merhi allegedly worked with fellow indictees Hussein Hassan Oneissi and Assad Hassan Sabra to cover up the perpetrators' involvement, falsely attributing the attack to a fake fundamentalist group, "Victory and Jihad in Greater Syria."

Prosecutors say that Oneissi and Sabra called the offices of Reuters and Al Jazeera in Beirut, claiming responsibility on behalf of the fictitious group. The two men then left a video outside the offices of Al Jazeera, which purportedly contained footage of the suicide bomber's last message.

Hezbollah has denied any involvement in the Hariri assassination and has said that the indicted will never face trial. So far, none of the indicted suspects have been located and detained.

slk/ccp (AFP, Reuters)