BEIRUT: The Special Tribunal for Lebanon recommenced Friday with the cross-examination of prosecution analyst Matthew Barrington. The line of inquiry focused on his previous work with the United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission in investigating communication networks between Lebanese and Syrian intelligence officials. The UNIIIC was responsible for investigating the 2005 assassination of statesman Rafik Hariri until it was superseded by the STL in 2009.
The defense was particularly interested in Barrington’s 2007 interview with Ibrahim Shahara, described as a “well-connected” individual in Syrian military intelligence. Through this meeting, Shahara was able to provide the UNIIIC with probative information on Tarek Fakhreddine, a key suspect in the investigation.
Defense attorneys said the evidence provided suggested that Fakhreddine asked his nephew, Raed, to purchase the “red phones,” which prosecutors allege are at the heart of a complex network of cellular phones used to plan and carry out the attack.
Allusions were also made to Tarek’s motives. Defense counselors discussed Fakhreddine’s previous role as an adviser to Omar Karami, who replaced Hariri as prime minister in 2004. They contended the position potentially defines Fakhreddine as a “political enemy” of Hariri.
Barrington, who appeared before the STL in July of 2015, provided answers that were vague at best. He continually insisted that he was not involved in this line of investigation and provided minimal input to the hearing. On numerous occasions the value of his knowledge was debated and described by the judge as “hearsay evidence.”
Blurring facts with possibilities, the cross-examination presented an intriguing alternative theory to the court. Tuesday, the prosecution’s top telecommunications expert, John Edward Philips, testified that the “red phones” were likely to be discovered due to their high usage at the bomb site just minutes before detonation. Defense counselors alleged Friday that this had been the assassins’ intention.
They submitted that the red phones were created as a “decoy” in order to “mislead investigations.” Defense attorney Guenael Mettraux suggested that the culprits would have been aware of the extensive efforts that would be undertaken to find those behind the attack, and so they intentionally set up a group of phones to closely follow Hariri’s steps in the months preceding his death. “If you remove the red network, you have to look at the real culprits,” he concluded.
The proceedings were side-tracked by a line of questioning regarding retired Lebanese general and current touch chair, George Semaan. Mettraux suggested that Semaan was involved in shutting down touch cell towers along the path of Hariri’s convoy on the day of the explosion. He said that this would not have affected the red phones, which were conveniently operating on Lebanon’s other network provider, alfa.
A similar incident occurred in the December before the incident, which Mettraux proposed was a “dry run.” Arguments were ultimately redirected due to Barrington’s minimal involvement in this area of evidence, and will recommence in October with more relevant witnesses.
Summarizing his testimony, Barrington stated that he could not provide anything conclusive connecting those involved in his UNIIIC interviews with Hariri’s assassination.
Source & Link : The Daily Star