“The appeals chamber decides unanimously to sentence Mr. (Habib) Merhi and Mr. (Hussein) Oneissi to life imprisonment, the heaviest sentence provided for by the statute and rules” of the court, declared STL President Ivana Hrdlickova.
The court found Hussein Oneissi and Hassan Habib Merhi guilty on appeal on March 10, reversing their acquittal. They were notably convicted on appeal of conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism and complicity in intentional homicide.
The two men were “fully aware that the planned attack in the heart of Beirut would kill Rafic Hariri” and other people, raised judge Ivana Hrdlickova.
They acted with premeditation and were guilty of “extremely serious” and “particularly heinous” crimes which “plunged the Lebanese people into a state of terror”, she added.
It is unlikely that the two men will be truly imprisoned because the Shiite Hezbollah movement has refused to hand over any suspects and to recognize the court which tried all the suspects in absentia including Salim Ayyash, already sentenced to life in 2020.
– Van filled with explosives –
Rafic Hariri, who was Lebanon’s prime minister until his resignation in October 2004, was killed in February 2005 when a suicide bomber blew up a van loaded with explosives as his armored convoy passed through Beirut, killing 21 others people and causing 226 injuries.
The attack sparked protests that drove Syria out of Lebanon after a 29-year military deployment.
After the departure of the Syrian army, the current hostile to Damascus, led by Saad Hariri, son of Rafic Hariri, had won the legislative elections of 2005 and 2009.
It could well be the end of the curtain for the STL, which sits near The Hague, in the Netherlands. Threatened with disappearance for lack of funding, the court should close its doors at the end of this trial.
Since its opening in 2009 after a resolution of the UN Security Council, the cost of the STL, responsible for trying those accused of the attack, is estimated between 600 million and one billion dollars.
At the end of the first instance trial, the court sentenced Salim Ayyash in 2020 but found that there was not enough evidence to convict the other defendants, Assad Sabra, Hussein Oneissi and Hassan Habib Merhi. The prosecution had appealed the acquittals of the last two.
The file shows a significant number of exchanges with different mobile phones used by the convicts in the hours following the assassination of Mr. Hariri.
The three convicts remain at large, with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah refusing to hand them over to the court, which warned it would close shortly due to a lack of funds.
Another trial against Salim Ayyash for a series of attacks on several politicians has been canceled due to lack of funds.