Fifth Suspect Is Indicted in 2005 Killing of Ex-Lebanese Premier

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PARIS -- An international court has indicted a fifth suspect in the 2005 killing of Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanon prime minister, describing the suspect, like the other four indictees, as a member of Hezbollah.

Prosecutors with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, based just outside The Hague, have charged Hassan Habib Merhi with terrorism and intentional homicide over his role in preparing the car bomb that killed Mr. Hariri, 8 members of his convoy and 13 bystanders in Beirut.

The new indictment, which was issued in July and made public on Thursday, charged that Mr. Merhi participated in an elaborate plot including the use of five different groups of mobile phones, each with a different code name, to stake out Mr. Hariri's movements in the weeks before he was killed. The indictment also said that Mr. Merhi was involved in buying the van used in the attack, and that he was part of a ruse to deflect suspicion from those involved.

Neither Mr. Merhi, who is Lebanese, nor the four other Lebanese men who were charged in 2011 have been arrested or are expected at the tribunal anytime soon. Hezbollah has long denied that any of its members were linked to the killings, and said it would never surrender anyone.

A judge's arrest warrant, disclosed on Thursday, made it clear that parts of Lebanon that are considered Hezbollah strongholds were off limits even to Lebanon's judicial police and have become more inaccessible since the civil war in neighboring Syria began to spill into Lebanon.

In July and August, bombs went off in Hezbollah neighborhoods, widely believed to be the work of Syrian rebels taking revenge against Hezbollah for having sent fighters to support the government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

Yet the United Nations-backed tribunal has scheduled a trial for the first four suspects to begin in January. It will take place in their absence, which is permitted under Lebanese law. If a suspect were to appear, the court would be obliged to hold a new trial.

Given the many obstacles facing the tribunal, critics and even former supporters have said it should close. But the court, created in 2009 by the United Nations Security Council at Lebanon's request, keeps going, even though it has no detainees and has regular financial difficulties, including the costs of maintaining its staff of close to 400.

Forty-nine percent of the tribunal's 2013 budget of about $80 million is to be paid by Lebanon, with the rest contributed by other countries. Lebanon's government, which includes the Hezbollah movement, is often in arrears and has not paid its dues for this year, the court said.

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This article originally appeared in The New York Times. First Published October 11, 2013 2:02 PM


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