Lebanon News

Platt: Activity around media tipoff no coincidence

BEIRUT: The organization of the false claim of responsibility following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was at the center of Wednesday’s sessions at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Almost immediately after the detonation of the bomb that killed Hariri and 21 others on Feb. 14, 2005, an anonymous caller phoned Al Jazeera’s offices in Beirut – the first of two tips sent to separate media outlets naming Ahmad Abu Adass as the perpetrator of the attack.

The first tip informed Al Jazeera of the location of a videotape hanging in a tree in Riad al-Solh Square, not far from the scene of the attack. The recording showed then-22-year-old Abu Adass, an orphan of Palestinian descent, confessing to carrying out the bombing.

Gary Platt, a former investigator with the Office of the Prosecution and an expert in covert cellular phone networks testified Wednesday on call records linking three of the defendants, Assad Sabra, Hassan Merhi and Hussin Oneissi, to the anonymous tips made shortly after the bombing.

For the duration of Wednesday’s session, Prosecution Counselor Nigel Povoas and Platt revisited the entirety of the cellular activity attributed to the three defendants, noting phones calls and SMS exchanges between the anonymous tipper and various involved parties from Al Jazeera. “Sabra receives a six-second call from Merhi at 15:53 in the vicinity of [the pay phone used to call Al Jazeera] ... Mr. Oneissi is now using a cellphone in the vicinity of the tree in the surrounding area at 15:54,” Platt said.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a coincidence, even though some might,” he added. “This begins a nine-minute period beginning from 15:53 to 16:02 of three calls between three attributed ‘purple phones’ [parallel to the] continuation of the operations of parties involved in the collection of the tape.”

Groups of phones allegedly used to coordinate various aspects of the conspiracy have been color-coded for the purpose of the investigation and tribunal. The prosecution contends the purple phones in question were not part of a covert network, but had long belonged to the defendants and were used heavily in the coordination of the false claim video.

Following the retrieval of the video by an Al Jazeera staff member, Platt continued to affirm that the movements of the indicted individuals matched the timing of the pickup. “This is consistent with their work, by which I mean the collection of the tape from the tree. So once again, [phone call activity is] consistent with the part of the operation concluding [the video collection],” Platt said.

Wednesday’s session saw Povoas concluded nearly two months of examining expert witness Gary Platt. Defense Counselor Mohamed Aouini, representing the interests of Merhi, is set to begin the first round of cross-examinations Monday.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 16, 2017, on page 2.

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