Lebanon News

Multiple phones likely used by single individual: STL

BEIRUT: At the Special Tribunal for Lebanon hearing Thursday, expert witness John Edward Philips gave evidence to bolster the “single user analysis” theory, suggesting that multiple phones were likely used by the same user. Philips, appearing for the second day, is an expert in telecommunications. Having testified multiple times throughout the trial he is the prosecution’s principal expert in cellular sites.

The witness’s testimony has contributed to the prosecution’s case against the five suspects indicted for the 2005 Beirut bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others.

Thursday, Philips expounded on the cellular activity of a pair of cellphones labeled Green 071 and Purple 231 – the color labels signifying distinct cellular networks that have been identified in the case – that the prosecution has argued were used by indicted suspect Hassan Merhi.

Philips also detailed the activity of a cellphone labeled Green 023 and that of three personal mobile phones, all of which were allegedly owned by Mustafa Badreddine. Another of the five men indicted for the conspiracy, Badreddine is thought to have died in Syria in 2016.

A number of phones were used to organize the 2005 bombing, but the prosecution has claimed that each handset doesn’t necessarily correspond to a distinct operative.

Philips tried to demonstrate that both Green 071 and Purple 231 showed near-simultaneous activity in a single area covered by the signal range of one cell tower, on a number of separate occasions – suggesting that Merhi operated both devices.

Certain pockets of cellular activity have been classified by the prosecution as occurring in “unusual areas” and marked as significant. Because only one suspect allegedly visited the areas in question, Philips attested that there was a high probability a single suspect used the multiple phones in those locations.

After giving evidence on Merhi’s cellphone usage, Philips turned to the cellular activity of Badreddine and came to similar conclusions. Based on the available evidence, he attempted to determine that Badreddine had operated several devices.

After Trial Chamber President Judge Re asked about the possible margin of error in his analysis, Philips expressed cautious confidence. “I don’t think you can ever be 100 percent sure, but I think the element of coincidence becomes very, very remote once you have a lot of very different examples,” he said. “Analysis can be taken that a single user was using the mobile phones.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 21, 2017, on page 3.




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