Murder Trial for Former Lebanese PM Commences at The Hague

Four Hizbollah members being tried in absentia

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Toussaint Kluiters / United Photos / Reuters

From left: Judges Walid Akoum, Janet Nosworthy, David Re, Micheline Braidy and Nicola Lettier preside over the first hearing in the in absentia trial of four people accused of murdering former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in The Hague on Jan.16, 2014.

Nine years after a car bomb containing 2.5 tons of TNT exploded in the streets of Beirut and killed Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in a carefully planned assassination, proceedings at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) have opened in the Hague. On trial in absentia are four suspected Hizbollah members.

The trial comes at an extremely delicate moment for Lebanon, which endured 15 years of civil war only to now be engulfed by ongoing fighting in neighboring Syria that continues to spill over the border and inflame sectarian tension. Less than three weeks ago, one of Harir’s former associates, Mohammad Chatah, was murdered just hundreds of yards from where the prime minister was assassinated.

As the trial kicked off in the Netherlands, another car bomb exploded in the predominately Shiite Lebanese city of Hermel, wounding dozens and killing at least two.

Lebanese Sunnis have long demanded justice for the killing of the country’s prime minister, while Hizbollah has dismissed the charges of their involvement.

The judge presiding over the case instructed the court Thursday to assume that the absent defendants “were present and that they had pleaded not-guilty”, according to Al Jazeera.

The defendants are being tried on nine different counts including homicide and conspiracy to commit a terrorist act.

[BBC, Al Jazeera]