Hariri prosecutors seek life sentence for Hezbollah member Salim Ayyash

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The Hezbollah member convicted of the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafic Hariri should receive a life sentence, even though he remains at large, prosecutors said Tuesday.

Salim Ayyash was found guilty in absentia of murder by a UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon in the Netherlands on August 18, but three other alleged members of the Shiite movement were acquitted.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah has refused to hand over the defendants in the trial over the suicide bombing that killed the Sunni billionaire politician and 21 other people.

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Judges were on Tuesday hearing evidence from the prosecution, victims and the defense about what sentence 56-year-old Ayyash should receive. The sentencing itself will happen at a later date.

“The severest penalty available to the tribunal for the offences is life imprisonment, and in the submission of the prosecution that is the only just and proportionate sentence,” prosecutor Nigel Povoas told the court.

“Why life imprisonment? These were offences of extreme gravity, it’s hard to imagine offences of this type more serious than this. This is considered to be the most serious terrorist attack that has occurred on Lebanese soil.”

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Prosecutors are also arguing for a seizure of Ayyash’s assets.

In their long-awaited ruling in August, judges said there was sufficient evidence to show that Ayyash was at the center of a network of mobile phone users who scoped out Hariri’s movements for months before his assassination.

But there was not enough evidence to convict Ayyash’s co-defendants Assad Sabra, Hussein Oneissi and Hassan Habib Merhi, they said.

The judges added that there was no proof to tie Hezbollah’s leadership or its allies in Damascus to the attack.

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