The second day of closing arguments in the Rafik Hariri assassination trial took a sharp turn with the prosecution attributing crime-affiliated phones to the accused suspects, as premier-designate Saad Hariri reiterated his support for the proceedings.
Hassan Merhi, Hussein Oneissi, Assad Sabra and Salim Ayyash are being tried in absentia for their alleged roles in the Feb. 14, 2005 Beirut bombing assassinating Rafik Hariri and killing 21 others.
Accordingly, the prosecution and defense have relied on circumstantial evidence – in this case, cellular data – to make their cases.
Incriminating phones have been separated into color-coded networks: green, yellow, blue and red.
The prosecution has alleged that each of these four groups operated covertly: No personal calls were made or taken; no contacts were saved; and phones were employed only for conspiracy-related tasks.
A fifth group, delineated by the color purple – discussed Wednesday morning – had previously been labeled as a covert network.
Nuances in the usage of the “purple” phones, however, have led to their being reclassified as a noncovert phone “group.” According to the prosecution, these phones were used largely for personal purposes, but in some instances were also linked to incriminating activity.
“When considered as a whole, it can only be concluded that the users of these phones were involved in the organization of the assassination,” prosecution counsel Marc Desalliers said on opening the day.
Desalliers and Laurence Carrier-Desjardens summarized cellular reports and testimonies presented by telecommunications experts before the trial chamber in past years.
The prosecution has argued that the contacts and SMS messages saved in the personal purple phones, as well as the geographic movements of all phones – including those within the covert network – help to pin the phones to the accused suspects.
Further reinforcing ties between Oneissi and the plot-affiliated phone “Purple 095,” Desalliers showed bank records from Bank Audi, BLOM Bank, Saradar Bank and the now-defunct Lebanese Canadian Bank attributing the accused to the phone in question. Carrier-Desjardens argued two phones, referred to as “Green 071” and “Purple 231,” belonged to Merhi. Purple 231 was linked most strongly to the accused as a result of a furniture delivery made in November 2004 – a key incident for the prosecution’s case. On two separate days in mid-November, Merhi had used Purple 231 to facilitate a delivery to his house.
Documents from the furniture company show Merhi signed off on deliveries on those dates. Carrier-Desjardens tied Purple 231 to the more covertly used Green 071 by showing similar geographic locations and patterns.
Analysis of the usage of both phones showed they were frequently used in the same areas of Lebanon: one near his residence in southern Beirut’s Burj al-Barajneh neighborhood, other areas in adjacent neighborhoods to the east, as well as near a cell tower in southern Lebanon’s Ain Qana.
The prosecution concluded Wednesday’s hearing by summarizing their case linking Ayyash to several covert phones. In doing so, Desalliers marked two separate car crashes Ayyash was involved in.
In both accidents, his outgoing call records and subsequent movements gave reason for the prosecution to strongly believe he was the user of the phone.
The prosecution is likely to conclude its closing arguments Thursday as predicted. The representative for the victims of the attacks will then give their closing remarks before the defense has its say.
In a media briefing Wednesday afternoon, Special Tribunal for Lebanon spokesperson Wajed Ramadan noted there could be a chance that the arguments will extend beyond their original end-date, set for next Friday.
Hariri was absent from Tuesday’s hearing after returning to Beirut and resuming domestic duties. He is not expected to attend the rest of the closing arguments. Speaking to reporters in Lebanon Wednesday, Hariri reiterated remarks made the day before: “I said whoever assassinated my father [Rafik Hariri] will pay the price sooner or later, and I care about the country’s stability, and I think the tribunal proved its professionalism in its work.”
Citing “differences in views,” he asked, “So what do we do? Do we sabotage the country or do we work on preserving it? There are people who want to ruin the country and others who want its reform and stability.”
“I’m among those seeking to stabilize the country, and just knowing the truth is a means to achieve justice,” he added.
After attending the morning session Monday, Hariri had addressed international and local media, saying that he would not allow his emotional attachment to the trial affect his decision-making as premier-designate.
“There is no doubt that this day is difficult for me, as the son of Rafik Hariri. Rafik Hariri, and the other martyrs of March 14, fell to protect Lebanon, not to destroy it,” he said. “Therefore, from the start, we demanded justice because we believe that justice and the truth protect Lebanon.”
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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