DAMASCUS - Lebanon is abuzz over a report published in the German magazine Der
Spiegel that said the international tribunal for the murder of Lebanon's former
prime minister Rafik al-Hariri will soon point fingers at Hezbollah.
"Spiegel has learned from sources close to the tribunal and verified by
examining internal documents, that the Hariri case is about to take a
sensational turn," said the report. Hezbollah called on the tribunal to act
with force against what was published in the magazine, calling it "lies".
A spokeswoman for the tribunal added, "We do not address speculation. The only
information that is reliable is provided by the
The magazine reported that these findings had been kept secret by the tribunal,
which opened last March in the Netherlands, yet added, "Investigators now
believe Hezbollah was behind the Hariri murder," and that a "special force"
from Hezbollah "planned and executed the diabolical attack" in February 2005.
Let us look at the "evidence" put forth by the article's author, Erich Follath:
1. The eight cellular phone lines that were pinpointed to the murder on the day
leading up to the attack, were all bought on the same day in the northern city
of Tripoli. They were used exclusively for communication among the assassins,
except for one, which the Spiegel article claimed, was used by an assassin to
telephone his girlfriend. The rest were not used after the attack.
A second network of cell phone lines, the article added, numbering 20, was
described as "being in proximity to the first eight phones". The article said,
"According to the Lebanese security forces, all of the numbers involved
apparently belonged to the 'operational arm' of Hezbollah."
2. The man who telephoned his girlfriend, the article said, "is believed to be
Abd al-Majid Ghamlush, from the town of Rumin, a Hezbollah member who had
completed training courses in Iran. Ghamlush was identified as the buyer of the
mobile phones. He has since disappeared, and perhaps, is no longer alive."
3. Ghamlush's "recklessness" led to whom the magazine described as the
"mastermind" of the attack, Hajj Salim (no last name) from the town of
Nabatiyah, who it claimed was the "commander of the military wing of Hezbollah
and lives in South Beirut".
Spiegel added that Salim headed the "Special Operational Unit" that reported
directly to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, and "General Kassim Sulaimani,
their contact in Tehran". The report claims that Salim assumed the duties of
Imad Mughniyeh, the veteran commander of Hezbollah who was assassinated in
Damascus in February 2008. Mughniyeh's brother-in-law Mustapha Badr al-Din is
now serving as his deputy.
4. The article said that Hezbollah obtained the Mitsubishi van which was used
in the attack.
5. The assassination of Captain Wissam Eid, a Lebanese intelligence expert, in
January 2008 is referred to in the article, which said "once again, there was
evidence of involvement of the Hezbollah commando unit, just as there has been
in each of more than a dozen attacks against prominent Lebanese in the last
6. It claimed that Nasrallah saw Hariri as a rival because "the billionaire
began to outstrip the revolutionary leader in terms of popularity ... Hariri
was, in a sense, the alternative to Nasrallah".
Much of what was published as fact in the article is pure fabrication,
recognizable as such by anybody familiar with the Lebanese group. First, the
phone lines mentioned were bought by a Sunni group in Tripoli, and not
Hezbollah, a fact that was stated by the first persecutor Detlev Mehlis and
confirmed by all his successors, including the current Daniel Bellemare.
Let us keep in mind that if Hezbollah wanted to purchase the lines, it would
not have sent certified Hezbollah members to do the job. Hezbollah has
state-of-the art intelligence - evidenced by its 2006 war on Israel - and does
not perform "reckless" jobs, certainly not having a member call a girlfriend
from a phone number used to carry out an assassination of this magnitude.
Any professional assassin knows his ABCs, and leaving behind fingerprints is
certainly not one of them. Additionally, the article provided no evidence that
the lines were the property of the Lebanese group, only empty accusations. In
Hezbollah, multiple marriages are not allowed - although they are accepted in
Islam, because pillow talk usually lets men say things that should remain
Hezbollah is so strict about this code that even "pleasure marriages", which
are allowed in Shi'ite Islam, are also prohibited. Among other things, that
explains why Hezbollah surprised Israel and the Americans in 2006 with its
33-day war; the group was clearly not infiltrated by spies and informers.
The so-called Hajj Salim is - until proven otherwise - a fictional character.
The magazine does not say how the lines trace back to Hajj Salim, or where it
got information that this man is now second-in-command of Hezbollah, succeeding
Imad Mughniyeh. It provided no evidence about this man's connection to
Nasrallah or the so-called Iranian official in Tehran. Nor did it mention how
Hezbollah obtained the Mitsubishi, which, according to former persecutor Serge
Brammertz, came out of a factory in Japan in 2002 (when the Hariri-Nasrallah
honeymoon was at its peak), was stolen in Kanagawa in Japan in 2004, shipped to
the Emirates, and transported to Tripoli in December 2004.
Hezbollah has never been involved in target killings inside Lebanon. Since its
inception in 1982, it has focused on Israeli targets around the world and since
Nasrallah came to office in the early 1990s, only on those inside Israel. The
working relationship between Nasrallah and Hariri was strong - although they
may have disagreed on what the future of Lebanon should look like. Never were
they rivals, simply because they represented different constituencies.
But why now, and why Hezbollah, two weeks ahead of parliamentary elections in
which Hezbollah is expected to score a smashing victory? The magazine quoted no
sources, either from the tribunal or elsewhere, nor did it back its argument
with any documents. As far as an ordinary reader is concerned, the information
it provided is flawed, unless proven otherwise by the tribunal, or by the
Someone could have provided him with false information, with the objective of
wanting Hezbollah to look bad ahead of voting day. If the tribunal had any
evidence about a Hezbollah connection, it would have revealed it and not
released four army generals, who were all close to Hezbollah in 2005, a few
weeks ago. Why would sources at the tribunal, or Lebanese security, leak the
story to a German magazine, of all places, given their strict confidentiality
regulations, since 2006?
In 2005, many speculated that either Syria - or Iran - was behind the
assassination of Hariri. Both accusations were proven baseless by consecutive
United Nations reports, which made no reference to Iran, and noted that Syria
had been very cooperative in the probe. All stories about Syrian involvement,
revealed in Mehlis' 2005 report, were dropped by his two successors, Brammertz
One of the recently released generals, Jamil al-Sayyed, has even filed a
lawsuit against Mehlis in France, accusing the German persecutor of having kept
him behind bars for nearly four years with no evidence. Speaking to several
Arab satellite networks, Sayyed recently said that Mehlis had asked him to get
the Syrians to incriminate a Syrian official, and then have him commit suicide,
in order to get the Lebanese generals off the hook and close the case against
both Syria and the Lebanese general.
The Hariri case is becoming murkier and murkier. Some still believe Syria did
it, while others point fingers at Israel. Some say that an Islamic cell,
inspired by al-Qaeda, killed him in revenge for having signed execution
warrants for their members while serving as prime minister. Some believe that
Iran wanted to get rid of the man to empower Hezbollah. Others say the George W
Bush administration did it, to frame the Syrians.
The Hariri tribunal has been mandated to work for three years, and was given a
budget of US$56 million for the first year alone, with the UN paying 51% of the
cost. The harshest sentence it can pass is life imprisonment. There has been a
haunting silence from the tribunal's headquarters in Leidschendam in the
Netherlands, right after the four generals were released, up till the Der
Nasrallah has called on the tribunal to take strict measures against the German
magazine for "publishing lies". The dramatic u-turn in testimonies from Mehlis
to Bellemare, the lack of evidence against Syria, the release of the generals
after four years of jail and the latest story all add big question marks on the
issue of whether justice or political interests are being pursued.
Sami Moubayed is editor-in-chief of Forward Magazine in Syria.