Saniora to STL: Hariri Told me about Murder Plots by Hizbullah
Al-Mustaqbal bloc leader MP Fouad Saniora said on Tuesday that his longtime friend, slain former Premier Rafik Hariri, confided to him that he had discovered several assassination attempts by Hizbullah against him.
“Hariri was driving his car and I was sitting next to him when he suddenly turned towards me and said: 'You know Fouad, by now we have discovered several assassination attempts by Hizbullah against me',” Saniora told the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.
Saniora told prosecutors Hariri confided to him of his concerns about his personal security around the end of 2003 or the beginning of 2004.
Five Hizbullah members have been charged with plotting Hariri's Feb. 14, 2005 assassination in a massive explosion at the Beirut seafront but have not been arrested. Their trial in absentia began in January 2014 and is ongoing.
Hizbullah denies involvement in the murder and the group's leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, has denounced the court as a conspiracy by his archenemies — the U.S. and Israel.
"Had the STL not been established, then assassinations would have continued," Saniora told the court.
The investigations into previous assassinations and crimes had never led to identifying the perpetrators, he said. “So there was a necessity to establish a competent, honest, transparent, neutral and impartial tribunal.”
“Some cabinet members at the time exerted efforts to stop the establishment of the STL,” he added.
Asked whether he thought ex-President Emile Lahoud was in support of the court, Saniora said: “I don't think he welcomed its establishment.”
In his testimony, the MP described Hariri as a “charismatic” leader whose opponents sought to "sabotage" his achievements.
“Hariri was able to attract officials' attention. He was very charismatic,” said Saniora, the most senior politician to testify at the STL near The Hague, Netherlands.
Several videotapes were played by the prosecution showing Hariri's meetings with Arab and world leaders in the months that preceded his murder.
Hariri “was capable through his charismatic personality, intelligence and knowledge to draw the attention of dignitaries and leaders,” said the lawmaker.
Saniora confirmed to the court that the former premier's visits abroad upset his opponents.
“Every time he made an achievement during these visits such as building new relations … Hariri used to say God help us when we return to Beirut,” said Saniora.
“The Lebanese-Syrian security regime sought to sabotage his achievements abroad,” the MP stressed.
“Some people wanted to push the country forward while others wanted to keep it under their firm grip,” he said.
The STL Defense then questioned Saniora on the case of the four Lebanese generals who were arrested in 2005 in connection to the Hariri murder.
He said: “After all legal measures were taken, I, as premier at the time, was contacted to be informed that the four generals would be arrested.”
“My role in the arrest was limited to just being informed of the development and this is according to the law,” he explained.
Former General Security chief Jamil al-Sayyed, former head of the Internal Security Forces Ali Hajj, former head of Army Intelligence Raymond Azar, and former head of the presidential guard Mustafa Hamdan were detained from 2005 until 2009 for their connection to the Hariri assassination.
They were released over a lack of evidence.
The Defense is expected to continue its cross-examination of Saniora on Wednesday.
On his first day of testimony, Saniora said that Hariri leaned on his shoulder and began to sob over insults directed to the former premier by Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Unlike other March 14 officials who gave their testimonies at the court, Saniora shied away from naming the individuals involved in the Lebanese-Syrian security apparatus or those who targeted Hariri's reformist plan.
He seemed to have been avoiding a clash with Hizbullah. Al-Mustaqbal is engaged in talks with the party since December to limit the sectarian tension caused by the war in neighboring Syria.