Report: UN tribunal to link Iran's Supreme Leader with Hariri assassination
Newsmax report quotes sources blaming Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah for Hariri hit; Lebanese labor minister says UN tribunal will submit a draft indictment on Monday.
A United Nations tribunal is to indict Iran's spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei with ordering the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, U.S. news website Newsmax reported on Saturday, adding that the hit itself was planned executed by Iran's Revolutionary Guards in collaboration with Hezbollah.
The report comes just days into Lebanon's latest political crisis, as minister affiliated with Hezbollah and its allies withdrew from the unity cabinet led by Saad Hariri earlier this week, citing Hariri's cooperation with the UN-led probe of his father's killing.
Saturday's Newsmax report, also cited by Lebanese news website Naharnet, quotes source close to the UN investigation of the Hariri killing who claimed that the order to assassinate the former Lebanon premier was given by Khamenei.
The order was then reportedly passed on to Hezbollah military leader Imad Mughniyeh by the head of the IRG's Quds foece, Qassem Suleymani. Upon receiving the order, Mughniyeh and brother in law Mustapha Badr al-Dine allegedly put together an assassination squad.
Mughniyeh himself was killed in a car bombing in Damascus on February 12, 2008. Hezbollah has blamed Israel for the assassination, but Israel has denied any involvement.
Speaking with Newsmax, a conservative news website, sources close to the probe are quoted as saying that the "Iranians considered Hariri to be an agent of Saudi Arabia, and felt that killing him would pave the way for a Hezbollah takeover of Lebanon."
The report also alleges that both Syrian President Bashar Assad and the head of Syrian intelligence and brother in law Assef Shawkat were also involved in the operation.
Lebanese Labor Minister Boutros Harb said on Saturday that the UN tribunal probing Hariri's murder would submit a draft indictment on Monday.
Harb's announcement came after he met with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman.
Earlier on Saturday, the Lebanese daily Al Nahar had reported that the draft would be submitted later in the day.
The draft indictment is to be submitted to Pre-Trial Judge Daniel Fransen who will then have around six weeks before he decides whether or not to proceed toward a trial.
The report of Iran's alleged involvement in the planning and execution of the Hariri assassination comes in an already volatile period in Lebanese politics, as many fear that indictments against Hezbollah officials could spark a new round of factional violence, if not full-on civil war.
Hezbollah, which is supported by Syria and Iran and maintains an arsenal that far outweighs that of the national army, denounces the Netherlands-based tribunal as a conspiracy by the U.S. and Israel. It had been pressuring Hariri to reject any of its findings even before they came out, but Hariri has refused to break cooperation with the tribunal.
Now, the chasm between the two sides is deepening with Hezbollah accusing Hariri's bloc of bowing to the West. Hezbollah's ministers timed their resignations to coincide with Hariri's meeting with President Barack Obama in Washington, forcing him to meet the American president as a caretaker prime minister.
Lebanon suffered through a devastating civil war from 1975-1990, a 1982 Israeli invasion to drive out Palestinian fighters in the south, a 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, and deadly sectarian fighting between Sunnis and Shiites in 2008.
An indication that some of those fears may have been founded came late Thursday as unknown individuals hurled grenades at the headquarters of Hezbollah ally Free Patriotic Movement's headquarters north of Beirut. No injuries were reported.
Speaking of the need to regain control of the potentially volatile Lebanese political scene, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said earlier Thursday that he was sure there would be no civil conflict between Shiites and Sunnis.
According to a Channel 10 report citing the Al-Jazeera news network, Nasrallah, who had been reportedly holding meetings with other Hezbollah officials in recent days to discuss the political situation in Lebanon, blamed Hariri for the current political crisis, urging the Lebanese prime minister to remain on his overseas trip and not return to Lebanon.