BEIRUT June 30, 2011 (AP) A U.N.-backed court investigating the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri delivered four arrest warrants Thursday, the latest turn in a case that transformed this Arab nation and brought down the government earlier this year.
...The long-awaited indictment was confirmed by the office of Hariri's son, Saad, six years after the massive truck bombing along Beirut's waterfront on Feb. 14, 2005. Hariri was among 23 people killed.
...Hezbollah, which is also backed by Syria, fiercely denies any role in the killing and says the tribunal is a conspiracy by Israel and the United States.
The dispute over the court encapsulates Lebanon's most explosive conflicts: the role of Hezbollah, the country's most powerful political and military force; the country's dark history of sectarian divisions and violence; and Lebanon's fraught relationship with neighboring Syria.
The indictment raises concerns of a possible resurgence of violence that has bedeviled this tiny Arab country of 4 million people for years, including a devastating 1975-1990 civil war and sectarian battles between Sunnis and Shiites in 2008.
Rafik Hariri was one of Lebanon's most prominent Sunni leaders.
Last year, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said the group "will cut off the hand" of anyone who tries to arrest any of its members. It was a potent threat, given that Nasrallah commands an arsenal that far outweighs that of the national army.
Reverberations from the death of Hariri, a billionaire businessman, are still being felt today.
In January, the investigation triggered a political crisis that brought down the Western-backed government of Saad Hariri, who had been prime minister since 2009. Saad Hariri had refused Hezbollah's demands to renounce the court, prompting 11 Hezbollah ministers and their allies to resign from his unity government.
The move further polarized the country's rival factions: Hezbollah with its patrons in Syria and Iran on one side, and Hariri's Western-backed bloc on the other, with support by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.
The U.S. called Hezbollah's walkout a transparent effort to subvert justice.
After Rafik Hariri was assassinated, suspicion immediately fell on Syria, since Hariri had been seeking to weaken its domination of the country.
Syria has denied having any role in the murder, but the killing galvanized opposition to Damascus and led to huge street demonstrations that helped end Syria's 29-year military presence.
From JPost, 30 June 2011:
Former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri on Thursday welcomed indictments issued in his father's 2005 assassination, calling the move a "historic moment."
The four suspects are Mustafa Badreddine, Salim al-Ayyash, Hasan Aineysseh and Asad Sabra, The Daily Star reported, quoting a judicial source. Badreddine is cousin and a brother-in-law of slain Hezbollah terrorist Imad Mughniyeh, who was assassinated in Damascus in 2008.
... Lebanese media reported that the four arrest warrants presented were for Hezbollah members.
...On Monday, London-based Asharq Alawsat had reported that five high ranking Hezbollah officials were expected to be indicted by the special tribunal. ...