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Indictment points finger at Hezbollah for Hariri assassination

BEIRUT — International jurists Wednesday released details of how an analysis of cell phone calls led investigators to conclude the Shiite Muslim militia Hezbollah was behind the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri six years ago.

The unsealing of the 47-page indictment, which suggests a complicated three-month plot by at least 11 conspirators to trail Hariri for months, to establish his travel patterns and then to dispatch a suicide bomber with a van full of explosives to kill him, did not produce surprises for close observers of the investigation and was immediately criticized by Hezbollah.

The inquiry into Hariri's Feb. 14, 2005, slaying has been beset by a series of leaks to media that have caused even opponents of Hezbollah to question the integrity of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, the special U.N.-backed court investigating the case.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who last year said that the tribunal would probably indict four of his loyalists, has argued that the evidence was forged by Israeli spies who had infiltrated the country's telecommunications industry. On Wednesday, he called the indictment part of a conspiracy to weaken the country.

Nasrallah also said the indictment was intended to sour relations between Lebanese Shiites and the Lebanese Sunni community Hariri led and to harm the self-described resistance to U.S. and Israeli domination of the region.

Hariri's son, Saad Hariri, who served until March as prime minister, called on Hezbollah to hand the four accused men over to the tribunal. Nasrallah has repeatedly said he won't do so.

Analysts say Hezbollah has deftly managed to lessen the damage the allegations may have caused its reputation as a champion of the Arab cause, though it has suffered regionally as a result of the case.

"They've been out in front of this story for a long time," said Elias Muhanna, a Harvard University researcher and author of the Middle East blog Qifa Nabka.

Though the indictment shows the mechanics of Hezbollah members' alleged involvement in the killing, it does not explore why Hezbollah would want to kill a man with whom it long had warm relations. But the investigation marks something of a milestone, as the first time the U.N. has pursued a terrorism case.

The massive explosion along Beirut's waterfront that killed Hariri also killed 21 others and injured more than 200 people.

Indictment points finger at Hezbollah for Hariri assassination 08/17/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 17, 2011 10:57pm]
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