Absent Hezbollah members sentenced to life terms for killing former Lebanese PM

16 June 2022, 15:14

Rafik Hariri assassination aftermath
The aftermath of the explosion which left former Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri and 21 other people dead (AP Photo/Saleh Rifai, File). Picture: PA

Hassan Habib Merhi and Hussein Hassan Oneissi were sentenced for their roles in the assassination of Rafik Hariri which left 21 other people dead.

Appeals judges at an international tribunal sentenced two members of the militant Hezbollah group to life imprisonment on Thursday for their roles in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and the deaths of 21 other people in 2005.

Neither of the convicted men, Hassan Habib Merhi and Hussein Hassan Oneissi, has been arrested and sent to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in the Netherlands. They were tried in their absence and remain at large.

Merhi and Oneissi were convicted on appeal in March of five crimes, including being accomplices to the intentional homicide of Hariri and the 21 others.

They died when plotters detonated a huge truck bomb outside a hotel on Beirut’s seafront as Hariri’s motorcade drove past.

The blast wounded another 226 people and plunged Lebanon deeper into political turmoil.

During a hearing on Thursday, the tribunal’s president, Czech judge Ivana Hrdlickova, said Merhi and Oneissi were receiving life sentences for each of their five convictions. If they are ever captured and imprisoned, the sentences would be served concurrently.

The two men were acquitted nearly two years ago following a lengthy trial that found another Hezbollah member, Salim Ayyash, guilty of involvement in the blast on February 14 2005. Ayyash, who also was tried in absentia, received a life prison sentence.

The tribunal’s 2020 verdict was met with anger and disappointment in parts of Lebanon.

The trial judges said there was no evidence that Hezbollah’s leadership and Syria were involved in the attack but noted the assassination happened as Hariri and his political allies were discussing calling for Syria to withdraw its forces from Lebanon.

By Press Association

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