Defense counselors for defendant Mustafa Badreddine cross examined a onetime friend of Sami Issa before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon Monday. Prosecutors contend Issa was a cover identity adopted by Badreddine.Last week the witness testified that he knew Issa socially between 2002 and 2010, when Issa broke off contact. That year, Badreddine’s name was leaked to local media as a potential suspect in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. He was indicted the following June. Badreddine is allegedly a senior military leader of Hezbollah, and is being tried in absentia with four other men linked to the powerful Shiite group.
French-Lebanese defense attorney Antoine Korkmaz painstakingly interrogated the witness on his initial contacts with the office of the prosecutor and his relationship with investigators and members of Hariri’s security detail.
He seemed particularly interested in details the witness had given about Issa and the physical description he provided to prosecutors. He repeatedly pressed the witness on minor discrepancies between a statement he made to investigators in 2011 and his testimony last week in court.
Though he never made an explicit allegation, Kokmaz’ apparent strategy was to cast doubt on the veracity of the description or to elicit testimony that conflicted other accounts heard by the court. Significant time was spent on whether Issa wore sunglasses (sometimes) and the extent of his limp (slight). The witness had provided a description of Issa’s face to prosecutors to make a sketch. Korkmaz sought confirmation of every detail. Issa’s reported age and height were topics of extended questioning.
The attorney’s approach appeared more apparent when he asked the witness to comment on calls and SMS text messages from a number attributed to Issa. On Valentine’s Day 2005, the day Hariri was killed by a car bomb in Downtown Beirut, Issa texted the witness to ask him where he was.
Though he qualified his ability to remember decade-old details, the witness said he had called Issa back to reassure him that he and another friend were okay.
“I think his message was that he was trying to find out where we are, as if he was worried about us.” The insinuation seemed to be that Issa was unlikely to have sent such a message if he himself had planned the attack, as prosecutors allege.
Though the prosecution has built much of its case on the reconstruction of telecommunications data, Monday it was the defense that dragged up call logs to support their case. Korkmaz displayed a graph illustrating the number of calls between the witness and Issa covering the entire duration of their relationship. Communication between the two accelerated during the year after the bombing, reaching a peak in 2006. It declined precipitously thereafter.
Prosecutors have contended that Issa targeted the witness and his friends, and socialized with them to conduct surveillance for the assassination. Korkmaz appeared to suggest that the frequency of calls had no apparent relation to such a strategy. As late at 2009, the witness was making New Year’s reservations for Issa.
The STL will reconvene Tuesday to hear evidence from a new witness.