The potential involvement of Syrian intelligence in the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was discussed Tuesday at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Although the prosecution has not presented any evidence that directly links the five defendants to members of the Syrian government, Prosecutor Nigel Povoas made the case that Wafiq Safa, a high-ranking Hezbollah security official, may have acted as a link between the Syrian government and Mustafa Badreddine, one of the men – now presumed killed in Syria – indicted in the case.
“There is a relationship between the Syrian regime and the principal conspirator [Badreddine], and Safa fills this gap,” Povoas said.
According to the prosecution, Safa acted as an intermediary between Badreddine and Rustom Ghazaleh, the head of Syrian military intelligence in Lebanon during the period of Syrian hegemony.
According to Povoas, call data demonstrates that Ghazaleh and Safa were in contact with each other during “significant periods” in the lead-up to the assassination.
The prosecutor hedged on the presence of direct evidence linking Ghazaleh to the actual attack. “There is evidence reflecting the involvement of Ghazaleh, but this is not something that the prosecution is putting in the indictment,” he said.
“The prosecution’s case has always been about those directly involved in the assassination itself. To the extent that there is evidence of the Syrian regime’s involvement, it doesn’t reach the standard of relevance to reach the indictment,” he continued.
The purpose of noting these facts was to provide context or explanatory evidence for other claims, Povoas said. But he also noted that “the facts demonstrate the involvement of the Syrian regime in the assassination” – a rare clear attribution of responsibility to the Syrian government on the part of the prosecution.
These statements triggered a quick response from several defense teams, who claimed that the prosecution was making unfounded assertions outside of the indictment. “It would have been extraordinarily useful for us to know what their case was before the start of the trial, not now,” said David Young, the defense counsel for Assad Hassan Sabra.