Lebanon frees three suspects in Hariri killing

Syrian and 2 Lebanese released days before tribunal opens


Lebanon on Wednesday released three of seven suspects held over the 2005 murder of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, the office of public prosecutor Said Mirza told AFP.

The move comes just days before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, set up to try suspects over the Beirut bomb blast in February 2005 that killed Hariri and 22 other people opens its doors in The Hague on Sunday.

The three are Lebanese brothers Mahmoud and Ahmed Abdel Aal and Syrian Ibrahim Jarjura, all civilians who were being held on suspicion of withholding information and misleading the probe into the assassination.

The investigating judge Sakr Sakr rejected demands for the release of two other suspects -- former Lebanese security services director Jamil Sayyed and domestic security chief Ali Hajj, a judicial source said.

No reason for release

They are among four Lebanese generals who were pillars of the security apparatus long orchestrated by Syria, the country's then powerbroker which has roundly denied accusations it was behind the assassination.

The other two suspects are Mustafa Hamdan, who headed the presidential guard, and Raymond Azar, who was commander of army intelligence.

The generals have been detained since August 2005 on suspicion of premeditated murder, attempted premeditated murder and carrying out terrorist acts but none of the seven have ever been indicted for the murder,

Sakr released the two Lebanese brothers on bail of about $300 and the Syrian on about $70. They were arrested in October 2005 but no reasons were given for their release.

The tribunal

The attack against Hariri on the Beirut seafront was one of the worst acts of political violence to rock Lebanon since the 1975-1990 civil war, and led to the withdrawal of Syrian troops after a 29-year presence.

In its early stages, the U.N. probe into the murder implicated top Syrian intelligence officials, including President Bashar al-Assad's brother as well as his brother-in-law, but Damascus has consistently denied any involvement.

The Hariri tribunal has existed on paper since June 2007 when it was brought to life by a U.N. Security Council resolution, but it is expected to be years before the suspects are actually brought to trial.

Anonymous donors

Its budget will amount to about $51 million (€36 million) in 2009 -- 49 percent of it financed by Lebanon -- and when in full swing it will employ around 430 individuals. But some donor countries will remain anonymous.

“There is some sensitivity here and we have been asked by some states is we would keep there donations anonymous,” Robin Vincent, registrar for the tribunal, told Al Arabiya TV in an interview Saturday.

“I think we have to honor states’ views on this. There are equally other states within the region who will not be concerned about their identity being known,” she added

Adding to the expense of the tribunal is the cost of security for judges and witnesses. Vincent noted that some witnesses may need to be relocated and even given new identities, and that she had already begun talking with several member states about relocation agreements.

Eleven judges -- four from Lebanon and seven from other countries -- have already been nominated.

The tribunal will be housed in the former headquarters of the Dutch intelligence service and the courtroom itself is to be built in what used to be a spies' gymnasium. The Netherlands donated the space free-of-charge, said Vincent.

There is some sensitivity here and we have been asked by some states is we would keep there donations anonymous

Robin Vincent, registrar