Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 August 2020

Rafik Hariri assassination: Key events before and after

The assassination of Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in Beirut on February 14, 2005 altered Lebanon's political path.

Hariri was seen by Syria and its allies as a challenge to its control over Lebanon, but his death ultimately forced Damascus to scale back its interference in the face of nationwide anger triggered by the killing.

The following are key moments in the lead-up to the assassination and its aftermath, based on the report issued later that year by Commissioner Detlev Mehlis of the International Independent Investigation Commission, and the proceedings of the Special Tribunal set up to try the case.

Events leading up to the assassination

2004

Aug 26: Rafik Hariri, leader of the Lebanese opposition, meets Syrian President Bashar Al Assad in Damascus. Lebanese politicians say Hariri told them after returning to Beirut that Mr Al Assad told him to back the extension of President Emile Lahoud's term or he would “break Lebanon” over Hariri’s head. Syrian officials disputed the account, saying the meeting was cordial.

Sept 2: UN Security Council Resolution 1559 calls for withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon. Syria had 35,000 troops in the country, posted there since 1976.

Sept 3: Parliament, through a constitutional amendment, extends President Lahoud's six-year term by three years. Hariri votes in favour.

Sept 7: Economy Minister Marwan Hamadeh, a confidant of Druze leader Walid Joumblatt, is among three ministers allied with Hariri who resign to protest the amendment.

Oct 1: Hamadeh survives an assassination attempt. The car bomb attack kills one of his employees.

Oct 4: Hariri resigns as prime minister, ending his four year premiership in a move seen as a protest against Syria's political pressure. He was also prime minister from 1992 to 1998.

Oct 20: President Lahoud names Omar Karami, an Assad family ally, to form a government

The assassination and its aftermath

2005

Feb 14: A truck bomb kills Rafik Hariri and 22 others near Beirut’s seafront. Demonstrations break out against the Syrian regime, setting the scene for the Cedar Revolution.

March 8: Hezbollah organises a large Shiite rally in support of the Syrian regime. The armed group, supported by Iran and the Syrian regime, leads the counter-revolution.

March 14: The anti-Assad camp responds with a bigger demonstration demanding the withdrawal of Syrian regime troops.

March 19 – April 1: Explosions in four Christian suburbs in Beirut kill three people and wound 29.

April 7: Formation of the UN-supervised International Independent Investigation Commission into the killing of Hariri and 22 others. The investigation was upgraded in 2007 to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

April 26: Syrian regime troops leave Lebanon

MaySept 11: Four explosions in Christian areas of Beirut and its suburbs kill one person and wound 45.

May 30: The anti-Assad March 14 Alliance wins Lebanon’s general elections.

June 2: Car bomb kills prominent Palestinian-Lebanese writer and journalist Samir Kassir, an outspoken critic of the Syrian regime, in the Christian Ashrafieh district of East Beirut.

June 21: Car bomb kills veteran leftist politician George Hawi in West Beirut.

June 30: Former finance minister Fouad Siniora, who was a close friend of Rafik Hariri, forms a new government

July 12: Defence Minister Elias Murr survives assassination attempt. Two people at the site of the car bomb attack are killed.

Sept 25: Veteran TV journalist May Chidiac survives assassination attempt. The car bomb attack in Jounieh wounds her severely and her leg is amputated.

Dec 12: A car bomb kills anti-Assad parliamentarian Gebran Tueini in the Mkalles suburb of Beirut.

Note: Attacks that occurred after the Gebran Tueini killing would need UN Security Council consent to be covered by the Special Tribunal.

The international indictments

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon opened in January 2014, almost nine years after the Hariri assassination.

The tribunal indicted in mid-2011 four Hezbollah operatives for the Hariri assassination. The tribunal charged all four with conspiracy aimed at committing a terrorist act. The tribunal indicted in July 2015 a fifth suspect, Hezbollah supporter Hassan Merhi, on similar charges to the four.

The indictments said the case against the accused rested largely on circumstantial evidence, noting that such evidence “is often more reliable that direct evidence”.

The tribunal also charged the two most senior Hezbollah operatives among the five, Mustafa Badreddine and Salim Ayyash, with committing a terrorist act by means of an explosive device, intentional homicide with premeditation of Rafik Hariri and the 21 other people killed in the attack, and attempted intentional homicide of the 213 people wounded, with premeditation.

Badreddine was jailed in Kuwait for attacks in 1983 on the French and US embassies in the country but escaped in 1990. He was killed in Syria in 2016. A year later, the Israeli military chief of staff said the killing was an inside job, carried out by Hezbollah itself. Hezbollah described the Israeli assessment as a “lie”.

In September 2019, the Tribunal indicted Ayyash on new charges related to bomb attacks between 2004 and 2005 on Marwan Hamadeh, Georges Hawi and Elias Murr.

Updated: February 14, 2020 12:26 PM

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