Tribunal indicts 5th suspect in Hariri slaying

Associated Press

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — A United Nations-backed tribunal investigating the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri has indicted a fifth suspect in the notorious slaying, the court announced Thursday.

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon unsealed an indictment against Hassan Habib Merhi, a Lebanese man described in the indictment as a supporter of the Shiite group Hezbollah, on charges including terrorism and intentional homicide for his alleged role in the Feb. 14, 2005, suicide truck bombing that killed Hariri, 21 others and the bomber.

Prosecutors accuse Merhi of plotting the attack and organizing a false claim of responsibility afterwards to shield the perpetrators.

The indictment was confirmed July 31 and sent to Lebanese authorities a week later along with a warrant for Merhi's arrest, but he has not yet been detained.

Tribunal President, Judge Sir David Baragwanath, called on Lebanese authorities to "reinvigorate and intensify their efforts to apprehend" Merhi and the tribunal will also launch a public campaign in an effort to track him down and alert him to the indictment.

Four Hezbollah members were charged in 2011 with plotting the attack but have not been arrested. Their trial is scheduled to start in January, in their absence if they are not detained.

Tribunal spokesman Marten Youssef said that Merhi's indictment is separate to that of the other four suspects. It remains unclear if it could cause a further delay to the scheduled Jan. 13 start of their trial.

Hezbollah, which dominates Lebanon's government, denies involvement in Hariri's killing and has refused to extradite the first four suspects.

The four suspects include Mustafa Badreddine, a Hezbollah commander who also is the suspected bomb maker in the 1983 blast at the U.S. Marines barracks in Beirut that killed 241 Americans. The other suspects are Salim Ayyash, also known as Abu Salim; Assad Sabra and Hassan Oneissi, who changed his name to Hassan Issa.

The suicide truck bomb that killed Hariri was one of the most dramatic political assassinations in the Middle East. A billionaire Sunni businessman, Hariri was Lebanon's most prominent politician after the country's 15-year civil war ended in 1990.