The trial of four Hezbollah fighters suspected of plotting the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri has begun. The UN-backed court in the Netherlands is trying the suspects in absentia.
The trial began Thursday almost nine years after a bomb attack killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 22 others.
The four men suspected of plotting the sectarian attack are being tried in absentia as the Islamic militant Hezbollah movement, which denies responsibility for the attack, has refused to turn them in.
The trial is being held at the United Nations-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), located in Leidschendam, on the outskirts of The Hague. The tribunal was set up specifically to investigate the killings.
Hariri's son, Saad Hariri, also a former prime minister, Deputy House Speaker Farid Makari, and several parliamentarians were present at the opening session.
Saad Hariri told members of the families of the other victims, also present at the trial, that "the opening of the tribunal is a historic day as it opens a new page for justice in Lebanon."
On February 14, 2005 a Mitsubishi van laden with 2.5 tons of explosives was detonated as Hariri's motorcade drove by in the Lebanese capital, Beirut. The blast killed 22 people, including Hariri, and wounded 226.
"The people of Lebanon have the right to this trial, hear the evidence and seek the truth," chief prosecutor Norman Farrell said in his opening statement.
"The attackers kiled innocent bystanders, a student, a hotel worker, a cousin, a father, a brother, friends," Farrell added, showing the court a graphic photograph taken shortly after the explosion. "Clearly their aim was not only to ensure that the target was killed, but to send a terrifying message to cause panic among the population of Beirut and Lebanon."
The prosecution's case includes evidence made up of data from mobile phones allegedly used to carry out the attack.
The assassination, one of the most dramatic in the Middle East's modern history, fuelled sectarian divisions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims and was a catalyst for the country's Cedar Revolution. This eventually led to Syrian troops withdrawing from Lebanon after a military presence of almost three decades.
hc,dr/ph (Reuters, AFP)