Lebanon tribunal overturns acquittal of two men over Hariri killing

The appeals judges say the original verdict was fundamentally defective

In a dramatic reversal of a decision in August 2020, a UN-backed court in The Hague has overturned the acquittals of two Hizbullah members charged in connection with the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, on Valentine's Day 2005.

An appeals chamber of five judges at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, set up in 2007, unanimously found Hassan Habib Mehri and Hussein Hassan Oneissi guilty on each of five charges, including conspiracy to commit a terrorist act and being accomplices to intentional homicide.

In their ruling on Thursday, the appeals judges said the original verdict had been fundamentally defective in that it had contained “errors of law invalidating the judgment and errors of fact occasioning a miscarriage of justice”.

Specifically, they said the original trial judges had wrongly assessed the circumstantial evidence in the case – which was based almost entirely on highly technical mobile phone records.


Mehri and Oneissi now join a third convicted Hizbullah member, Salim Ayyash, the only defendant found guilty in 2020. None was arrested and all were tried in absentia.


Mehri and Oneissi will be sentenced at a later date and, as the hearing ended, fresh warrants were issued for their arrest.

The latest reversal is a significant victory for the court's Canadian prosecutor, Norman Farrell, who said afterwards: "Accountability does not end with the conviction of these two fugitives. Justice demands that they be arrested."

Hariri – a billionaire widely credited with the agreement that ended the civil war from 1975 to 1990 and who vehemently opposed Syrian interference in Lebanon – was killed as his motorcade sped along Beirut’s seafront just weeks before he was due to stand again for prime minister.

The blast, with the power of more than 1,000kg of TNT, killed 21 others, injured 226, set the scene for years of recrimination between the rival factions comprising the country’s dysfunctional government, and led to the so-called October revolution in 2019.

The 2020 verdict was greeted with widespread anger in Lebanon when presiding judge David Re said there was no evidence of involvement by Hizbullah's leadership or by Syria – and no evidence either of "a larger regional political conspiracy".

Sentencing at the tribunal is expected to conclude this summer. The court is then likely to be disbanded after earlier plans to hold a second trial covering alleged terrorist attacks against other Lebanese politicians were scrapped due to lack of funding.

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey is a journalist and broadcaster based in The Hague, where he covers Dutch news and politics plus the work of organisations such as the International Criminal Court