The Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH) is a local non-profit, non-partisan Lebanese human rights organization in Beirut that was established by the Franco-Lebanese Movement SOLIDA (Support for Lebanese Detained Arbitrarily) in 2006. SOLIDA has been active since 1996 in the struggle against arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and the impunity of those perpetrating gross human violations.

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June 3, 2015

The Daily Star - STL witness says ex-Syria spy chief threatened Hariri, June 03, 2015

Elise Knutsen

An Internal Security Forces corporal who was part of Rafik Hariri’s convoy when it was struck by a massive bomb described the apocalyptic scenes which unfolded in Downtown Beirut after the blast during testimony at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon Tuesday. From burning and bloodied bodies to a woman who screamed for help after she was severed in two, the court heard graphic details about the immediate aftermath of the explosion which killed Hariri and 21 others on Feb. 14, 2005 near the Saint George Hotel.

The witness also claimed that two weeks before the blast, Syrian intelligence official Rustom Ghazaleh appeared at Qoreitem Palace – the residence of Hariri – amid a mass of bodyguards and convoy vehicles and threatened the former prime minister.

“They [Ghazaleh and his men] arrived in the convoy and they came down very fiercely as if they were going to kill or kidnap Prime Minister Hariri,” the witness told the court. “They told the prime minister ‘We will kidnap your daughter ... if you make a mistake,’” he said, adding that he did not know what Ghazaleh’s men had meant by “mistake.”

Upon further questioning, however, he said that he had not heard the threat himself, but had heard Hariri’s bodyguards discussing what had been said by Ghazaleh’s men.

While five Hezbollah members have been charged with plotting Hariri’s assassination and the ensuing cover-up, several members of the Syrian regime have come up repeatedly in witness testimony. The prosecution has insinuated that Ghazaleh, a top Syrian intelligence officer in Lebanon at the time, may have had a hand in Hariri’s assassination.

The unnamed ISF corporal, who was given protective measures by the court to conceal his identity, had not previously told investigators about hearing the threat to Hariri’s daughter. He claimed only to have remembered the incident the night prior to his testimony at the U.N.-backed court.

Members of the defense expressed their incredulousness at this explanation, with one defense lawyer asking the corporal if “someone told [him] to tell these stories to the tribunal.”

The witness repeatedly claimed that he was telling the truth as he remembered it.

His memory, however, became a point of issue during the testimony. While the prosecution asserts that an explosive-laden Mitsubishi canter van was responsible for the blast, the witness repeatedly claimed that he had seen no vehicle matching that description near the convoy.

The defense, however, has suggested alternate theories, including that that the bomb might have been planted underground. Defense attorneys have repeatedly questioned witnesses on whether they recalled roadworks near the Saint George hotel in the days before the explosion.

The witness initially told the court that two days prior to Hariri’s assassination, he had been driving near the Saint George hotel in a friend’s car and the car had fallen into a sizeable hole near where men were working.

“I remember the hole was in the middle of the road,” he said.

Later, however he said that it was a friend who told him about his car being damaged by a hole in the road near the hotel.

“This happened 10 years ago, I don’t recall the details properly,” the witness said.

But the witness was able to recall some details about the day of the assassination with crystal clarity.

As Hariri was leaving the Cafe de L’Etoile near Parliament, the witness recalled one of Hariri’s bodyguards taking him aside.

“His face was darkened. He told me, ‘Keep your weapon in hand, and put it on fire. Anyone who gets near the convoy, shoot them, because the situation is not good,’” the witness told the court.

He remembered riding the first car in Hariri’s convoy alongside four other ISF officers and soldiers assigned to Hariri’s security detail.

He remembered the signal-jammers Hariri had installed in his convoy were in working order because, as usual, the devices set off the car-alarms of vehicles parked nearby.

He remembered asking an old man driving a yellow truck to pull over and allow the convoy to pass.

Then, the blast, followed by bodies, crushed vehicles and the smoke of C4 explosive.

The witness says that he still suffers physical and psychological effects from the blast.

“My life was destroyed. Devastated,” he told the court.

The defense will continue cross-examining the witness tomorrow in court. Another member of the convoy is also scheduled to testify in court later this week.

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