Speculation about possible role of Iranian supreme leader in assassination of former Lebanese PM

Daniel Bellemare, the prosecutor of the UN Special Tribunal investigating the 2005 murder of Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, has submitted a confidential indictment reportedly naming senior leaders of Hezbollah and the Iranian regime as masterminds of the assassination. Hariri – the father of the current Lebanese PM Saad Hariri whose all-party government collapsed last week – was killed in Beirut in February 2005 along with 21 other people by a huge truck bomb (see picture). Bellemare, a Canadian criminal lawyer, filed the indictment under seal late on Monday to the court's pre-trial judge, Daniel Fransen. It could be several weeks before the identities of the suspects are known and about a year before a trial will be held.

The case has roiled Lebanese politics, with anticipation that the prosecutor would name members of Hezbollah in connection with the bombing. Hezbollah has denied any involvement and blamed Israel for the attack. Last week, it withdrew its ministers from the government, which led to its downfall. Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the paramilitary Shiite movement which attacked Israel in 2006 and is backed by Iran and Syria, said he would not allow any of its members to be arrested.

At the time deadly bomb attack against Hariri triggered a major diplomatic campaign by the United States and France to force Syria – which effectively controlled Lebanon at the time – to withdraw its forces from the country. The UN Security Council established an independent commission in 2005 to investigate the assassination and set up the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in 2007 to oversee the trial of suspects.

The commission's first prosecutor, Detlev Mehlis of Germany, issued a report in October 2005 that linked Syrian and pro-Syrian Lebanese officials to the crime. But the tribunal's key witnesses have been discredited, and it remains unclear whether the Syrian government, one of Hezbollah's chief sponsors, remains a suspect. Despite the past allegations, Hariri Jr. (pictured below with his late father) recently absolved Syria of having a hand in the assassination.

US President Obama welcomed the filing of the indictment as "an important step toward ending the era of impunity for murder in Lebanon. He called on "all Lebanese leaders and factions to preserve calm and restraint.”

"The Special Tribunal for Lebanon must be allowed to continue its work, free from interference and coercion," Obama added in his statement. "That is the way to advance the search for the truth, the cause of justice and the future of Lebanon. Those who have tried to manufacture a crisis and force a choice between justice or stability in Lebanon are offering a false choice," the White House statement said.

French media specualted that the indictment would name Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as having given the order to kill Hariri. The Iranian opposition newspaper ‘Islamic Revolution’ published an article about a French radio report stating that General Qassem Suleimani, head of the Quds Brigade which is affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, ordered the late Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh to carry out the assassination of Hariri. Mughniyeh was himself killed in 2008 in the Syrian capital Damascus, and both Iran and Hezbollah accused the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad of assassinating him.

According to the French media report, the 2005 assassination of Hariri was assigned to both Mughniyeh and one of his relatives called Mustafa Badr al-Din, and the operation was carried out through full coordination between Hezbollah and the Revolutionary Guards in Iran.

Rafiq Hariri served as Lebanon’s prime minister from 1990 to 1998 and again from 2000 to 2004. He was well regarded among international leaders and a close friend of then French President Jacques Chirac.

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