The Special Tribunal for Lebanon heard witness testimony Wednesday about an apartment allegedly belonging to Mustafa Badreddine, where he entertained guests under the alias Sami Issa.
Badreddine is one of five members of Hezbollah on trial for the murder of formr Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was one of 22 people killed when a Mitsubishi van packed with explosives detonated next to his motorcade on Valentine’s Day 2005. More than 200 people were injured in the blast.
The prosecution alleges that Badreddine maintained a number of pseudonyms, including Sami Issa, Elias Fouad Saab and Safi Badr. A Lebanese national, they contend he was the same Elias Saab tried and convicted in Kuwait for deadly 1983 bombings, before escaping – or being released – sometime during the Iraqi invasion in 1990. The prosecution holds that Badreddine was the primary organizer of the Hariri assassination, and has drawn parallels with the methods used in the Kuwait attacks.
A protected witness testified via video link that he knew a man named Sami Issa, and was familiar with an apartment that he maintained. He described Issa as “vulgar” and said he had seen him bring back three different women to the apartment, including one he introduced as his fiancée.
“When he walked he would look a little sleazy, almost leaning on the [woman] with him.”
He said Issa visited the flat once or twice a week. “He would park on level minus-one and come up so we didn’t see him.”
According to the witness, he was accompanied by bodyguards, one of whom told him that Issa was from the Christian village of Deir al-Qamar, in Chouf. But he added that the owner of the building had confided in him that Issa was a Shiite.
The reliability of this remark was challenged by Iain Edwards, who is representing the interests of Badreddine at the tribunal.
Asked by judges whether he had ever heard Issa referred to by any other name, the witness said that he had not at the time, but had since seen media coverage of the trial reporting Badreddine’s aliases, including Issa.
He was subsequently asked by Judge Walid Akoum if he had recognized Issa’s face on television, drawing substantial objections from Edwards and other defense counselors. “The witness has seen images of the accused in the press and in the media, and if that is the case, the correctness of any subsequent identification would be very much thrown into question. The risk of contamination is too great to allow something akin to a dock identification,” Edwards argued.
The question generated significant discussion by counselors and judges. Defense counselor Eugene O’Sullivan, representing the interests of Salim Ayyash, argued that “the right of a judge to ask a question is not absolute,” and Jad Khalil, representing the interests of Hassan Merhi, ventured that allowing the witness to answer the question would jeopardize the impartiality required of the bench.
The court ultimately decided to receive written submissions on the issue, and would revisit the question orally Thursday when the prosecution is scheduled to read a number of witness statements into evidence.