BEIRUT: The trial chamber of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon Wednesday rejected a motion to acquit suspect Hussein Oneissi of charges linking him to the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. “The trial chamber believes it has sufficient evidence that it could convict Mr. Oneissi with [conspiracy to commit a terrorist act],” Judge Janet Nosworthy said.
“Could” was the key word throughout Wednesday’s hearing. Judges repeated that there indeed was evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that potentially linked the accused to the crime; however, no verdict was given regarding whether such a link was yet proven.
Judge David Re, the trial chamber’s president, opened the session by reviewing the prosecution’s four-year-long case detailing cellular records and witness testimonies.
According to the STL judges, the terrorist act of assassinating Hariri, which also left 21 others killed and over 200 injured, required premeditation, careful selection of trustworthy individuals and the delegation of tasks.
The prosecution has alleged that Oneissi was heavily involved in organizing the alleged false claim of responsibility of the attack, in which a video tipped off to Al Jazeera and Reuters in Beirut showed a man named Ahmad Abu Adass confessing to the suicide bombing. In the video, Adass cited his alliance with a fictional group calling itself “Nusra and Jihad in Greater Syria.”
Drawing upon cellular records of a phone argued to belong to Oneissi, the prosecution argues that the suspect coordinated with suspects Assad Sabra and Hassan Merhi in identifying and recruiting Adass to make the false confession.
Oneissi has also been accused of organizing Adass’ disappearance following the assassination.
The judges of the trial chamber decided that enough evidence – albeit circumstantial – was provided making such charges possible beyond reasonable doubt.
“This could not just have happened, it had to have been an agreement that took time to [orchestrate],” Re said.
Following the conclusion of the prosecution’s case last month, the Oneissi defense team was the only one to file a judgment of acquittal for their client. While Wednesday’s hearing could have potentially resulted in the acquittal of the accused, his lead defense counsel Vincent Courcelle-Labrousse was noticeably absent.
Instead, co-counsel Natalie von Wistinghausen took charge in representing the absent suspect in court.
According to the STL rules and procedures, the Oneissi defense team has one week to request an appeal to the trial chamber’s decision. If their request is overruled, the team must continue to defend the accused.
Von Wistinghausen did not immediately indicate what the team’s next steps would be.