THE HAGUE (Reuters) – The U.N.-backed Lebanon Tribunal on Friday sentenced a Hezbollah member convicted of conspiring to kill former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri in a 2005 bombing to five terms of life imprisonment.
Salim Jamil Ayyash was found guilty in August of homicide and committing a terrorist act over the deaths of Hariri and 21 others in the attack on Beirut’s waterfront.
The trial was conducted in absentia and Ayyash remains at large. Three alleged accomplices were acquitted due to insufficient evidence.
“The attack was intended to spread terror in Lebanon and indeed did,” Australian Judge David Re said in reading out the court’s decision. “The trial chamber is satisfied it should impose the maximum sentence for each of the five crimes of a life sentence to be served concurrently.”
Hariri’s assassination pitched Lebanon into what was then its worst crisis since its 1975-90 civil war, touching off years of confrontation between rival political and sectarian factions.
Prosecutors had called for a life sentence for each of the five counts of which Ayyash was convicted.
Ayyash’s defence team earlier said it would appeal the conviction regardless of the outcome of sentencing. Because of restrictions prompted by the COVID-19 outbreak, the defence and lawyers for bombing victims attended the hearing via videolink.
The tribunal, seated near the Dutch city of The Hague, also issued a renewed arrest warrant and established an Interpol Red Notice for Ayyash.
In a separate opinion attached to the ruling, presiding judge Re pointed to “strong words” from Hezbollah leaders in support of Ayyash after the indictment was unveiled in 2011, and noted that Ayyash was not apprehended in the intervening years.
“In my view a strong inference is available from the above as to who has been shielding him from justice for all of these years,” Re said.
Victims of the huge bomb attack, which also injured 226 people, some gravely, have asked the tribunal to order payment of compensation. However, judges said the court’s statue did not permit them to mandate payments either by the accused or the state of Lebanon. Instead, the tribunal recommended that a national compensation scheme for victims be established.
(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg; Writing by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Mark Heinrich)