Investigator Gary Platt’s testimony Thursday at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon honed in on the so-called “setup phase” of operation that led to the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. Discussion in the trial chamber once again focused on call data records that have been integral to the prosecution’s case against the five defendants. Throughout proceedings, lawyers have used the movements of various cellphones within covert cellular networks to track the alleged conspirators charged with planning the assassination.
Though ultimately implicit, much of Platt’s testimony Thursday discussed the period of time from Jan. 18, 2005, leading up to the Feb. 14, 2005 attack. “Before the attack, there has to be a phase where the bomb is procured, the vehicle is purchased. There are resource implications,” he said.
Both Platt and prosecutor Nigel Povoas detailed one particular component of this phase during Thursday’s session – namely the trip made by an unidentified subject using a phone in the “blue network” to the Bekaa Valley town of Anjar. The covert cellular networks referred to in the case have been color-coded to delineate their roles in the conspiracy.
The subject also made several calls to the phone attributed to Salim Ayyash, one of the named defendants in the case. According to Platt, this was an unusual move. “When the phone was set up [just the day before], its first purpose was to go to Anjar. It is the only [blue] network phone to have done this,” he said.
While the prosecution did not speak directly to the trip’s purpose, Povoas’ questions alluded to the possibility that the subject was involved with Syrian military intelligence. Anjar was the headquarters of Syrian intelligence operations in Lebanon during the Syrian occupation.
In response to a brief technical issue with labeling the town on a map, Povoas joked, “If we can’t mark Anjar [on the map] we can always mark the location of Syrian military intelligence.”
In addition to the Anjar trip, Platt’s testimony detailed several other events during the so-called “setup phase,” including a meeting between Ayyash and another defendant, the late Mustafa Badreddine.
On Jan. 18, 2005, cellular activity consistent with a meeting occurred in the area around the Al-Omari Mosque in Downtown Beirut.
According to Platt, this was the first time that meetings or surveillance occurred in this particular area.
“The routes in the area of this meeting are where [the surveillance teams] have gained the most information about [Hariri’s] convoy routes,” Platt said.
“Given the area of this meeting, it’s consistent with doing some kind of prep[aration] or surveillance work in connection with routes or locations associated with Hariri.”
The area of the meeting was geographically close to the eventual site of Hariri’s assassination, next to the St. Georges’ Hotel in Mina al-Hosn.
Just prior to the end of the hearing, Platt also introduced what Povoas called the “east of airport” pattern. Though the prosecution did not discuss the ultimate significance of the event, Povoas used the term to describe a series of unusual calls by unidentified Subject 5 to Ayyash via three previously unused cell towers just east of Beirut airport.
Subsequently several other subjects – including Subject 9 and Ayyash himself – also used attributed phones in the airport area during the period.
However, Povoas noted that the significance of these calls might only be apparent when the prosecution discusses call records up to the date of the assassination.