In a highly anticipated move the Special Tribunal for Lebanon issued indictments Thursday (June 30th) for individuals involved in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Prosecutor General Judge Said Mirza met with a delegation from the Tribunal and received a copy of the indictment. Prosecutors issued arrest warrants for four individuals.
Interior Minister Marwan Charbel announced that warrants were issued for Mustafa Badreddine, a Hizbullah military official, Salim Ayyash, Hussein Anaissi and Assad Sabra. Badreddine is suspected of being the mastermind of Hariri's assassination. He is the brother-in-law of Imad Mughniyeh, a former top Hizbullah operative who was killed in 2008 during a car bombing in Damascus, according to wire reports. Ayyash is another top Hizbullah party official.
Hariri was assassinated in downtown Beirut on February 14th, 2005. The attack on his motorcade claimed his life and 22 others.
Also on Thursday, the government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati released its ministerial statement which included a clause on the tribunal. Mikati's government was formed after several ministers withdrew their support for Saad Hariri's government in January and resigned.
Mikati said after the indictment was announced that the government "will follow the decision and continue the work and procedures related to it, and will reflect the collective will, which highlights the invulnerability of Lebanon with an emphasis on loyalty to Rafik Hariri through adherence to justice and the preservation of national principles".
Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, head of the Future Movement, described the indictment as an historic moment, calling it "an opportunity for the Lebanese government to uphold its responsibilities and for the government to provide full co-operation with the International Tribunal".
He said the government "is called upon, politically, patriotically, legally and morally to implement Lebanon's obligations to the court, and there is no reason for anyone to avoid this responsibility".
Hariri said people should refrain from "interfering with the course of justice", adding that bringing the accused to justice is a guarantee for democracy and stability.
The ministerial statement included a highly anticipated clause related to the Special Tribunal.
The clause stated, "The government, out of respect for international resolutions, affirms its commitment to the truth in the assassination of Rafik Hariri and his companions and will follow the developments of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which was established in principle to establish truth and justice, away from politicisation and revenge in a manner that would not negatively affect Lebanon's stability, unity and civil peace."
Ammar al-Houri, a member of parliament and the Future Movement, told Al-Shorfa, "The indictment is a step towards achieving justice which we have demanded since the crime occurred in 2005."
He said the Lebanese government was responsible for the technical side of implementing the indictment, but that the clause related to the Tribunal in the ministerial statement is "an escape and a retreat from the consensus on the Tribunal which was reached during the national dialogue that was held in 2006".
Al-Houri said the phrase "respect for international resolutions" included in the ministerial statement did not represent a real commitment and was just words.
Walid Sukkarieh, a member of parliament from Hizbullah's Loyalty to the Resistance bloc, said the Tribunal was politicised from the start and the target of the indictment was already known.
He told Al-Shorfa, "The indictment was issued to oppose the Mikati government and prevent it from achieving any success that the West would consider harmful to its interests or the interests of its Lebanese allies."
Antoine Klimos, former chairman of the Lebanese Bar Association, said, "As Lebanese, we have waited for this decision to see who was responsible for carrying out this crime." He noted the indictment "is not a judgment, but it embodies an essential step in the Special Tribunal's work".
Klimos said the Public Prosecution Department must act to implement the resolution based upon the agreement Lebanon signed with the United Nations that established the tribunal.
He added, "The public prosecutor must issue arrest warrants that are geographically defined within Lebanon and against the Lebanese individuals named in the indictment as a prelude to extraditing them to the court abroad."
He said the role of Lebanese authorities is only procedural.
Dr. Hilal Khashan, a political science professor at the American University in Beirut, ruled out any serious implications from the indictment because the results were expected for more than a year.
He said, "Everyone in Lebanon knew where things were heading and where they pointed. Even some of the names of the accused were known in the media."
The UN Security Council passed Resolution 1757 on May 30th, 2007 establishing the Special Tribunal for Lebanon to investigate the assassination of Hariri and his companions. Lebanon signed an agreement with the United Nations to set up the court on January 23d, 2007.